Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Given my ever-eternal comic strip obsession (birthed upon my daddy's knee and nurtured by repeated tee-vee viewings of DICK TRACY cartoons) I sure could use more and more reprints of some of them extremely early titles that undountedly set the stage for the strips we all know and love today like CRANKSHAFT and THE BOONDOCKS. Face it, a complete collection of HAPPY HOOLIGAN and MR. JACK would make this boy a really happy lad, and come to think of it the entire run of the 19th-century KATZENJAMMER KIDS strip'd be a gas to read too, especially the really early ones when an un-named (this being during the strip's pantomime years) third brother joined Hans and Fritz in their strictly Aryan hi-jinx. But at least there's has been at least one nicety that's made its way to my door, this particular collection being just one recent example of how a comic strip collection should be done 'stead of just slapping some yellowing clippings on a xerox machine and whirring away!

Given the legendary status of Gustave Verbeck/Verbeek's THE UPSIDE-DOWNS OF LITTLE LADY LOVEKINS AND OLD MAN MUFFAROO I'll dispense with what every other review of this strip and book has mentioned since intellectuals began paying attention to comic strips and critiquing them the same way they would a Picasso or Rembrandt. Y'know, ruin the entire genre the way they did rock 'n roll ever since those once-loathing college professor types began finding significance and worth in Donovan lyrics. I will state the obvious to suit my own purposes in padding this review out at least a few sentences...that the idea of taking six comic panels and having the story continue by flipping it over was ingenious, especially the way Verbeek could make a smoked clam look like a snake, an old coot with a basket a puppy, singing pixies bearded goblins or a black bird a long-haired boy with big eyes by merely inverting the image. And of course Verbeek's ability in making a cohesive story out of the project (and doing a whopping 64 of 'em!) proves that this man (and probably nobody else then or now) just hadda've had the right fervid imagination to pull it all off with a ton of elan. Believe-you-me, after a few strips your mind'll start a-wonderin' just how the guy's gonna work the storyline out by guessing in advance w/o flipping the page for a sneek peek, and usually being totally surprised when that image of a tent turns into an underwater explosion spurting water (and our heroes Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo) outta the drink thus throwing you and everybody else reading these strips for the proverbial loop!

I like it all, the ingenious designs, the intricate yet at times deceptively simple artwork, the strange story lines and even the now-verboten violence which might upset a few of the little ones out there. (Take the '04 Christmas strip where Santa's reindeers are killed when his sled takes an icy tumble!) I guess that kiddie strips could get away with loads of violence along these lines (not to mention the time Lovekins and Muffaroo gouge the eyes from that same giant snake which was once a roasting clam before being 180'd) in the days before public do-gooders and other Werthamites began running around trying to make this world a better place only ruining it even more in the process. Well, at least nobody but the most stringent iceblock could complain about the Lovekins and Muffaroo characters, a pair who seem to have such a special love 'n affection for each other that hasn't been seen anywhere (even kiddie books!) for years and come off so admirable in their own humble way! Their relationship has such a sentimental value (meaning, I don't think people have loved each other this way for at least eight decades) that it even brings a pang of what shoulda been (at least in my life) to my own jaded heart! I'm surprised that today's guardians of public behavior haven't trounced upon the strip for this very reason alone, because the last time I looked the concept of love has sure changed from being romantic to thinking with your genitalia and that ain't no good!

Didn't think I could get away w/o showing you at least one example, so here's something I found on the web (the publishers of this new collection actually reprinted these strips in their original size making this an oversize treat galore...and the book is so big I couldn't even fit it in my scanner!). Probably not the one I would have liked to have shown ya (that being a nice story having to do with Muffarroo and Lovekins going fishing and the latter falling deep into the brink) but perhaps the most colorful and fanciful of the entire run which was pretty fantasy-driven to begin with.

And, just so you won't have to stand on your head, the same comic flipped over so you can read the conclusion without breaking your neck.

Lotsa Verbeek art besides THE UPSIDE DOWNS can be espied in this book too, including some early '90s ones done for a French mag, his THE LOONY LYRICS OF LULU (slightly screwball) and of course THE TERRORS OF THE TINY TADS, yet another popular Verbeek strip filled with all of that boffo pre-World War I whimsy, playfulness, fantasia and other superlatives critical snobs like to toss around. Acting as more or less a turn-of-the-century version of Burroughs' Wild Boys, the Tads travel about in their "hippopautomobile" and encounter strange flub-a-dub styled creatures and other bizarro situations that might seem too kiddie on one hand but ingeniously clever on another. As usual, you will be the judge 'n jury but I happen to find 'em all rather amusing. My favorite of the bunch just has to be the one where the Tads give a coupla wimmen a ride on their boat only to be harangued about the rights of their gender in the voting booth to the point of nausea. Of course the Tads do the most logical thing and "suffrajettison" the gals which is something that might make you want to pout in self-righteous indignation but just puts a wide beaming smile on my face!

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