Thursday, June 01, 2006

Art Out Of Time: Part One

Dan Nadel's Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900-1969 takes 29 unsung figures from comics and features their work, briefly putting them into context in comics history. The book is broken up into five categories: Exercises In Exploration, Slapstick, Acts of Drawing, Words In Pictures, and Form and Style. I will be commenting on my impressions from each of these sections separately, beginning with this entry and "Exercise In Exploration," in which the artists explore different worlds (internally and externally).

The book begins with Harry Grant Dart's The Explorigator, which draws comparisons to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo In Slumberland. A gaggle of children explore various lands and wackiness ensues. And like Little Nemo In Slumberland, it suffers in reproduction because it was really meant to be oversized. Here you have to strain to read the word balloons, not really allowing you to experience the art with the story as it was meant to be. I certainly don't blame the publisher: people are hesitant enough paying $120 for the classic Nemo material in its original size.

The Wiggle Much by Herbert Crowley was another strip in which it was meant to be much bigger than its depicted in this volume. Again, the words are small and cause you to strain, but one of the strips is offered over a two page spread, so you are allowed to get a feel for how it was meant to be experienced. But it is damn strange. I don't know that it really matters that you can't read the words: it's all nonsensicle babble, possibly poetry? It rhymes, then doesn't. It has bizarre art and characters. It's just all very weird.

The mischief-maker Slim Jim torments a town and its police force in Raymond Crawford Ewer and Stanley Armstrong's strip. It's really a fun strip where Slim Jim finds fun ways to escape capture and generally cause mayhem amid some really beautiful art.

My personal favorite comic in the "Exercises In Exploration" section was Walter Quermann's Hickory Hollow Folks. The art is really just gorgeous in this strip, as a slew of animals that live together in a forest carry out various adventures. One strip will be about a small raccoon afraid of his shadow, and another will be a hound dog detective disguised as a bee (and shrunk down to size) to find out what become of some special honey. It's just really fun and colorful. It's so strange that this strip ran in only one newspaper for over twenty years! Crazy.

I also enjoyed Ogden Whitney's Herbie strip, where the title character, a portly kid whose father thinks he's good for nothing, battles monsters for the safety of the world while sucking on different-colored lollipops that give him various powers. In the strip offered here, Herbie fights the Lock Ness Monster and does some really strange things (a dog bites his pants, he bites the dog's butt back, etc.)

Howard Nostrand's story "What's Happening At...8:30 P.M." (from Witches Tales #25) follows an alien-looking creature as he ventures home to find the streets empty and fear in everyone he glimpses. As the story proceeds, we learn that something is going to happen at 8:30 P.M. and the protagonist panics as the time draws nearer. It's really a silly idea for a story when all's revealed, but it was entertaining.

"Colorama" from Bob Powell's Black Cat #45 is another more serious strip that's really just silly when it comes down to it. It's over-the-top drama that borders on surreal upon its conclusion.

It was really exciting to go through the first section of the book and I'm looking forward to more. I feel like it's a secret stash of comics I discovered or something. The book's originally priced at $40, but you can get it for $25 at Amazon, plus free shipping. It's a really nice thick hardcover book, easily worth that price.

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