Archive for June, 2009

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics (Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle, Abrams ComicArts, $40) 

In his introduction to this groundbreaking book, comedian/writer Harry Shearer declares: “Without Harvey Kurtzman, there would have been no Saturday Night Live. What a horrible thing to say about him, but it’s true. . . . OK, this might be better. Without Harvey Kurtzman, there would have been no Simpsons.”

All hyperbole aside, there is much truth in this statement, and, like many other influential artists, Harvey Kurtzman seldom receives the credit he is due for shaping much of what we know as satire in postwar America. As the creator of MAD magazine, Kurtzman had many roles: artist, editor, writer, and ringleader. He nurtured the burgeoning underground comics movement, and his paperback comic novel, The Jungle Book, may have well been the first graphic novel, appearing years before Will Eisner’s Contract with God, which is usually considered the original graphic novel. He gave Gloria Steinem her first job in publishing. He brought John Cleese and Terry Gilliam together and was responsible for publishing some of Robert Crumb’s earliest work. And without Kurtzman’s other, more adult magazines, Humbug, Trump and Help, there very well might not have been a National Lampoon or Spy.

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is the first large-scale retrospective of Harvey Kurtzman’s work, written by Denis Kitchen, a legend in underground comics in his own right, and scholar Paul Buhle. It traverses his stunning career, outlining how much of an impact his life and work had not only in the comics industry, but on pop culture itself. The book itself is a striking example high production aesthetic, an amazing compendium of Kurtzman’s personal drawings, comic strips, layouts and comic “essays” he did for magazines like Esquire.

Chapters cover the major parts of his life, pre and post MAD, giving just as much credence and attention to those periods as the MAD years. And what the book does remarkably well is show what an amazing cartoonist he was in his own right, standing toe to toe with the other amazing roster of artists that surrounded him. Will Elder, Jack Davis and Wally Wood were amazing draftsman’s to be sure, but it was Kurtzman’s ability to capture a mood, or a sense of movement, of weight in just a few strokes of the pen or pencil that is evident in every drawing presented in the book. Animator John K has often sited Kurtzman’s drawing skills on his blog, dissecting not only Kurtzman’s use of the Line of Action but his canny ability to layout a page, giving story and art equal time in terms of overall impact.

The book pays a greahelp_cover_25t deal of attention to Harvey Kurtzman’s process, which could be fairly intricate (often times Kurtzman would write and layout pages, much to the chagrin of some artists who were working for him). Many of his initial thumbnails and final layouts of pages are presented, along with the finished product.  

There is a long chapter covering much of Kurtzman’s earliest work for EC, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. The book reprints in full (one of several complete reprintings) the classic story “Corpse on the Imjin!” which not only displays Kurtzman’s uniquely human storytelling, but his amazing artistic skills. Much more stylized than any other artists on the EC war comics roster, his illustrations were boldly inked, and superbly designed, the impact much greater then a hyper-realistic interpretation.

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman reprints many comics from various projects, often times in their entirety. There is the famous “Superduperman” from MAD, illustrated by Wally Wood, a never before seen proof of a 3-D  spoof comic, and probably, most striking of all, a section that reprints a page from a little Annie Fannie story, complete with preproductions all of the vellum overlays (using actual vellum) that Kurtzman produced for his partner—the amazing Will Elder—to work from. These reprints are often the highlights of the book, as they are sometimes the original proofs, accompanied by the original layouts and contextualized with detailed background on how each was designed and developed.


The Trump, Humbug and Help, years are also covered in depth, with many of the covers reprinted as well as often time hilarious promotional photos of the people involved in their creation.

Long on amazing art, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is sometimes lacking in it’s overview of the man himself. A few years back Fantagrpahics released a fanatastic book as part of their library series, Harvey Kurtzman: TCJ Library Vol. 7  in which every major interview that appeared in the Comics Journal—along with other famous interviews in other magazines—were reprinted in their entirety. The interviews often time give a bit more depth and background than The Art of Harvey Kurtzman provides. And like The Art of, Harvey Kurtzman: TCJ Library Vol. 7 , includes a wealth of stunning visual material, some of which is not covered in The Art of.

In many ways The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics  is almost years too late. The fact that it took this long for an edition like this to emerge,  is just another example of an artist only receiving credit for their groundbreaking achievements after they are dead. On the other hand, it is wonderful that there is finally a book like this that catalogues all of Harvey Kurtzman’s amazing achievements, hopefully inspiring a new generation of cartoonists who many have never even heard his name before.


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Here’s my entry into the Draw Parker Contest on the Almost Darwyn Cooke’s Blog blog. As the kids say, check it out, yo!



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COLUMBUS: Well, here we are. India.
ADVISOR 1: I’d never thought we would make it!
COLUMBUS: Speak for yourself lowly Advisor number one. I never had any doubts. Even with that nasty outbreak of plague at the beginning of the journey that wiped out half the crew. Or that rather poorly timed spreading of gonorrhea directly following, I was always sure that we would make England proud.
ADVISOR 2: Spain.
COLUMBUS: Whatever.
ADVISOR 1: I’m sorry Senior Columbus for disagreeing with you. Unlike Advisor number two, I know that I am not worthy to lick your feet.
ADVISOR 2: Bite me.
ADVISOR 1: Go jump off the end of the Earth!
COLUMBUS: Gentlemen, Gentlemen. You’re both equally worthless so there is no need to fight. Now, I hear India’s got some great take out…
ADVISOR 1: Actually, that’s China I believe.
COLUMBUS: What about China?
ADVISOR 1: The take out sir.
COLUMBUS: Chinese take out? Who said anything about Chinese take out? If I wanted Chinese take out we would have gone to China wouldn’t we? Well, like they say, when in India do as the Indians do. Captain Stumpy? Where is Captain Stumpy? I bet he knows a good take out joint in the area.
CAPTAIN STUMPY: Right hear Senior Columbus. Senior, if I may, I would appreciate it if you addressed me by my actual name, Captain Limbsintact.
COLUMBUS: But look at you Captain Stumpy, you’ve got no arms or legs! You’re just a torso and a head. Captain Stumpy is a little more fitting, wouldn’t you say?
CAPTAIN STUMPY: Well, it’s just that it’s so mean, considering my current situation and all.
COLUMBUS: Captain Stumpy, I have a paper cut on my left index finger. Swabby, the deck hand, he has a hangnail. We all have our lots in life, our own particular burdens, but you don’t see us complaining do you? It’s no ones fault you’re like this, it’s just life.
CAPTAIN STUMPY: But you were the one blew off my arms and legs!
COLUMBUS: Who knew that cannon was loaded? I mean, it’s so hard to tell sometimes!
CAPTAIN STUMPY: On two separate occasions?!? First my legs and then my arms?
COLUMBUS: All right, that’s enough! I will not have dissention in the ranks! Captain Stumpy, at dawn you walk the plank!
ADVISOR 3: Sir, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. I’ve been doing some calculating over the past several months and, well, to tell you the truth, I don’t think we’re anywhere near India…
COLUMBUS: Ha! And just where do you think we are lowly Advisor three? Your mom’s house?
ADVISOR 1: HAHAHAHAHAHAH! Your mom’s house! That’s a good one!
ADVISOR 3: Well, I don’t know exactly. But it’s definitely not India.
COLUMBUS: Advisor number one.
ADVISOR 1: Yes, Senior!
COLUMBUS: Take a memo.
ADVISOR 1: As you wish…
COLUMBUS: Kill Advisor three in the most painful manner imaginable. The rack, the iron maiden, drawn and quartered, whatever. Just make sure it hurts. A lot.
ADVISOR 3:  Jeez, dude, can’t you give me a break?
COLUMBUS: That’s Sir Dude to you, and no, I can’t. What kind of leader would I be if I didn’t set an example by killing an insolent advisor once and while? Huh? I’ll tell you what kind. (Pause) Just as soon as I make sure I have the best seat possible for your execution.
ADVISOR 3: Great…
COLUMBUS: Fantastic! In the meantime, Advisor number two, where do you think one might procure some voluptuous Indian females so that we can spread our many and varied diseases to this land as well?
ADVISOR 2: I’m sure we can find out quickly enough. I’ll send out a tweet!
COLUMBUS: Splendid! Don’t forget to mention that I am looking really ripped these days and that all the fly girls need to get on my jammy. Now, I need a good marketing slogan for this voyage. Something memorable. Ingeniously simple. Like that one from the 3rd installment of the Crusades.
ADVISOR 2: You mean, “Screw this, I’m going home.”
COLUMBUS: Precisely. If I remember correctly that marketing campaign caught on even faster than the one from Easter, “Jesus is back and He’s pissed”. Now, think! This is what I pay you people for!
ADVISOR 2: How about, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
COLUMBUS: What? You’re serious? Are you trying to kill me with your lameness? Are you? Because that’s what you’re doing with that puke you call a slogan. I am puking now! If the Pope were here he’d be puking Pope puke all over the place because he had just heard the lamest thing in all of Christendom! How about this…. “Christopher Columbus: that guy rocks!”
ADVISOR 1: Yes, yes, I love the sound of it! It’s very late 1400s.
ADVISOR 2: Yeah, you would love it, you suck up!
ADVISOR 1: I should have eaten you on the ship when I had the chance!
ADVISOR 2: Filthy cannibal!
ADVISOR 1: I’ll kill you!
COLUMBOUS: Both of you: shut your faces! Advisor three! Advisor three!
ADVISOR 3: Yes, your explorivness!
COLUMBUS: Since you are the only one of my top advisors not currently annoying the hell out of me, I resend the execution I had planned for you: stoning followed by beheading with a small, dull paring knife. You are now Advisor number one. Advisor number one you are number two and Advisor number two you are now number three and subsequently will be killed.
ADVISOR 1: (formally Advisor 3) Yes!
ADVISOR 2: (formally Advisor 1) What-ever!
ADVISOR 3: (formally Advisor 2) This blows big time!
COLUMBUS: Now that we’ve dispensed with that unpleasantness, Advisor one, fetch me my gorilla suit.

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A color version of some inks I did awhile back.

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I just found this not too long ago and have been humming it ever since: Mike Patton’s cover of Ennio Morricone’s Deep Deep Down, originally sung by Christy for the Danger:Diabolik soundtrack. Patton’s version really builds upon the original and sounds great live with a full orchestra backing him. There’s is talk of an album of covers of Italian pop songs from the 50s and 60s—which would include Deep Deep Down— but I have yet to find any hard release dates.

I’ve also included a clip of the version by Christy (it’s the English version; for some reason I can’t find the original Italian).

Speaking of great Morricone covers, the always versatile John Zorn (a long-time collaborator of Patton’s) has a brilliant album of Morricone covers that has been out for years called The Big Gundown. Here are two live versions of pieces that are on the album, Erotico and The Battle of Algiers.


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