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In Fantagraphics' ceaseless effort to rediscover every world-class cartoonist in the history of the medium, we turn your attention to a neglected part of the art form sports cartooning and to its greatest practitioner Willard Mullin.
The years 1930-1970 were the Golden Age of both American sports and American comic strips, when giants strode their respective fields Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Hank Aaron in one, George (Krazy Kat) Herriman, Milton (Steve Canyon) Caniff, Walt (Pogo) Kelly in the other and Mullin was there, straddling both fields, recording every major player and event in the mid-20th-century history of baseball. Mullin was to baseball players what Bill Mauldin was to soldiers: advocate and critic, investing them with personality,
humanity, dignity, and poignancy; Mauldin had Willie & Joe and Mullin had the Brooklyn Bum, his affectionate 1939 character representing the bedraggled figure of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Willard Mullin's Golden Age of Baseball: Drawings 1934-1972 collects for the first time Mullin's best drawings devoted to baseball depictions of players like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, and Sandy Koufax, legendary managers like Casey Stengel and George Steinbrenner, and events like Lou Gehrig's emotional retirement speech on July 4, 1939, for which Mullin not only drew a portrait but composed a poem (which he often incorporated into his cartoons). Mullin's fluid line and delicate but vigorous brushwork are shown to beautiful effect, with many drawings reproduced from original art.
See why millions of baseball fans from the '30s to the '70s looked forward to Mullin's cartoons in their daily paper. Mullin was voted "Sports Cartoonist of the Century" upon his retirement by his peers, and his legacy has been summed up by New Yorker cartoonist Bob Staake, who wrote, "Mullin defined the modern sports cartoon by combining representative portraiture, cartoonish doodlery, and editorial commentary part news account, part personal observation, his cartoons celebrated sport for its entertainment, cultural, and artistic value."
26-page excerpt (download 4.1 MB PDF):
"If you want to learn everything worth knowing about baseball history from the 1930s through the '60s, you've got a couple of options. You can read a bunch of dry, fact-filled narratives ... or you can see the game come alive in Willard Mullin's delightful drawings. For as long as I can remember, I've wanted an original Mullin for my wall. Still no luck. But at least this beautiful book should hold me for a while." Rob Neyer, National Baseball Editor, SBNation.com, and author of Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends
"In an era overloaded with angry voices and such involved statistical analysis it makes my head ache, we need Willard Mullin. Rather than shout and scowl, Willard drew playful, appealing images that made you smile. The iconic Brooklyn Bum. The huge but childlike New York Giant. Willard not only was a great artist he understood that sports are supposed to be fun and joyful. And he made them more so." Jim Caple, ESPN.com Senior Writer