Monday, September 14, 2009

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics (Abrams ComicArts, 2009).

This book just screams "labor of love." Obviously ages in the making, Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle have assembled a terrific biography of Harvey Kurtzman, the great American humorist behind Mad and Humbug and so many other hilarious comics and magazines (including the short-lived Trump, the collected edition of which, wouldyabelieveit, has been postponed again, to the spring of 2010). It's another great hardcover presentation from the good folk at Abrams ComicArts, full of illustrative examples and commentary by the authors, as they retell the story of Kurtzman's life and career.

I never really know how to review a biography, so I'll just say that there's a heck of a lot of information in here that's new to me, and it's presented in such a vibrant and fun way that it will make any reader want to know even more about Kurtzman's work. For me, it's definitely Help, a magazine that I desperately want to learn more about and see more from, and this book only made me frustrated because it's not presently available.

But while Goodman Beaver might, to my mind, be underrepresented, it's more than matched by the overwhelming amount of material for Little Annie Fanny's twenty-six year run. And while here at the Boookshelf, the collected edition of that comic proved that a little Annie goes a long way, the look behind the scenes here is pretty fascinating, including a breakdown of one page's development across several overlays of tracing paper, and the book's real highlight: a never-before-printed episode which Playboy had turned down.

While the inclusion of so much Annie material registers this as a book for older readers, it's certainly one that anybody curious about Kurtzman or Mad should check out. It's definitely on my shortlist for book of the year, and strongly recommended.

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