Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bond and Tobey

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. This time, reviews, of sorts, of James Bond: The History of the Illustrated 007 (Hermes, 2008) and B. Tobey of The New Yorker (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1983).

This is a very interesting overview of James Bond's lengthy career in comics, ranging from the newspaper strips to cameo appearances to adaptations of the films. Alan Porter has done an exemplary job tracking down stories from all over the world and interviewed many of the writers and artists who've worked on the character to flesh out the backgrounds behind the stories.

The book is gorgeously presented, with dozens of illustrations on very nice paper, but I found the layout occasionally aggravating. The bulk of the book is comprised of a list of stories, with creators, plot points and reprint details, arranged into two columns of text per page. This might be dismissed as a nitpick from a frustrated wannabe designer, but this leaves an awful lot of dead white space on many pages, and starting each entry with the title of each story in nondescript Impact font doesn't strike me as the best solution. I really enjoyed kicking back and following the presentation of stories throughout the 1970s, popping from British newspaper strips to Swedish comic books, but I wonder whether the book might work better as a secondary research source had each thread of Bond continuity been given its own section.

If you're not like me, and are able to avoid second-guessing the presentation of everything you read, you probably won't find these sorts of quibbles. Those aside, it's a genuinely fine book. If you really like James Bond, you're probably enjoying Titan's reprint series of the newspaper strips already, and this is a fabulous companion to those volumes. Porter's commentary is honest and informed. He doesn't hesitate to point out when some of the storylines get eyebrow-raisingly silly, and the background commentary to Bond's occasional truncated adventures-in-progress (such as the Thunderball strip or Topps' aborted adaptation of Goldeneye) is very interesting. In all, this is a perfectly good addition to any Bond-lover's bookshelf.

Barney Tobey, who passed away in 1989, specialized in dry panels where middle-management suburbanites were confronted with modern art, or visited Europe as baffled tourists. I might say that very little in this collection of 120-odd cartoons is on as consistently a knockout level as Tobey's New Yorker colleagues Charles Addams or Jack Ziegler, but I don't think potential readers should view that as a dismissal, either.

I read this yesterday during that agonizing weekly visit to the allergy clinic, and at one point turned a page and laughed so loudly and for so long that we had the full attention of every bored, suffering person there, much to the absolute, acute embarassment of my son, who was chuckling all the way through the latest Dr. Slump volume with much less noise.

Every decent library should have at least one New Yorker collection. I wouldn't pay an exorbitant price from an out-of-print specialist for this, but it certainly shouldn't be passed up if found in a good used bookstore, either.

(Originally posted February 04, 2009 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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