Selected and Edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. Introduction by Jon Scieszka. Published by Abrams Comicarts, New York.
(Some images included for review purposes. All copyright and ownership credit to this book and the original creators.)
350 pages of classic comics from the 1940s and 1950s! These aren’t super heroes, or horror, or romance. These are the comics that kids used to read in the millions. No exaggeration. Comics were wonderful and plentiful until someone decided to fake information, claim they’re the cause of delinquency, and dig a hole the medium is still trying to dig out from. This collection takes some of the best kids comics from those decades and breaks them up into fun sub genres: Hey Kids, Funny Animals, Fantasyland, Storytime, and Weird and Wacky.
I’ve read thousands of comics over my life, and at least hundreds of collections. This is by far one of the most fun times I’ve had reading funny books. In my chair, in bed, or anywhere I could steal a moment. I spent a couple days enjoying the heck out of these G rated comics. Superheroes and “serious” graphic novels sell today but comics like the ones featured here should still be available everywhere for a cheap cover price. Grab a few of these before a long car trip. Grab new ones whenever the family reaches their summer destination.
There are familiar characters like Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, and Dennis the Menace. Captain Marvel makes an appearance in a story that’s more surreal than super. Forgotten favorites from previous generations like Pogo, Little Lulu, and Sugar and Spike. All of which would have been worth the 10 cents back in the day and I would pay a couple couple bucks for every one of them right now. From single page up to ten pages, the adventures and silliness are told in a concise manner perfect for “short attention spans”. Weird how that was only a concern with MTV and cable, yet here are comics from two generations previous that fit the mold as well.
These comics made me laugh, they made me smile, and they remind me once again of a lesson I learn over and over again but still surprises me. Comics can be anything for anyone. While I love the epic capes, the worst horrors, and the far reaches of space sometimes I can also enjoy two talking animals trying to get one up on each other. Just because the stories aren’t serious doesn’t mean the creators didn’t take it seriously. Engrossing writing that had me enjoying every panel. Every beautifully crafted panel. These are people at the beginnings of the comic format breaking the rules that are so new they’re not even written in stone yet and then experimenting with the pieces as they’re put back together. Watchmen might be the most popular deconstruction of the medium but there are short stories in here simultaneously simple enough for any child to grasp and also challenging for any adult who thought they knew what comics are supposed to be.
The only flaw is the anger I have over my own ignorance and the forgetful nature of the comics community. “Intellectual Amos” is whip smart, beautifully drawn, original, funny, and yields so many questions I could read a stack of them right now. Yet I’ve never heard of this character before. “Burp the Twerp” is the grandfather to every strange cartoon today. From Adventure Time to Uncle Grandpa to most of Adult Swim – Burp ran detached head and nose first into every nonsensical moment he could find. This is like discovering that the original white rock n’ roll songs were actually covers of original Black songs. I thought I knew the origins of things I enjoy, but I didn’t even know there was a curtain much less something behind it.
Kids are smart, as most anyone who actually has a kid will tell you. The entertainment they love has to be smart too. While we’re in a golden age of responsible kids cartoons like Steven Universe, Infinity Train, She-Ra, Bluey, and thankfully many more – they are still “just cartoons” to the majority of people. Music is just noise. Comics are just trash. And kids comics are disrespected within the comic community. The castaways cast away something within, that’s how low the animals and the silliness are viewed. Yet here are names like Carl Barks, Walk Kelly, Dave Berg, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Cole, and so much more putting out absolute gold. Names that comic lovers know for other more mature, or immature, works yet here they are producing instant classic children’s stories that caused a million laughs around the country.
I’m left wondering who owns some of these characters. Are the Fox and the Crow in public domain? Can someone bring back Little Lulu? I’ll sit down and write a 22 page comic featuring Prince Robin and the Dwarfs right now for any publisher that wants to add it to their line up.
Read some comics to kids. Get them to read the next story to you. Have a stack of cheap ones in their bedroom that aren’t in bags and boards. Let them be silly and laugh ’til their stomachs hurt. This is the kind of pure innocent comics reading enjoyment I haven’t experienced since the neighborhood kid had a wagon full of his dad’s old ones in the garage. Hand me a Coke in a glass bottle and point me towards a tree with lots of shade.