In his introduction to The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius, Adam Gopnick recounts one of his first experiences with the very essence of Rube Goldberg: the popular board game, Mouse Trap. For those unaware, Mouse Trap is a board game in which players gradually assemble brightly colored plastic pieces that, when linked together just so, produce a confluence of cause and effect involving various levers, ramps, and wheels, all in an effort to drop a cage on a mouse. I myself possessed this triumph of engineering in action and often marveled at the lack of efficiency of the whole operation. Indeed, this very concept has been enshrined in the English language as an adjective (Rube Goldbergian), which is used to describe accomplishing something by complex means that seemingly could be done simply.
Rube Goldberg explained his ridiculous flights of invention as “a symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.” One could argue (and many have), that this view was a modern critique of industrialism, and the folly of man’s reliance on the mechanical to solve problems. If it was sly commentary, then Goldberg surely discovered a profound joy in exploring the possibilities while delightfully mocking the contraptioneering of the age of the assembly line.
Rube Goldberg touched an entire generation of citizens. His cartoons were syndicated from 1915 to 1934, and were published by many of the major newspapers of the time. His influence on cartoonists crosses decades. He was the first president of the National Cartoonists Society. Their yearly best cartoonists’ award is even called the Reuben, after Goldberg’s first name.
The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius is a marvelous edition containing essays by historians and cartoonists who have felt the influence of this tremendous force in cartooning. It contains a smorgasbord of work from all points in Goldberg’s career, including many of his invention strips, and selected series strips including Mike and Ike (They Look Alike), Boob McNutt, and The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Women’s Club. Goldberg initially won acclaim through political cartooning, and a good collection of his political and social cartoons appear in this volume as well. As I flipped through the extra-wide pages, lingering on the panels, I was immediately struck by the mad complexity of Goldberg’s compositions; they are a master class in visual literacy.
A book on Goldberg would not seem complete without some device or machination involved, and the paper-craft sequential action panel which occupies the window on the cover is a welcome addition. My only complaint with this volume stems from the weak reinforcement of the binding. If purchased for a library, some extra care given to the preservation of this splendid collection would go a long way to making sure future generations can marvel at the madness contained within.
The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius
edited by Jennifer George
art by Rube Goldberg
Abrams Comicarts, 2013