“Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World” Book Review

The art of cartooning is one that people often take for granted. When I was at NYCC 2015 not that long ago, I went into Artist’s Alley with a friend. She had been coming to NYCC for a few years now, but never ventured into the room where all of the artists were, completely unaware that even existed. We strolled through and she was in awe at all of the original artwork, especially seeing up close the techniques behind the works. We wound up at the table of one vendor who had some original paintings for sale of a character she liked, but once she saw the price tag, she furrowed her brow and walked away. “$50 is way too much for that,” she said as we walked away, “Five dollars, maybe, but that’s barely what it’s worth.” People take art for granted, especially things like comic and cartoon art. However, the history of how art has affected our culture and shaped the world in general is an extremely rich one, and it’s time for people to stop taking that for granted. With a book like “Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World,” we may have a shot at educating people on why art like this matters and has value.

Written and edited by Monte Beauchamp, “Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World” is an accessible and entertaining look at the history of some of the most prolific and influential cartoonists in American history. What makes it so accessible is that each chapter of the book, which is about a specific artist, is a comic created by another great illustrator or comic artist. It forms a cycle of creativity that opens up the reader to another artist, and not only informs but pays it forward by introducing readers to creators that they otherwise would not be aware of.

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What other place can you learn about Jack Kirby, “The King” who created so many famous comic characters, as drawn by Mark Alan Stamaty? How about Edward Gorey by Greg Clarke, Robert Crumb by Drew Friedman, Al Hischfeld by Albert Roth, Charles Schulz by Sergio Ruzzier, or Osamu Tezuka by Dan Zettwoch? The list can go on, with 16 artists on artists, telling a new generation of readers about the roots of this form of art.

Some of my favorites include Peter Kuper’s very intimate story of Harvey Kurtzman, a man who was a very big influence on his artwork which makes it a much more personal tale than many of the stories in there. While some artists were chosen because of their similarity in appearances to the historically significant artist, others were chosen based on their skills as a story teller, which makes for some interesting aesthetics in some tales. Larry Day’s story about Walt Disney and Marc Rosenthal’s story about Chas Addams (Creator of “The Addams Family”) have an influence in their roots, but the art is its own.

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The stories are not just about the achievements of each artist, but is about the journey for their artist to reach their heights. They are not always happy tales with smiles and candy, but tough walks through opposition, but in the end their art and messages would triumph. Cartoons are packed with more emotions than the average newspaper reader believes, and these stories will certainly evoke emotional responses of joy and sadness as you read through them. The story of Charles Schulz failing again and again is both melancholy and inspiring, while Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster’s fight to get the rights to the character they made will make you think again about how people perceive art and its value, a problem illustrators face to this very day.

You can order “Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World” on Amazon.com for under $20. For history buffs, this is a great way to learn about some of the best cartoonists that ever lived, and an easy way to teach the younger generation about these creators as well. That may be the books strongest element, in that the accessible nature of it reaches both young and old and offers the same experience for either. Comics are a great way to educate people of any age, and this book proves that. I would love for a sequel to this book, or perhaps even making it into a series, with stories about Will Eisner, Walt Kelly, Ralph Steadman (the first Brit in the series), or Richard Williams to name a few. The list could go on, and I genuinely hope that this wish comes true.

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