Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review- SOCIETY IS NIX


SOCIETY IS NIX (Sunday Press Books, 2013; Hardcover)

Collects newspaper strips from 1895-1915
Writers: Too numerous to list
Artists: Too numerous to list

Wow. As much a lesson in comic strip history as it is a collection of vintage strips from the Platinum Age of Comics, Society Is Nix is required reading for anyone who wants to know how it all began. There is a lengthy introduction which traces the origin of the newspaper strip to England and Germany in the 19th century, showing numerous examples as well as the origin of the comic book, which was originally a way for publishers to reprint newspaper strips in book format. These were also the very first collected editions, if you will. 


There are many of these strips that I would love to see full blown collections of, such as Buster Brown and Pore Lil' Mose. Due to the racist caricatures found in those strips, it will likely never happen. Folks could never look past that and see these for the historical curiosities that they are. There are several examples in this book of racist caricatures which were common occurrences in newspaper strips of the day, and it seems like something out of The Twilight Zone. Those who believe that race relations have not progressed need look no further than examples found here to see how far things have come.

The comic jam and crossovers, things which I loathe and associate with the worst of modern comic fandom, actually originated during this era. Granted the crossovers were limited to characters within the same newspaper, but happen they did. The more things change...

This was done in clay and then photographed. Amazing!

As this was the dawn of the artform, the rules were made up as they went along. Some of the early strips had numbered panels so that people could understand how to follow along, a tradition continued in the early Golden Age comic books.


There are some brilliant artists in this book. F.M. Howarth's bizarre big-headed characters and thick black lines. Jack Bryans' silhouette style of storytelling. R.F. Outcault is another seemingly forgotten genius. A.D. Reed, whose style was a precursor if not direct influence on Robert Crumb and the underground “comix” of the 1960s. Ed Carey's Simon Simple, which is worthy of it's own line of books. Of course no overview of this era would be complete without a handful of examples of Winsor McCay's genius. Norman E. Jennett is an artist whose work needs to be rediscovered and collected. Penny Ross' Mamma's Angel Child is also brilliant. I can go on and on and on but won't. Suffice it to say that I want to see more of this stuff. 

Mamma's Angel Child. 

The Katzenjammer Kids are the most represented in the book, which makes sense since they were also among the most popular of the day as well as the longest running of these strips. I love the melting pot aspect of the early strips, with artists catering to the various immigrants in their respective cities.

I am beyond thankful for the people who thought to save what was essentially disposable entertainment. If not for the collectors and pack rats of the world this stuff would have been lost entirely. As it is, much of it is gone forever. This book certainly belongs in your collection.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5. 

The Smashing Pumpkins used this turn-of-the-20th-century font for their 1995 double album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. 

The OCD zone- This book is an absolute beast. It is presented in the original strip size, and newspapers were fricking huge back then. It is an awkward, unwieldy read. If you lay it flat it is difficult to see the top of the page. If you read it laying on your back then you will feel it crush your rib cage as it is heavy.
Linework and Color restoration: These are high resolution scans. The yellowing has been removed and it looks as good as can be without full blown restoration. All imperfections found in the original comics (line bleed, off register printing, etc.) are found here.
Paper stock: Thick off-white uncoated stock. Perfect.
Binding: Smyth sewn binding, lays flat. This book is a beast. You need to lay it on your bed or your kitchen table (once you place freshly laundered towels under it on the table, of course- this is the OCD zone, you know!).
Hardback cover notes: Matte casewrap, fairly resistant to scuffing. Cloth wrap around the spine. Classy. 

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