Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Golden Bookshelf:

Masters of American Comics

Golden Age guru Rob Salkowitz returns from a week-long hiatus with the scoop on the new Masters of American Comics collection. Yale University Press publishes a book in celebration of fifteen notable comics creators in conjunction with the major exibit currently on display at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

In conjunction with the major exhibits now underway at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Yale University Press has released an opulent hardcover volume dedicated to the 15 creators included in the exhibit. These include Windsor McCay (“Little Nemo”), Lyonel Feininger (“Wee Willie Winkle’s World”), E.C. Segar (“Popeye”), Frank King (“Gasoline Alley”), Chester Gould (“Dick Tracy”), George Harriman (“Krazy Kat”), Charles Schultz (“Peanuts”) and Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon”) from the world of newspaper comic strips, and Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, R. Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter and Chris Ware from the comic book side.

While the lineup of talent may be an argument-starter among some fans, it’s hard to argue with the quality of the work curated for the show or the production value that went into the Masters print edition. Each creator is represented with a cross-section of their most important and recognized work: Eisner’s personal favorite Spirit story (“Gerhard Schnobble”), Kirby’s Fantastic Four and New Gods, Crumb’s “My Troubles with Women” and so on. The book includes lengthy and reverent essays on each artist by a significant critic: Jules Feiffer (who wrote the screenplay to Robert Altman’s 1980 “Popeye” film) on Segar, Simpsons creator Matt Groening on Gary Panter, noted author Dave Eggers on Chris Ware.

The book can’t completely capture the experience of seeing the original art in the exhibit. Panter’s illuminated-manuscript pages from Jimbo in Purgatory hung in clusters of four on a wall are enough to make a viewer’s head explode. Both Crumb and Spiegelman work in the actual size of their printed pages; seeing the tiny detail in each frame as it was put down on paper directly by the artist’s hand is an irreproducible experience. The “Masters” exhibit is scheduled to travel to Milwaukee and New York in the next year, for those who can’t make it to LA before late March. The book, however, is in stores now, just in time to make the perfect gift for both experienced and novice fans of comic art.


Masters of American Comics

Hammer Museum and MOCA with Yale University Press

Publication Year: 2005

Editors: John Carlin, Paul Karasik and Brian Walker

322 pp. B/W and Color

$49.95 list price

Rob Salkowitz is a Seattle-based writer and authority on all manner of aging newsprint. You can e-mail your comments and queries to Rob at Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

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