The Atlantic

Growing Up in Cartoon County

In a new book, Cullen Murphy describes the cadre of artists—including his father—who drew comic strips from the suburbs of Connecticut during a golden age for the funny pages.
Source: Courtesy of Cullen Murphy

Cullen Murphy grew up in the funny pages. Almost literally: His father, John Cullen Murphy, was an artist who drew numerous comic strips, the best-known and longest-running of which was Prince Valiant. He somehow managed to support a family of eight children. This improbable feat was made possible partly by the times—the postwar prosperity and optimism that saw hundreds of thousands of returning servicemen, like his father, moving to the suburbs and starting large families, if not quite as large. And Connecticut, where his father and a cadre of cartoonists (Murphy numbers them in the hundreds) eventually settled, had no state income tax. Still, ten people on one cartoonist’s salary is impressive in any era. Soon after the grown Murphy joined the staff of The Atlantic as managing editor, we published an excerpt from a 1988 biography of Pablo Picasso by Arianna Huffington called Picasso: Creator and Destroyer. Murphy, who had already made his father a familiar figure around the office through frequent and offhand references, reported that after seeing the galleys his father asked that any biography of himself be subtitled “Creator and Provider.”

Their unlikely profession kept the cartoonists comic strips, so much a part of the fabric of the American scene in the last century, were in Fairfield County a family enterprise. Even today, when the number and ubiquity of strips is far lower than when Murphy was growing up, the children of family friends—including Mort Walker, the industrious and businesslike creator of and , and Dik Browne, the endearingly scraggly creator of

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