Friday, January 19, 2018

BOOK REVIEW! WINSOR McCAY EARLY WORKS (Checker Book Publishing Group, 2003)

Jes' because it's old doesn't necessarily mean it's good!  Like---I can give you many examples of old television programs from the "Golden Age" that fell flatter'n Olive Oyl's chest or old comic books that were kinda feh if not worse, and for a kid like myself who once thought that the year 1963 was the last really good 'un for real fun and jamz music, moom pitchers, tee-vee and general kultur I eventually found out that for all the promise it held old didn't always mean better! Take it from a kulchur vulchur like myself---when combing through the pre-hippydippy era of life there were many gems true, but we all must consider that some undeniably turdburger-ish entertainment and other funtime occupiers were up and about during the previous six or so decades of general suburban slob doofness.

Let's talk about those f'rawhile, like this one comic strip called BARON BEAN that Bill Shute sent me a collection of two Christmasses back and boy was it a snoozer! Sure it was done up by George Herriman of KRAZY KAT fame and all of the big names in kultural snobdom tell me that Herriman's the best, but while I can really slip into the "kat" I thought BEAN was a one-joke no-go effort that lacked any of the humor and warmth that KK continually oozed. I'll tell you I was bored silly reading the BEAN collection which I think ought to remain buried in the past along with all of that upper-class liberal snob envy and heaping self-shame that was part and parcel to those dreary days. Oh wait...I forgot.

Winsor McCay's another one of those cartoonists everyone who wants to be in the club is supposed to like, and although I find LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND every bit as entertaining now as it must have been back at the turn of the previous century I (not so surprisingly) also like these other McCay works to smithereens. It's sure nice to see fine, delicate art gracing your eyes while an interesting story is being developed, much unlike the sort of comic being done these days mostly tossed out by females who seem to be suffering from a severe case of "ragitus terminallus".
You get four samples of McCay's non-NEMO work here, the first being a nice heaping collection of his infamous DREAMS OF A RAREBIT FIEND which has some of the best transmoporothographic cartooning seen in ages. The nightmares actually seem believable enough and even hilarious in their brutality what with decapitations and furnaces turning into monsters along with other crazy set ups that look so realistic in the hands of McCay. Y'know, things that bright minds like Ernie Bushmiller later milked to the bone for his various nightmare episodes of NANCY. Your eyes'll linger as a puppy turns into a monster nobody can kill or a woman saves her pet by ramming her head up against a train engine, complete with those familiar closing panels where the dreamer regrets the rarebit or fried cheese he had for dinner. And if you don't think these comics are particularly potent enough to affect you just listen to this TRUE TALE..a few nights after I began reading this book I had an extremely vivid dream about seeing THE HINDENBURG from my bedroom window. It was flying particularly low and I began to panic thinking there was going to crash. Closer and closer it thing I knew the dadburned dirigible was parked right in front of me on the street...turns out they had an emergency and were only making a quick stop!

As for TALES OF THE JUNGLE IMPS well...I'm sure I would have a whole load of youthful nostalgic toasties for this had I grown up with this (like I do with say, THE TEENIE-WEENIES which is just as embedded into the turdler portion of my brain as SUPERCAR) but reading it in the here and now was tough not only with the small print but the definitely kiddie sagas that don't quite cling to me now that I'm older and doofier. Nice art though, and even if I can't see any modern-day pablum puker sitting still for this like they would PIPPA PIG'S SEX SECRETS it's nice to know that earlier generations were more appreciative.

Now LITTLE SAMMY SNEEZE, that's a fanabla of a strip I can get behind. True it's a one-joke offering and we all know what's gonna happen (mainly, the kid sneezes and it's a powerful 'un at that!) but it's what leads up to the big sneeze and the aftermath that we're all wanting to read. Unlike say, FOXY GRANDPA who always got the better of his gran'kids to the point where ya wished for once that the two brats'd really pull a big 'un over on him, LITTLE SAMMY SNEEZE begins with a somewhat precarious situation in store which all comes to a head when the kid splooshes his snot and ruins everything to the point where he usually gets a swift kick in the pants. However his sneeze might even help solve a potentially grave situation such as the time he stopped a rampaging carriage with a wealthy man's young daughter on it. Aww, ya just can't hate the kid even if he could be a nuisance...I mean, kids being kids is like dogs being dogs and why should we punish 'em just because they ain't grown up or human for that matter?

Especially relevant to my own sense of life and what is is 'stead of what I'd even remotely like it to be is A PILGRIM'S PROGRESS which, like RAREBIT, was aimed at the more sophisticado reader which is why McCay signed it with his "Silas" nom-de-whatever. Allegorical and philosophically mind-twiddling beyond anything else I can think of that came outta the early days of Amerigan newspaper comics, A PILGRIM'S PROGRESS features the tale of a Mr. Bunion who is stuck with an albatross of a valise labeled "DULL CARE", a metaphor for his luckless, success-barren life. He tries to lose it, switch it, somehow exchange it for a suitcase with a better outlook on it but like herpes or the famed bad penny he just can't get rid of it. Gotta say that it does drive me mad seeing Bunion think he's finally made that big transformation into the good life I'm sure we all could enjoy only to see him fail and begrudgingly accept his fate...even drives me madder'n when I thought the castaways would get off GILLIGAN'S ISLAND only Gilligan once again screwed something up at the last minute.

Nice selection these comics definitely are and I wouldn't be fibbin' ya when I say WINSOR McCAY EARLY WORKS is good enough to the point of frequent pre-beddy bye time reading it's that top notch. The art is so wonderful that you can let your eyes linger on it for more than the usual second or two it takes to read a panel, and surprisingly enough the humor and concepts are still ripe enough for a guy like myself even if these strips are well over a hundred years old! You may beg to differ thinking these only as items from an evil period in life that should be banished from the earth forever but frankly that only says more about you as opposed to me, and considering what some of your ilk have been up to these past hundred or so years like, what more really needs to be said?

1 comment:

Bill S. said...

I love Krazy Kat, but Baron Bean (which is PRE-Kat) didn't really work for me either. Frankly, that's why I "re-gifted" it to you, hoping it would perhaps work for you better than it did for me. Oh least the Winsor McCay book was a hit with you. When I bought that a number of years ago, I also got another McCay book which is fascinating, a collection of his editorial cartoons!

Speaking of Baron Bean, I do love the large horizontal format that the LOAC uses in that series....I have a great Tarzan book (1929 dailies) in that format, and also a collection of Dan Dunn dailies. I hope to get around to reviewing one or both of those in the future for BTC.