Thursday, May 09, 2013


While rifling through a box of paperbacks I've long thought lost to time I discovered this particular gem, none other'n the original printing of MAD/TRUMP/HELP! creator Harvey Kurtzman's very own JUNGLE BOOK! Released in that ever-boffo year of 1959, this solo excursion into the realm of satire came and went with but nary a whimper and only one printing, but despite its rather short shelf-life the legend behind the book seemed to live on for quite some time. And hey, if I didn't mention that I was one fanabla who wanted to scoop this 'un up after discovering its existence well, this just wouldn't be a BLOG TO COMM post now, would it?

So with typical anal retentive bravado I decided to pluck this paperback out from the reams of old MAD and HUMBUG offerings moiling in that cardboard box and give it another go, even though I do possess the more recent reprinting in larger and easier to read dimensions. After all, in this case I don't have to torture myself by reading Art Spiegelman's introduction which I guess is there not only for his boffo name credo but to tell us what we're about to receive, and hasn't he inundated us with his at-times tres-obvious and politically pompous opines for a longer time'n any of us coulda imagined?

Fans of Kurtzman's magazine work might be a li'l distracted over the more sophisticado approach here, as it's clear he isn't quite aiming for the kiddie audience with this particular 'un. But then again this ain't one of them MAD LOOKS AT OLD MOVIES THEY HAVEN'T SHOWN ON TEE-VEE IN TWENNY-FIVE YEARS knockoffs which, while fuh-nee to the max, were pretty much LCD crankouts capitalizing on that mag's over-the-top success. Naw, yer gonna hafta use a li'l brainpower to make your way through this collection of etapoint late-fifties spoofs dealing with a wide array of subjects that might have been considered the perfect counterpoint to alla that hypocritical/sexist/racist/bigoted/repressive/(put your favorite uptight and socially-conscious adjective in here) culture that's long dead 'n gone, which on the other hand reminds us of just why those days were oh-so superior to anything that's happened since. At least back then we knew what to do with rabble-rousers who actually spout off about funtime culture being hypocritical/sexist/racist...

"Thelonius Violence, Like, Private Eye" is a fairly good spoof of all of those late-fifties hip PI and cop shows they used to run like PETER GUNNRICHARD DIAMOND, M-SQUAD and JOHNNY STACCATO...y'know, the ones which glamorized undercover detective work whether on or off the force as being fraught with hotcha ladies and big oafs who want you to "get off the case!" driving the message home with a few hard whacks to the hero's skull. In many ways this is merely an update of the old "Kane Keene" story Kurtzman wrote for MAD a good five or so years earlier, only brainier. Since Kurtzman was now writing for an older, mature audience instead of some suburban pimplefarm kid who didn't know whether to buy a comic book or an interest in Stinky Wilson's dead cat with his last dime I guess he could afford to smarten up the thing.

"The Organization Man in the Red Flannel Executive Suite" features the debut of the Goodman Beaver character, someone we'll be hearing about on this blog in the near future. I never understood the fascination there was with advertising executives, the magazine industry and the entire Madison Avenue buzz of the fifties and sixties, but considering all of the takeoffs of the genre that were popping up in the satire rags of the day it must've been big dinner table conversation material. Beaver's fresh from executive school and ready to do his best to make his mark for the same people who give us such wholesome publications as KILL and WHOOBOY, but will the industry eat him up and spit his bones out like some mad monster, eager to take on yet another fresh upstart and repeat the entire sordid process? Well if you think I'm gonna tell ya then you've got another think comin'!

Another creation of the fifties was the "adult" western, a term which by the late-sixties would have conjured up thoughts of cowgals and injun ladies showin' off their bare juggins! Well, maybe that was the case considerin' some of the westerns that would be comin' out once 1970 clocked in, but here we're talkin' 'bout somethin' that was a tad more "grown up" 'n not just another crankout cowpuncher tale with a grinnin' hero who gets crucial advice from his horse. "Compulsion on the Range" is a thinly-veiled laff at the expense of this genre featuring obvious swipes of Marshal Dillon and Chester and the psychological hoo-hah behind why these cowboys just hadda be the fastest draw in the west! And it ain't as phallic as you think!

Closing out the book is "Decadence Degenerated," one of those Deep South sagas of lust 'n lynchings that really must've resonated with alla 'em beatnik types who stormed down to Selma because Joan Baez told 'em to. All yer favorite stereotypes are trotted out in this tale about the shy and reclusive Si Mednick who cozies up to the tit-ilating Honey Lu, and the local yokels who lynch Mednick when Honey Lu turns up head-bashed and ditch-ditched. And it sure reads a fanabla of a lot better'n anything Tennessee Irving wrote!

So there you has it, a downright Harvey Kurtzman masterpiece that is bound to make fans of his from MAD to LITTLE ORPHAN BOSOM hip hip hooray from here to West Middlesex and back w/o stopping for traffic signals. Try finding a copy (I guess ebay is as good a place as any, or maybe even Amazon) original may be nice but even the nineties reissue would work fine...I mean it ain't like you have to read Spiegelman's intro!

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