By Denis and Violet Kitchen
176 pages, hardcover, $100
Published by Beehive Books
Harrison Cady enjoyed plenty of esteem in his lifetime—even turning down a job offer from Walt Disney himself—but the illustrator and cartoonist is largely unknown today. Underground cartoonist Denis Kitchen and his daughter, visual artist Violet Kitchen, have pulled the early twentieth-century artist out of obscurity with Madness in Crowds, a large-format hardcover art book that illuminates his inspired work with beautiful presentation and thoughtful prose.
Cady built his reputation on his Peter Rabbit comic strip and collaboration with children’s author Thornton Burgess, but as Madness in Crowds reveals, his oeuvre is so much more. Through eleven chapters and more than 200 of Cady’s illustrations, readers witness his signature style, which was, as the authors astutely describe, a “visual maze, with frantically congested crowds, subsets of activity, and rabbit holes of infinite detail and distraction.” While his illustrations often dealt with the struggles of the day, such as women’s suffrage and World War I, he also compulsively drew an animal utopia, where ladybugs in top hats conversed with similarly dapper mammalian critters.
While the authors are clearly in awe of Cady’s talent, they acknowledge that some of his work also contains problematic racist stereotypes. It’s unsettling that “he could so deeply humanize his woodland creatures and their utopian societies, and yet, with the next stroke of his pen, deny an entire group of people that same humanity,” they write. In doing so, the authors give voice to any fan’s disappointment of a flawed hero while at the same time making a case for his inspired work to never be forgotten. —Amanda McCorquodale