ART OUT OF TIME: UNKNOWN COMICS VISIONARIES, 1900-1969 (Abrams ComicArts, Third Printing, 2010; Hardcover)
This book is an excellent overview of the forgotten and the esoteric comic strip and comic book artists of the early 20th century. The material is broken down into five categories, Exercises In Exploration, Slapstick, Acts Of Drawing, Words In Pictures, and Form And Style. I will list each artist covered as well as the material that is reprinted in this book.
First up we have Harry Grant Dart's The Explorigator strip, a beautifully drawn surreal series obviously inspired by Winsor McCay's Little Nemo In Slumberland. The strips for 6/14/1908, 6/21/1908, 7/26/1908, and an undated 1908 page are all shrunk down too small to comfortably read.
Next is Howard Nostrand's classic What's Happening At...8:30 P.M. from Witches Tales #25 from 1954. This tale has since been reprinted multiple times by multiple publishers.
Herbert Crowley's The Wiggle-Much is completely ruined due to the strip being shrunk down to fit into this standard sized book. It seems fascinating, but is unfortunately too small to read. The strips reprinted here are 4/3/1910, 4/17/1910, 5/1/1910, 5/8/1910, 5/15/1910, 5/22/1910, 6/5/1910, and 6/12/1910.
Odgen Whitney's Herbie is brilliant. It is bizarre and doesn't make much sense, but that is what makes it so great. His emotionally abusive father certainly doesn't help him any. Old comic books are fascinating snapshots of bygone eras. Societal mores are on full display, albeit often in caricature. A story from 1964's Herbie #3 is reprinted here.
Not everything here is a winner, though. Take Rymond Crawford Ewer's Slim Jim. It would suck even if it were presented in full size. The 4/30/1911, 5/27/1911, 6/17/1911, 6/24/1911, 7/8/1911, 12/16/1911, 11/29/1914, 4/11/1915, and10/31/1915 are reprinted here. This strip will likely never be reprinted again anywhere. Indeed, one has to wonder if any company could even piece together a full run of the series to reprint even if they wanted to.
Another one that has been reprinted many times since this book is Bob Powell's godlike Colorama from 1953's Black Cat Mystery #45. Psychedelic before the term even existed.
I'm not much of an anthropomorphic animal kind of guy, but I can appreciate anything that is well done. Walter Quermann's Hickory Hollow Folks is highly derivative but enjoyable nonetheless. The strips collected here are from 7/3/1938, 7/31/1938, 8/21/1938, 9/11/1938, and 10/23/1938.
As we move to the Slapstick section of the book my enthusiasm waned. I am not a fan of slapstick comics. Milt Gross' Nize Baby is tolerable. The strips from 4/3/1927, 5/28/1927, 8/6/1927 are reprinted here. A 15 page Pete The Pooch story from 1947's Milt Gross Funnies #2 rounds out his section of the book.
Stan Mc Govern's Silly Milly is wretched. The less said about it the better. Daily strips collected here are from 7/3-5, 10-13/1944, 9/5/1944, 12/11, 19-22/1944, 3/26-30/1945, 4/2-6/1945, 5/21/1945, and 6/11-15, 1945.
Dick Briefer's Frankenstein is shown here years before all of the other collections sans the Idea Men Productions book which introduced me to the character. PS Publishing, Yoe Books/IDW, and Dark Horse have all taken a stab at reprinting his run. The story reprinted here, 1946's Frankenstein #4, is great.
Jack Mendelsohn's Jacky's Diary is such an obvious influence on stuff like Diary Of A Wimpy Kid. My son loves those books. Stories from 1960's Jacky's Diary #1 are reprinted here.
In the third section of the book, Acts Of Drawing, we get Charles M. Payne's S'Matter, Pop, which was titled Say, Pop! in the first strip shown here. An undated strip from 1918, 7/21/1918, 2/20/1921, 4/1/1921, 5/?/1921, and an undated 1924 strip round it out.
Fletcher Hanks in batshit insane. His nonsensical writing, coupled with his bizarre artwork make for an awfully memorable (or is it memorably awful?) reading experience. I had both Fantagraphics books which reprinted his stuff but dumped them years ago. Rereading 1940's Fantastic Comics #10 reminded me that I did the right thing, as his work is like a train wreck.
Sunday Press Books recently issued a hardcover of Garrett Price's White Boy, and after reading a sampling here I want it. I likely won't even get around to buying it, but my OCD homeskillet Ferjo Byroy has it and would loan it to me if I asked. It's great stuff that is worth reading. The Sunday storyline from 6/3/1934 through 9/30/1934 is reprinted here.
A.E. Hayward's godawful Somebody's Strong harshed my buzz from the previous strip. The 7/23/1922, 8/20/1922, 3/28/1926, 5/12/1929, and 4/3/1932 strips are a waste of your time.
Jefferson Machamer's Gags And Gals is unreadable. I like old stuff, but sometimes things just don't translate. It's a historical curiosity and nothing more. Reprinted here are the strips from 4/11/1937, 7/11/1937, 8/1/1937, 8/29/1937, and 11/28/1937.
Underground Comix were never my thing. I understand the historical significance of them, but this one kinda sucks and certainly isn't one of the important ones. Rory Hayes' stories from 1969's Bogeyman Comics #1 and 2 are forgettable.
Harry Hershfeld's Dauntless Durham Of The U.S.A. is brilliant. Great art and a great ongoing story, it is marred by the shrunken size of it in this book. It is so difficult to read that I gave up after a while. It's a shame. Maybe IDW/Library Of American Comics can reprint it in one of their strange small landscape format books. There is lots of great slang of the era here. None of the strips' dates here are known, save that the 62 dailies reprinted here are all from 1913. There was a hardcover from 1977, and it makes me envious of the “old guys”, those collectors from the first and second generations of our hobby. They already knew how cool this stuff was 40 years ago, and here I am just discovering it.
Cecil Johnson's Elmo, from 1948's Elmo #1 is unremarkable. There was a time where I would buy anything that was old, so long as it was slapped between two hardbacks with nice paper and sewn binding. The novelty of reading old comics has worn thin after hundreds of these over the past dozen or so years.
I am not a fan of slapstick comics, but I can appreciate anything so long as it is well done. Boody Rogers' Sparky Watts, from issue 8 of the same title from 1948, is great fun. I especially enjoyed it when Sparky was shrunk down to the size of a flea on the monkey. Dimwitted Slap Happy decided to help the monkey get rid of it's fleas by spraying it in the face with D.D.T. Crazy. As goofy as the two stories from Sparky Watts #8 are, I would be all over a collected edition of it.
Harry J. Tuthill's The Bungle Family is so marred by the shrunken size that I gave up trying to read it. What a shame. The 1/1/1933, 8/6/1933, 8/13/1933, 11/26/1933, 12/3/1933, 12/17/1933, 2/4/1934, 3/04/1934, 3/11/1934, 3/18/1934, 4/15/1934, 4/22/1934, 7/29/1934 and 12/26/1937 full page strips are ruined here.
C.W. Kahles' Hairbreadth Harry is genius. I suffered through the smaller size, reading it through the zoom on phone's camera. There is something wrong with a book when you have to use an electronic device to read it. This is very clever strip with gorgeous artwork that needs to be rescued and reprinted. The 2/9/1924, 2/23/1924, 3/8/1924, 4/5/1924, 4/12/1934, 4/19/1924, 4/26/1924, 5/3/1924, 5/10/1924, 5/17/1924, 1/20/1929, 2/3/1929, 3/24/1929, and 3/31/1929 strips are reprinted here. They are not enough. I want more.
Naughty Pete by Charles Forbell is unreadable in this book. It's a second rate Little Nemo In Slumberland anyhow. Strips collected in this book are from 8/17/1913, 8/24/1913, 10/5/1913, 10/12/1913, 10/19/1913, 10/26/1913, 11/2/1913, 11/16/1913, 11/23/1913, 11/30/1913, and 12/7/1913.
T.E. Power's Joys And Glooms is a slice of irony. Hipsters like old stuff and irony, and since this is really old and really ironic they would really like it. The 10/14/1911, 10/16/1911, 10/30/1911, 11/8/1911, 11/13/1911, 12/2/1911, 12/12/1911, and 12/21/1911 certainly pleased men with lumberjack beards the first time around that they were popular.
Gustave Verbeek is all but forgotten with even the strips fans. His artwork has a surreal, childish look to it. The Upside-Downs Of Little Lady Lovekins And Old Man Muffaroo is represented here by the 5/1/1904, 5/8/1904 , 5/22/1904, 6/5/1904, 6/12/1904, an undated 1904 strip, two undated 1905 strips, 7/31/1910, and 6/13/1913.
I couldn't even stomach Gene Deitch's Terr'ble Thompson, as cutesy stuff doesn't float my boat. I did not read the 2/5/1955, 10/20-11/6, 11/10-13/1955, or the 3/04/1956 strips.
Comic books were aimed squarely at children when they came out. While there was certainly a sizeable adult audience for many titles, things like Jingle Jangle Tales #2 from 1943 were for the kiddies. George Carlson's artwork is whimsical and kid friendly for the day.
Norman E. Jennett's Monkey Shines Of Marseleen is godlike. It has a definite Winsor McKay influence, but it so well done who cares! I would love to see it reprinted in its entirety. The 2/28/1909, 3/14/1909, 3/28/1909, 4/4/1909, 4/18/1909, 5/2/1909, 9/26/1909, and 11/21/1909 are all marred by the reduced size.
There is a lot of great vintage material in this book which is not available elsewhere. Unfortunately it is ruined, as the strips are shrunk down in size to such a degree that it causes eye strain. I have 20/20 vision and I had trouble reading it. I ended up using my phone's camera to zoom in, but after a while I became aggravated and gave up on some of the strips. It's a shame that this is the only place to get printed examples of some of these lost classics. I checked this out of the library and I am glad that I didn't pay for the substandard presentation. Saturday or Sunday comic sections were huge, and to see them reduced to this size is painful and heartbreaking.
Still, this is the only game in town to get a lot of this material, so as long as you understand what you are getting you should be okay.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3 out of 5.
The OCD zone-
Linework and Color restoration: Raw scans (or photographs) with minimal tinkering. Line bleed, off register printing, so-called Ben Day dots, and cracked, flaking paper are all present.
Paper stock: Thick coated stock with a slight sheen.
Binding: Smyth sewn binding, lies perfectly flat.
Dustjacket and Hardback Cardstock cover notes: This is a library copy, so the dustjacket is fastened to the hardback and has a Brodart sleeve on it. Therefore, I am unable to comment on them since I cannot inspect them fairly.