Mark Twain Forum Reviews: “Cartoons and Caricatures of Mark Twain in Context: Reformer and Social Critic, 1869-1910”

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Cartoons and Caricatures of Mark Twain in Context: Reformer and Social Critic, 1869-1910. By Leslie Diane Myrick and Gary Scharnhorst. University of Alabama Press, 2024. Pp. 119. Hardcover: $110.00, ISBN 9780817321727. Paperback: $29.95, ISBN 9780817361044.

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Our late colleague Hal Bush is quoted in the Afterword of Cartoons and Caricatures of Mark Twain In Context that Mark Twain’s likeness was probably “the most frequently reproduced of any person in all of human history.” It is always a pleasure to see a new edition arrive that provides fresh evidence from historical archives demonstrating that Bush was correct.

In their Introduction, the authors state that this volume is their first step toward establishing a finding list of Mark Twain photographs, portraits, and cartoons. Milton Meltzer was one of the first to publish a volume with rare cartoons and caricatures in Mark Twain Himself in 1960. Thirteen of Melzer’s 41 cartoons and caricatures are reproduced in this volume. In 1984 Louis J. Budd published Our Mark Twain: The Making of His Public Personality which more precisely focused on how newspaper and magazine artists helped shape readers’ perceptions of Mark Twain. Budd’s volume featured over 46 editorial newspaper and magazine graphics gathered from old newspaper and journal clippings and microfilm. Eleven of Budd’s 46 graphics are reproduced in Cartoons and Caricatures of Mark Twain In Context. This is the first volume since 1984 that returns to the source of nineteenth century archival newspaper and magazine visuals to continue the study.

Amid the growing proliferation of online historical newspaper databases with their search engines, new discoveries are becoming easier and more frequent. This volume features 79 cartoons and caricatures from about 600 that were collected by Myrick and Scharnhorst by the year 2020 (including the files of the late Lou Budd that were graciously provided by Elmira College). The graphics provide another window into how Mark Twain’s reputation grew and was perceived via editorial opinions expressed in a comic visual. Many graphics in this book have probably never before been seen by present-day Mark Twain scholars.

The volume features nineteen chapters, brief contextual notes, and an appendix with minimal biographical data for about 60 illustrators. Myrick, a former editor with the Mark Twain Project, has a keen eye for deciphering signatures and glyphs of illustrators as well as tiny details in the drawings that are significant. Among the faces that appear alongside Mark Twain in these illustrations are luminaries of the nineteen century. However, many are now long-forgotten and likely presented challenges to identify: Anthony Comstock, W. H. Vanderbilt, Roscoe Conkling, Samuel Tilden, and Henry Bergh, for example.

Among the topics covered in this book are Mark Twain’s campaign for international copyright reform. The topic caught the attention of noted illustrators such as Thomas Nast and Joseph Keppler. Keppler’s illustration “The Pirate Publisher” (p. 15) from an 1886 edition of Puck features at least sixteen identifiable faces of other famous nineteenth century authors alongside Mark Twain battling a pirate publisher. These include Bret Harte, William Dean Howells, George Washington Cable, Charles Dudley Warner, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lewis Carroll among others.

Other topics that Mark Twain became involved in, and that graphic artists hastily cashed in on, include language and spelling reform, anti-imperialism, anti-Russian sentiments, and the ridiculed Concord School of Philosophy. As Mark Twain’s reputation grew, there is the noticeable movement of newspaper artists across the nation from the East Coast to the West caricaturing his activities on their editorial pages.

When Mark Twain returned to the United States in 1900 after living abroad for a number of years, American newspaper and magazine cartoonists lost no time taking advantage of his presence again on the national scene……..

.….Finish reading Barbara Schmidt’s review at the Mark Twain Forum

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