Sunday, May 6, 2012

Claude's Caveman

I'm not sure when it happened or why, but it seems to me the multi-panel 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. In his day, A. B. Frost made a career out of extended sequential gags. 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 relating a humorous story would remain quite popular. For the most part, though, 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. Most likely the widespread introduction of television into the American living room in the 1950's gave this gag its particular relevance to 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 item description

Claude Smith, The New Yorker, October 30, 1954, pages 30-31

Sequence added March 5, 2017


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