There was a time, in mid-20th century America, when newspaper comic strips had a larger cultural presence than any television show. Reading the comics was a daily habit for tens of millions of kids and adults. “Blondie,” “Peanuts,” “Nancy,” “Dick Tracy,” “Brenda Starr” and “Pogo” were staples. Many strips are still produced and continue to resonate.

And there was a time, in the middle of 20th-century America, when the people who created these comics lived and socialized together in a small corner of southwestern Connecticut. While Wall Street financiers, Mad Men, and the men in the gray flannel suits filled the commuter trains to Manhattan, the cartoonists of Greenwich, Rowayton, Fairfield, Westport and Wilton built their own cottage industry in the suburbs.

“A hundred or so of the country's finest cartoonists inhabited the same small patch of turf in a hilly corner of Connecticut,” recalls Cullen Murphy, editor at large at Vanity Fair, a former managing editor of the Atlantic Monthly, son of “Prince Valiant” creator John Cullen Murphy and author of the 2017 book, “Cartoon County.” “They inspired one another, and for many decades put ink on paper for an audience of hundreds of millions.”

Now, an exhibition at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich is offering a window into this remarkable slice of Americana.

It’s showcasing a trove of more than 100 works of cartoon art, encompassing all the cartoon genres, not just newspaper strips but comic books, political cartoons, caricatures, animation, and New Yorker-style cartoons. Titled “Masterpieces from the Museum of Cartoon Art,” the exhibition opened Saturday, Jan. 26, and runs through April 20.

It includes displays from the actual Museum of Cartoon Art’s early years at the Mead Mansion in Greenwich. It features a video presentation of classic animation. The centerpiece will be a recreation of the Museum of Cartoon Art’s Hall of Fame.

“Masterpieces” is largely the creation of Brian Walker, a Norwalk-based artist and Greenwich native who co-founded the Museum of Cartoon Art in 1974 in Greenwich with his father, Mort Walker. Mort Walker created “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi and Lois.” Since 1984, Brian Walker has been part of the creative team that keeps both strips in production.

Serving as co-curator of the Bruce exhibition, Brian selected from the Museum of Cartoon Art’s collection of 80,000 originals.

“Someone who’s not even a hardcore cartoon fan will find it amazing to see such a variety of artwork,” he says. “I remember saying this is going to be one of the most popular shows the Bruce ever had, because it’s cartoon art. People relate to it, kids, families, connoisseurs — it never fails.”

Murphy agrees. “The combination of words and pictures is hard to beat,” he says. “Human beings figured that out pretty early — look at the Bayeux Tapestry, or Egyptian temples. The advent of mass literacy made the combination more potent than ever. Add humor and drama, and you have a powerful recipe.”

The Museum of Cartoon Art itself has had a peripatetic existence, so the Bruce Museum exhibition represents a homecoming. It occupied two locations in Greenwich before moving to Port Chester, N.Y., in 1977, and then to Boca Raton, Fla., in 1996. Since 2008, the Museum of Cartoon Art has been part of The Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. The selections in the Bruce Museum exhibition are on loan from the Billy Ireland Library.

“Greenwich is my hometown,” Walker says. “My father lived in Greenwich for 30 years. He was a well-known resident. It’s kind of nice to bring this artwork back home.”

Walker — like Murphy, whom he knew growing up — is filled with anecdotes and memories of the tight-knit Fairfield County cartoonist fraternity.

“You could smell the ink, hear the pen scratching away,” Walker recalls. “I’d come home from school, and the studio was on the third floor. My brother and I would sneak in after hours and play with the tools and look at the books.”

The families and the larger cartoonist community blended over time. Cullen Murphy’s parents are Walker’s godparents. Dik Browne (creator of “Hagar the Horrible” and co-creator of “Hi and Lois”) performed at Walker’s wedding. “These guys are like my uncles,” Brian Walker says. “In the beginning of the ’50s, and peaking in the ’60s and ’70s, there was a cartoon colony in Connecticut. They had a bowling league. My father had a golf tournament at the Silvermine Golf Course for 50 years. The winner got a pie thrown in his face.”

Walker describes the work-at-home nature of his father’s work as a permanent life lesson.

“Dik Browne used to call it a family business,” Walker recalls. “I was born with ink in my veins.”

A lecture on “Breaking into the Boys Club: A Whirlwind History of Women and Cartooning,” is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 18. A panel on “The Golden Age of Cartooning in Connecticut” features Brian, Greg and Neal Walker and Chance Browne, as well as Murphy. It will be held on Thursday, March 7. Visit

Tony Silber is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.