Stripper’s Guide Bookshelf: Illustrated History of Union County

Illustrated History of Union County, Fantagraphics Books, 2005, $19.95; ISBN 1-56097-721-3

Why would Fantagraphics issue a complete reprinting of an obscure local history comic strip? Apparently, when the art is by a very young Frank Thorne.

Thorne produced this strip for the Elizabeth Daily Journal in 1950. According to the book’s introduction, the strip was printed on a daily basis. This is astounding, if true. Thorne was attending art school at the time, so researching the history of this New Jersey county plus drawing a daily strip of this size (three tiers of multiple panels) seems to me a herculean task. I wonder a bit, though, since the cited start date is a Sunday. Has anyone first-hand knowledge of the strip’s frequency?

Frankly my interest in New Jersey history was not up to the task of reading the entire book (the strip ran for 173 text-heavy installments), but what I did read was impressive. Thorne was just a callow youth, yet the prose is smooth and well-paced. The research, by all appearances, is impeccable.

The artwork, though not as lively in style as Thorne would later produce, shows amazing polish. Faces tend to be a bit wooden, but this is hard to avoid when working from period portraits and photos, as I assume he was. No one looking at this work would ever guess that it was produced by a teenage art student.

Is it worth a spot on your shelves? Certainly if you’re a Thorne fan it will be a thrill to see this early work. The reproduction, retouched by Thorne himself from tearsheets of the Elizabeth Journal, is excellent. It would have been a wonderful bonus if Thorne had also written an introduction, but no such luck. If you’re not a Thorne fan or a New Jersey history buff the work is esoterica, but as I often say, if you are into newspaper comics and want to see more obscure material reprinted then vote with your dollars.

One comment on “Stripper’s Guide Bookshelf: Illustrated History of Union County

  1. Hi I just ran across a "GI Cartoon Book No. 4 copyright 1945 in my dads war stuff. He passed away and I have been selling some of his things. Do you think this is worth anything, what is it. It is like a paper book with strippers or women in it.

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