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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 27 Mar 2024 15:48:17 -0500
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The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac


_The Illustrated Mark Twain and the Buffalo Express: 10 Stories and over a
Century of Sketches_. Edited by Thomas J. Reigstad. Foreword by Laura
Skandera Trombley. North Country (Rowman & Littlefield), 2024. Pp. 112.
Hardcover $26.95 ISBN 978149307603 (hardcover). ISBN 9781493076048 (ebook).

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <>

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Kevin Mac Donnell

Copyright (c) 2024 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

While Mark Twain's books were usually illustrated, hundreds of his
journalistic writings were never illustrated in their original newspaper
appearances, although a young Sam Clemens illustrated two of his Hannibal
pieces himself in September 1852. So, it is welcome news that the ten
stories chosen for this slender volume, which exhibit all of the
characteristics of Twain's early newspaper journalism, have the added bonus
that they are accompanied by 51 illustrations that enhance Twain's humor.
But to fully appreciate and understand this latest book from Thomas
Reigstad some context is in order.

It has been supposed that when Mark Twain sold his stake in the Buffalo
_Express_ in 1871 and moved to Hartford, it marked a milestone in his
literary career, as he left journalism behind and entered the realm of
literature. The truth is that he never really abandoned the journalistic
roots that he first planted in Hannibal when he went to work at his
brother's newspaper, roots that he continued to cultivate as he moved
around the country, most notably in Nevada and California, before arriving
in Buffalo. The lessons he learned as a journalist, imitating the
techniques of southwestern humor and borrowing from the bag of goofy tricks
favored by Phunny Phellows like Artemus Ward, would serve him all his life,
and can be detected in his writings from decades later by astute readers.

But readers of Mark Twain do not need to be astute to notice that nearly
all of Twain's books were heavily illustrated, often featuring Twain
himself, a reflection of his writings, of course, in which he often
featured himself as a character. In fact, the illustrations accompanying
his words were usually carefully supervised and approved by Twain himself.
This was true of Twain's first bestselling book, _The Innocents Abroad_
(1869), which was published at the very moment when he set foot in the
offices of the Buffalo _Express_. Illustrations would become such an
integral part of Twain's literary art that when his writings are reprinted
today without them, the reader may rightfully feel short-changed.

During the more than one hundred years since Twain's death, his works have
inspired many distinguished artists, with the result that some, like Norman
Rockwell's paintings of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, have become iconic, with
Rockwell's fence-painting scene even appearing on a US postage stamp,
ceramic statues, and elsewhere. Others, like Worth Brehm's depictions of
Tom (1910) and Huck (1923), have influenced how those boys have been
portrayed in movies ever since, even surpassing the visual influence of
their original portrayals by True Williams (1876) and E. W. Kemble (1885).

This volume recognizes and reflects this context. Four of the pieces
included carry illustrations that appeared with Twain's blessing when they
were first published in the Buffalo _Express_, during his time as co-owner
and co-editor. The illustrator, John Harrison Mills, produced crude comical
woodblock cuts (not fine engravings) for "A Day at Niagara," "English
Festivities," "Journalism in Tennessee," and "The 'Wild Man.'
'Interviewed.'" Twain himself cut the woodblock for his well-known map of
the "The Fortifications of Paris" that accompanied his pieces mocking
contemporary sensational newspaper coverage of the Franco-Prussian War.
Also included are facsimiles of the amusing headlines Twain designed to
give his biting satire even more of a bite.

The pieces in this selection that were collected just a few years later in
Twain's second volume of short stories, _Sketches, New and Old_ (1875),
were illustrated by artist True Williams, best-known for his drawings for
_The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ (1876), and seventeen of those are
reproduced here. In 1978, four of these stories appeared in the
_Courier-Express Sunday Magazine_ with illustrations by Tom Toles, who
later won a Pulitzer Prize for his cartoon work, and then went to work for
the _Washington Post_, from where he retired in 2020. His one dozen Twain
illustrations in this book clearly reflect the talent for which he was
later recognized.

One story, "A Curious Dream," was illustrated by Bill Watterson, known to
all Twainians for his ten iconic postcards designed for the _Mark Twain
Journal_ before he achieved lasting fame for his sorely-missed comic strip,
_Calvin and Hobbes_. Two of his drawings appear here. Finally, Adam Zyglis,
the current editorial cartoonist for the _Buffalo News_, drew two original
illustrations especially for this volume, and two more illustrations he
drew previously for the _Buffalo News_ adorn the front and back covers of
this volume. Readers will enjoy tracing the elements of Twain's texts that
inspired each artist and comparing the results.

Thomas Reigstad has nicely biographed all of these illustrious
illustrators, and a portrait of each man accompanies their biographies,
along with Reigstad's informative notes on the background and circumstances
of each story. This is not Reigstad's first examination of Twain's Buffalo
_Express_ writings. His first book on the subject, _Scribblin' for a
Livin'_ (2013, and reviewed by yours truly in the Mark Twain Forum)
established his place as an authority on Twain's Buffalo years. Other books
have focused on Twain's Buffalo years: Henry Duskis's _The Forgotten
Writings of Mark Twain_ (1963), Joseph B. McCullough and Janice
McIntire-Strasburg's _Mark Twain at the Buffalo Express_ (1999), and Robert
H. Hirst and Patrick E. Martin's _Mark Twain in Buffalo_ (2010), for
example. The Duskis volume must be used with caution, but the others are
reliable and extremely useful. Twain scholars Louis J. Budd, Martin Fried,
Bruce McElderry, Bruce Michelson, Gary Scharnhorst, Arthur L. Scott, and
Jeffrey Steinbrink have also written on Twain's Buffalo years and writings.

This attractive volume offers insights into a previously unknown
collaboration between Twain and one of his illustrators, combines
illustrations from different eras that help clarify some of Twain's topical
satire for modern readers, and it covers a range of topics that resonate
today: sensational journalism, taxes, tourism, the public's fascination
with royalty, and deflating the famous. Reigstad's presentation of these
ten pieces is both informative and funny, like Mark Twain himself.