Sunday, May 27, 2018

Up From The Apes And Right Back Down Again!

Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book is actually quite an important tome in the now rather long history of comics. It's the first original collection of comic material in book form, a not insignificant accomplishment in a field overripe with such volumes today. The book came about when MAD's publisher pulled reprints of the popular magazine from Ballantine which had done the first five volumes and switched over to Signet. Ballantine was casting about for replacements and Kurtzman, freshly broken from MAD saw an opportunity. Sadly the book didn't sell as it should have done to result in sequels, but as a singular vision of what a truly evocative artist can achieve.

There are a mere four stories in the volume. A spoof of the TV western Gunsmoke, a lampoon of the detective show Peter Gunn, a potent indictment of the violent South, and a searing presentation of what the morality of ad executives is really like which introduces the Kurtzman character Goodman Beaver. I don't find the book funny in a way which made me laugh, but the satire was stinging and the gags were resonant with the source material. 

Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book ultimately was not a financial success, but it was a nifty window into the mind of one of the purest cartoonist the field has produced. Like Action Comics #1 and Fantastic Four #1, this "comic book" was influential and important despite inherent flaws in its construction.

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  1. Kurtzman had no trouble at all working in the small paperback format, which doesn't seem notable until you see other great artists (like Gil Kane) struggle to figure it out. The two column text introductions in the Jungle Book also work amazingly well as scene setters in the small size. I've yet to see the larger-sized reprints, but I have a feeling something is lost by enlarging the pages to a size they were not designed for. I certainly felt a loss back when Kitchen Sink blew up the Goodman Beaver stories to one panel per page, so that one could not appreciate the rich immensity of Elder's work per page in the originals.

    1. It looked good to my eye, but then I haven't seen the original. But you raise a very good point, often material is sized for just a certain look. I think that happened a little bit to Gil Kane's Blackmark when it was reprinted in a slightly larger size.

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  2. I recall in CBG or some other publication, one of the "Jungle Book" stories was reprinted: "Thelonious Violence, Like, Private Eye," a spoof of "Peter Gunn" and all the jazz-infused detective shows in its wake.


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