So What Are You Reading?

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics by Denis Kitchen & Paul Buhle

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics
by Denis Kitchen & Paul Buhle


The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is a large-format well-illustrated overview of Harvey Kurtzman's work. The book is divided into 5 chronological chapters based on major periods in his life. Each chapter is illustrated with rough sketches from Kurtzman's personal archives and other half-finished pieces or sections, as well as at least one finished work from the period.

Chapter 1 is entitled "Hey Look! It's the '40s" and is an outline of his earliest work in cartooning. Included are six of the 150 "Hey Look!" one-page comics he did for Stan Lee's Marvel.

Chapter 2 reviews his work with Bill Gaines' E.C. Comics, mostly doing war comics. There is a 7 page section where his story "Corpse on the Imjin" (from Two-Fisted Tales #25, January 1952) is reproduced in black & white drawings.

Chapter 3 is the heart of the book and devoted to his pioneering work with MAD magazine. Over 30 MAD covers are reproduced as well as the complete "SUPERDUPERMAN!" comic (from MAD #4, April 1953).

Kurtzman left MAD after disagreements with Gaines; and Chapter 4 covers the period in Kurtzman's life when he put out three other magazines: Trump, Humbug and Help! Two Trump covers, 14 Humbug covers, and 15 Help! covers are included as well as a complete 11 page cartoon called "The Grasshopper and the Ant" (from Esquire, May 1960) featuring a beatnik grasshopper and a workaholic ant.

Chapter 5 is mostly about Kurtzman's 25 years producing "Little Annie Fanny" comics for Playboy. A three page "Little Annie Fanny" origin story, which traces her life from a childhood in Al Capp's Dogpatch, through her growing up in "Peanuts" and "Little Orphan Annie," and ending with one-panel affairs with "Dick Tracy," "Beetle Bailey," and "Mandrake the Magician," appears here for the first time. Also reproduced is the Little Annie Fanny "Americans in Paris" (from Playboy, August 1967) and two cartoons on Dracula and Women that he did for French alternative comics.

This book, with its cartoonist-at-work sketches, roughs and thumbnails, will appeal especially to readers interested in Kurtzman's creative process. It may not be the best introduction to Kurtzman, but its finished pieces will provide enough for someone new to Kurtzman to grasp the importance of the man to the 20th century comics industry.

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