Thursday, January 26, 2017

BOOK REVIEW! WALT KELLY'S OUR GANG Volume 2 (Fantagraphics, 2007)

I gotta admit that, like many of the old LITTLE RASCALS tee-vee viewers I've known throughout the years, I never really cozied up to the post-Roach OUR GANG comedies that were being done at MGM from 1938 until 1944. They were just too prissy and "well made" for a guy like me who thought those early talkies with Wheezer stumbling through his lines and the crackle of the transposed sound discs added a certain real-life mesmerizing quality to the films that only a four-year-old or autistic could really appreciate.

And while I'm at it I must 'fess up to the fact that I never was a fan of Walt Kelly or POGO for that matter. And I'm sure much to your surprise this was long before I knew about the whole "Simple J. Malarkey" brouhaha that earned Kelly a whole load of upper-crust brownie points that sure look swell in all of those comic strip history books. While the art seemed good enough the stories were so contrived and brainy that a NANCY fan like myself just couldn't make any sense outta 'em. To me, reading some POGO collection that I had copped outta the library was akin to reading MRS. WIGGS and that's only because I thought that's what the folks wanted me to read, not because I actually wanted to read it myself.

Mucho hosannas have been draped upon Kelly's OUR GANG series for Dell Comics o'er the years but I never really felt any real urge (well...maybe a few piddling ones)  to pick any of 'em up. Thanks to Bill Shute and his 2016 Christmas package I FINALLY get to read these infamous comics and y'know what? Just 'bout everything that I thought would be too staid, sober, strict and just tantamount to suburban slob treason can be found in this collection. Well, maybe it ain't that bad but reading these age twelve on a hot summer's day would not be as all-enveloping as perusing an ish of ARCHIE with a bikini-clad Betty and Veronica delineated by Dan De Carlo onna cover.

Placing the Our Gang-sters in a number of typically comic book-ish adventure stories ain't really a bad idea, but sheesh are these stories flimsy and lacking a whole lotta the verve and vigor that other kid gang comics of the day (like say "The Newsboy Legion" or "Boy Commandos") had goin' for 'em. Far from the kind of sagas that the series was encountering at the mooms (and far from the universal kiddie mayhem that was goin' on during the Roach days) the gang, which by this time featured Robert Blake, Froggy and the perennial Buckwheat (who sure hasn't grown the way he did in real life in these pages!) get shipwrecked, fight Japanese invaders, and match wits against a rival gang who naturally become pals after all is said and done. Good clean wholesome kid stuff true, but given just what a genius Kelly has been painted at all these years I sure woulda expected something more bang-slam, y'know???

Maybe the final story where Froggy invents a rejuvenation pill which he believes actually worked when his guinea pig's son is found walking around in pop's suit jacket and hat has some old vim to it, but it sure ain't a "Robot Rex" (which was perhaps one of the better late-period OUR GANG shorts) or any of those post-Roach GANGs that just happened to get 'cha even though they weren't just quite the same.

Oh yeah, while I'm at it THANK ME for sparing you a report on the heaping gobs o' white guilt goo regarding not only Buckwheat but the Japanese soldiers that is presented for your soul searching in the introduction. Seems that a good chunk of these new comics collections have some sort of mandatory disclaimer about the contents reflecting those horrid old attitudes which I'm sure gives some neophytes the impression that anything before the hippydip era was one massive roil of racial animosity. It may seem all noble and honest prima-facie-like, but in the long run it really ain't nothing but a whole load of self-back patting by a buncha people who are so keen on letting us know just how enlightened they are. Kinda makes me wonder if future presentations of current works will contain pious warnings regarding the stereotyped portrayals of the various targets of today's politically precocious set as they are presented in the current media, but somehow I am not holding your breath.

1 comment:

Bill S. said...

Now that you have reviewed this, I can tell you that I got it VERY cheap in the remainder rack...and there was a reason I did not keep it myself and decided to send it to you along with my REAL Xmas gift for you....which was, I knew I'd never read it again. Oh, one thing I can say: I'd much rather read one of these late-period Our Gang comics than watch one of those awful late-period MGM shorts, but as they say, that's not much of a compliment!