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Masterpieces from the Museum of Cartoon Art

January 23, 2019

GREENWICH - The way Brian Walker sees it the staff of the Bruce Museum has been warned.

“I told them ’This is going to be one of the most popular exhibitions you’ve ever had,” said the co-curator of the upcoming “Masterpieces from the Museum of Cartoon Art.” “It’s just a really appealing thing.

“Who doesn’t like cartooning?”

And there will be something for every breed of cartoon enthusiast when the museum unveils the wide-ranging exhibition, running from Saturday through April 20. The exhibition will showcase more than 100 original works celebrating the history of cartooning in America - from an early editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast straight through classic panels of “Peanuts,” “Doonesbury” and “Calvin and Hobbes” and stellar examples from The New Yorker.

All of the works are from the former Museum of Cartoon Art, which opened in Greenwich in 1974. Founded by Walker’s father, legendary cartoonist Mort Walker of “Beetle Bailey” fame, the museum moved to Port Chester/Rye Brook, N.Y., in 1977 and re-opened in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1996. The collection was donated to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University in 2008.

The centerpiece of the Bruce’s exhibition is a recreation of the Museum of Cartoon Art’s Hall of Fame, featuring 32 icons from Walt Disney and Chuck Jones to Rube Goldberg and Al Capp. Peter Sutton, the Bruce’s executive director, said he hopes the collection will provoke both belly laughs and heightened respect for the artform.

“It would be daunting to have to be funny every day,” he said. “It’s a real challenge, but it’s also high art.”

Walker, who has overseen more than 70 cartoon exhibitions over the years, is particularly happy to bring this one to Fairfield County, long the home of many of the country’s top cartoonists. A quick commute to the publishing houses in Manhattan, the county provided a perfect place for these mostly solitary artists to set up their studios and raise their families.

In addition to Walker, John Cullen Murphy, who illustrated “Prince Valiant” for more than 30 years, settled in Fairfield County, as did Dik Browne, best known for “Hagar the Horrible.” Brian Walker, a 1970 Greenwich High School alum, would count Murphy as his godfather and considered Browne as an honorary uncle.

“It was just like a big family,” said Walker, now a longtime Wilton resident.

The cartoonists and illustrators were so close they would stage annual events, including a hotly contested golf tournament.

“The winner would get a pie thrown in his face,” Walker said.

Cartooning became a family affair for many of the artists: Brian and his brothers Greg and Neal have all worked on their father’s comic strips and Cullen Murphy partnered with his dad on “Prince Valiant” for about 30 years.

Murphy, the author of “Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe,” was studying medieval history in college when he started sending ideas for the sumptuous cartoons to its originator, Hal Foster. Eventually, he was scripting entire episodes for his dad to illustrate.

“Working with my father was a great experience - daily phone calls, and a lot of creative energy,” said the Massachusetts writer and editor. “Few people today have the chance to work with a parent in this way. It was a privilege.”

Dan Buckley, the Bruce’s exhibition designer who co-curated the show, said he’s thrilled to show current Greenwich residents the many connections between the town, the cartoonists and the original museum through this exhibition. Fairfield County resident Roz Chast, staff cartoonist for The New Yorker, is the honorary chair.

“The museum had such a history in town,” he said. “It would be a shame not to connect with it.”

Given the current contention in Washington, D.C., he thinks many visitors will enjoy several examples of editorial cartooning from the Nixon, Carter and Reagan eras.

“Some of these could have been done yesterday,” he said. “They’re timeless.”

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“Masterpieces from the Museum of Cartoon Art” features some special programming, including the Feb. 18 lecture “Breaking Into the Boys Club: A Whirlwind History of Women and Cartooning” with Jenny Robb, curator and associate professor at the Billy Ireland. A March 7 panel discussion, “The Golden Age of Cartooning in Connecticut,” will feature Cullen Murphy, Chance Browne and Brian, Greg and Neal Walker.

Bruce members can get a sneak peek at the exhibition at a private opening reception on Friday, Jan. 25.

For more information, visit brucemuseum.org or call 203-869-0376.

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