I'm not sure when it happened or why, but it seems to me the multipanel gag cartoon went out of favor a long time ago. It existed, often in ungainly form, long before the efficient, modern single-panel cartoon was perfected. A. B. Frost made a career out of extended sequential gags in his day. In the European press, Jean-Jacques Sempé has published many memorable sequential panel gags, often with numbered panels. Back in the 1950's, the cartoonist Claude Smith published a number of such sequences in The New Yorker, and one particular example of his original art depicting an industrious caveman was sold recently on eBay.
Gags told over multiple panels allow a narrative to unfold sequentially. Given the enduring popularity of comics and animation, one would think a series of drawings allowing a humorous story to be told would remain quite popular. But, for the most part, it hasn't, and the field has been ceded to the animators and comic book artists.
Claude's caveman sequence could not readily be reduced to a single panel. I suspect the widespread introduction of television into the American living room in the 1950's gave this gag its particular relevance in its time . This sequence, like almost all cartoons from this era, certainly wouldn't be considered for publication today, its payoff being a little too mundane for all the effort expended.
|Claude Smith Caveman eBay winning bid|
[End of eBay listing]
|Claude Smith, The New Yorker, October 30, 1954, pp. 30-31|