Wednesday, May 15, 2013

BOOK REVIEW! GOODMAN BEAVER by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder (Kitchen Sink, 1984)

Last week I blabbed on about Harvey Kurtzman's 1959 paperback-only JUNGLE BOOK, so this go 'round why not upchuck this classic collection of early-sixties Kurtzman kraziness via the pages of HELP! I'm talkin' in this case 'bout the short-lived Goodman Beaver series, the very one featuring the same character who rose to the top of the publishing heap with starry-eyed aplomb and evil intent in JUNGLE BOOK's "Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite" but a few years earlier! Only now he's been remade-remodeled for the hipster satire crowd that was eating mags like HELP! for breakfast and wiping up with MAD after dinner!

It would seem logical to build a series around this particular character no matter how innocent and nebbish-like he may have been. Mebbe Beaver is too goody good to be a character which any manly BLOG TO COMM reader with hair on his heart and a fire in his chest could comfy up to, but the stories are snat (think classic MAD with a more grown up, dare-I-say adult intent) and the enlarged artwork (most of the time one panel per page) is enough to keep your eyeballs on the lookout for alla that "chicken fat" that Bill Elder used to slip into his art during his days working with Kurtzman on these "new" comic books, as Les Daniels called 'em.

But I like 'em all even if Beaver does come off a little too nebbish for anyone to take in such large doses. Now I like nebbishness when it's done up right, but Kurtzman really knows how to take such a character and make him a reflection for our (OK, those old) times with these classic sagas which pretty much are a continuation of his old MAD and HUMBUG work right down to the rectangular printed word balloons and hoo hah gags. And if you, like me, spent your pre-pubehair days on the lookout for the original MAD reprints just for the pre-underground, snide, snat attitude of the Kurtzman-helmed stories you'll be more'n game for a book like this!

In these '61-'62 comics Beaver (a character who seems afloat in a world he did not make more'n Howard the Duck ever could be!) meets up with a variety of characters of both a tee-vee and comic strip/book variety, falling into adventures with them thus making for a perfect platform for Kurtzman to shoot off his mind regarding a variety of then up-and-comin' situations of both a political or social nature. And yeah these sagas might seem so ancient now, but back then were front and center on any thinking man's brain even more'n the cancellation of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, and like why should you ignore the past just because it's all in black 'n white anyway?

For an example of the on-target satire and commentary found in this series, just take the debut Goodman Beaver story where  the guy meets up with none other'n Tarzan in a saga dealing with Soviet influence in Africa, where a Russian version of the Ape Man and Jane (Tarshov and Tanya) attempt to win over the chimpanzees from the control of the "decadent" Englishman! In the following story Beaver encounters Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson (SEA HUNT) in a saga that passes as a thinly-veiled spoof/homage to Don Quixote jousting at windmills, or at Soviet submarines in this case (as if I'd ever read anything as haughty as Don Quixote in the first place!). Beaver also dallies with a Superman who quits the superhero business because of a fickle, hero-hating public as well as learns first hand about the connection between handguns and "cool" when he joins the police force and must carry his pistol at all times thus becoming an unwitting sex symbol in the process!

One story you won't read here is "Goodman Goes Playboy," which is the one which got Kurtzman and HELP! into a huge stinking mess when it was originally published back '62 way! Y'see, this is the saga where Beaver meets up with the Archie Gang who, after falling under the spell of PLAYBOY magazine, were now into high-fidelity living and hyped up sexual prowess (with Jughead, whom I always assumed was a neuter, actually getting Betty knocked up!), and in typical Kurtzman fashion everything turns into a crazed mess when "Archer" perishes in an insane sex orgy and it is ultimately discovered that it was the Devil himself who took his soul in exchange for his good fortune. The story ends with a line of other cartoon characters queuing up to plunk their names on the dotted line with Beaver himself wondering whether or not it'd be worth the trouble to join up himself!

As anyone'd expect the entire shebang just didn't settle well with the Archie Comics people who after enduring one Archie satire after another from MAD for years finally decided to lower the ol' boom on Kurtzman and HELP! publisher James Warren. Well, one thing led to another and it all ended up with Archie Publications not only owning the original artwork but prohibiting the reprinting of the saga in this collection (other'n a few panels for decorative purposes!), a sore thumb which really upset both Kurtzman and Elder who believed "Goodman Goes Playboy" their finest hour. Really, the folk at Kitchen Sink, who were considering running the saga with the offending and copyrighted Archie characters faces blotted out, were rebuked under threat of losing every penny they had in their coffers and even non-ARCHIE characters from the story were prohibited from being shown on the front cover collage which only goes to show ya just how much Archie Comics meant business! But stories like this do sometimes have a happy ending...strangely enough the Archie people forgot to renew the copyright they had on this rather witty saga and now anyone can publish it if they like, so if there's gonna be another edition of this book (or better yet an entire HELP! collection) you might be able to finally read it without fear of reprisal. (As for me I have the original ish in my collection somewhere so I could care less since that's the kinda bum I am and shall remain!)

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