Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Golden Bookshelf:

An anthology assembling some of the most unique artistic talents in the field, Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures hearkens back to the early greatness of the creator’s 1950s and 60s satire.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures

Harvey Kurtzman warped an entire generation of young American minds and practically invented a new style of satire in Mad and Help magazines in the 1950s and 60s. He remained a revered figure in comics despite years in the wilderness doing “Little Annie Fanny” in Playboy and other projects unworthy of his great talents, while many yearned for his return to Mad-like heights. In 1988, a group of his admirers and protégés joined him in Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures, a unique anthology edited by Byron Priess for Marvel’s Epic imprint, designed to recapture that early lightning.

Kurtzman’s solid-gold rolodex for this project included Robert Crumb, William Stout, Sergio Aragones, Dave Gibbons, Rick Geary, Tomas Bunk, Sarah Downs and Moebius. Art Spiegelman, fresh from winning the Pulitzer Prize for Maus, penned the introduction. If you wonder how much respect Kurtzman commanded among his peers, try to imagine what it would take to get R. Crumb to work for Marvel.

All worked from Kurtzman’s scripts and famously-tight layouts (seen “naked” at the book’s conclusion), as in the old Mad days. The topics were film satire (Aragones’s “Captain Bleed”), super-heroes (a Silver Surfer story from Gibbons), Westerns (Kurtzman’s own “Drums Along the Shmohawk”) and other suitably zany subjects. If the approach seemed a little shopworn by the late 1980s, it was not the fault of the splendid art and polished production.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures was issued as a hardcover in 1990 with a full-color jacket by Kurtzman and William Stout. It’s a nice nearly final testament by, and to, one of the most influential figures in comics (Kurtzman died in 1993 after a struggle with Parkinson’s Disease) by an assemblage of artistic talent that will likely never be duplicated.

 

Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures

Epic, 1990

Writer: Harvey Kurtzman, Introduction by Art Spiegelman, Forward by Byron Priess (editor)

Art: Kurtzman, Crumb, Moebius, Stout, Bunk, Geary, Gibbons, Aragones, Downs

HC, 78 pages, color, $19.95.

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 rob_comics@yahoo.com. Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

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