My recent discussions of Seduction of the Innocent and All In Color For a Dime have drawn some comments and some views, and it has been suggested that I move on to The Comic-Book Book next. While I am waiting for my copy to arrive in the mail, I thought I'd take a look at A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics. I bought my copy in person at the Smithsonian Institution itself on my junior/senior class trip. Unlike Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes (which focused mainly on super-heroes), Michael Barrier and Martin Williams, editors of the Smithsonian collection, waste no time identifying the focus of their tome: "It will not come as a surprise, to anyone who has glanced at this volume's table of contents, that we think most highly of the humor features, even those that treated the conventions of the comic book itself and the concept of the superheroes themselves with humor."

"Our volume is intended to be not so much as survey or a sampler," they go on too say, "as a statement about the comic book at its best." Nowhere in their their introduction do they use the term "Golden Age" but they do make the following distinction: "Our cutoff date for this collection has been the adoption of the Comics Code in October 1954 (the first comic books that had been subjected to the Code's requirements were published in the spring of 1955). Nothing published after the Code took effect will be found here. The adoption of the Code marked a distinct change in the industry...," which happens to be exactly the same way I feel about it.

Therefore," they explain, "most of our choices are her because of our own convictions about their quality," not to they hesitate to make clear what, exactly, it is about the comics they have chosen to make the cut. (If we were discussing film their selection criteria would fall under "auteur theory.") If you are unfamiliar with this collection, here is a list of comics (and creators) to come in the discussion to follow.

Superman

Batman

Scribbly and Sheldon Mayer

Plastic Man and Jack Cole

Captain Marvel and C.C. Beck

Basil Wolverton

George Carlson

Little  Lulu and John Stanley

Donald Duck and Carl Barks

Pogo and Walt Kelly

The Spirit and Will Eisner

E.C.

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"But the single drawing he is (or was) most famous for was the depiction of 'Lena the Hyena' which appeared on a LIFE magazine cover in 1946."

I don't think that's correct. I paraphrased that little factoid from Williams' introduction, but I think he's conflating the coverage of Lena the Hyena from LIFE (October 28, 1946) with the cover of MAD #11 (pictured above). MAD #11 (which did not feature Lena the Hyena on the cover), however, was a parody of the May 18, 1953 issue of LIFE. (Incidentally, the photo background of MAD #11 was snapped from the men's room of the EC offices.)

But you needn't pick up a copy of LIFE to read the coverage of the "Lena the Hyena" contest; it's reproduced in volume six of IDW's Al Capp's Li'l Abner, which features all of submissions. The contest was also covered in TIME

GEORGE CARLSON

I don't really have a lot to say about George Carlson that I didn't say already over in the All In Color For a Dime discussion, other than it is a further example of the editorial slant of the Smithsonian volume: "Ellison was writing in the anthology All in Color for a Dime, and both his subject and his approach must have come as a surprise to the book's readers and some of its other contributors, preoccupied as some of them evidently were with the sock-baram-powie-shoosh of the super-heroes." 

Here is Richard Willis's link to a sample of Carlson's work online:

Richard Willis said:

There are 42 issues of Jingle Jangle Comics on comicbookplus.com. Here's the link:

Jingle Jangle Comics 01 (Eastern Color) - Comic Book Plus

LITTLE LULU and JOHN STANLEY

Here is where Barrier and Williams really lose me. They dedicated 33 pages to Captain Marvel, but only 13 to Superman and six to Batman. I get that. But they then gave 44 pages to Little Lulu. Little Lulu! I get that she was a plucky girl character who could hold her own against the boys, but come on. I understand that "Marge's Little Lulu" retains a certain amount of popularity even today in certain circles, but I personally don't see a huge difference between Little Lulu and Little Audrey or Little Dot or Little Lotta.

Did you ever wonder why the feature is most often referred to as "Marge's Little Lulu by John Stanley"? It goes like this. In 1939, the Saturday Evening Post lost Carl Anderson's "Henry" to King Features Syndicate. Contributor Marjorie Henderson Buell was tasked with creating a replacement. It was stipulated that the editors wanted a girl character this time, and her name was to be "Little Lulu."

"For a design," Michael Barrier tells us, "Mrs. Buel essentially added a skirt and corkscrew curls to Henry's shoe-button eyes and up-turned nose." Then, in 1944, Buel decided to strike out on her own. "A few months after Lulu left the Post, she made her debut in a comic book. That first issue of Little Lulu was written and drawn by a cartoonist named John Stanley... Stanley also wrote and illustrated the second issue of Little Lulu. After that, her drew only the covers, but he wrote everything in each issue of thirteen or fourteen years--about 150 issues, all told--and his writing made Little Lulu and extraordinary comic book."

For today's collector, Drawn & Quarterly has published two hardcover collections: "Working Girl" (2019) and "The Fuzzythingus Poopi" (2020).

"I get that she was a plucky girl character who could hold her own against the boys, but come on."

As I was checking the Drawn and Quarterly editions for publication dates, I found an article written by Heidi "Ace" MacDonald for Comics Buyer's Guide #1603 (April 2005) tucked under the front cover. At the time, Dark Horse had just published the first in a series of tpbs (200 b&w pages @ $10), more affordable than the '80s volumes from Another Rainbow. Admittedly, "Ace" has a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the cult favorite character than I do: "While Marge's Little Lulu was little more than a hellion... Stanley created a more well-rounded world to show off his fables and, in Lulu, crafted a character who stands as a symbol of female spunk, pluck and daring...

"I was blown away by [one particular] story. In 1945 it was pretty unexpected to see a parable of finding your own feminine self-estem in a five-page comic-book story for kids. It's easy to see why Lulu is a female icon... there really has never been another character like stanley's Little Lulu. She's not an avatar of female supremacy. Her triumph is her own sense of self-worth." Ace's appreciation runs for three full pages.

Sigh. I guess I'm going to have to add those two volumes of Little Lulu to my "To read" pile.

DONALD DUCK and CARL BARKS

What can I say about Carl Barks that hasn't been said by so many others more erudite than I? My favorite of Barks' stories are those which take the ducks to exotic locales such as the jungles of Africa, the outback of Australia or the moors of Scotland. In his introduction, Michael Barrier admits: "The best-remembered of these stories is probably 'Lost in the Andes', in which Donald and his nephews went to South America in search of mysterious square eggs. Deep in the Andes, they found not only the eggs but a block-shaped race of people who spoke in the accents of the American Deep South and called their homeland 'Plain Awful'."

So, do Barrier and Williams choose 'Lost in the Andes' for their collection? No, they do not. Instead they chose a 1949 story titled "Letter to Santa" and I think I know why: "'Letter' is a rarity among Barks's longer stories because it is not a mixture of comedy and adventure but is instead completely comic from start to finish." That figures. 

Speaking from the perspective of the "New Golden Age of Comics" in which we now live, Fantagraphics' Carl Barks Library series in now almost complete. It began in 2011 with the intention of releasing every Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge story by Barks between 1942 and 1966. Volumes were released in random order, starting with v7, "Lost in the Andes" (although probably not "random" order; I imagine they started with the volumes deemed most popular). I'm not certain exactly how many volumes the series is slated to run, but there are currently 21 consecutively-numbered volumes available, from v5 through v25. 

POGO and WALT KELLY

Pogo began in Animal Comics #1 in 1942 and ran through 1947. After that, the character was featured in 16 issues of his own comic book which ran from 1949 through 1954. Martin Williams: "In 1949, Kelly became art director for the idealistic enterprise know as The New York Star, a newspaper for which he did editorial cartoons and spot drawings, and for which he revived Pogo in a daily comic strip. When the Star died, Pogo was taken over by the New York Post and its Post-Hall Syndicate, then by Field Enterprises." 

R.C. Harvey: "In the syndicated Pogo, Kelly used some of the gags and sequences he had used at the Star. But he didn't just reprint the strips from the Star: he re-drew everything. Every strip. And in re-drawing them all, Kelly revealed himself as a conscientious and self-critical craftsman. He knew that he had grown and improved as an artist. And rather than foist off on an unwitting public the work of an earlier phase in his development, he gave them his best--his current work."

The Smithsonian book reprints the very first story, "Albert Takes the Cake," from Animal Comics #1, as well as two stories from later in the eponymous run. But Pogo wasn't the star (or even co-star) of that first story from Animal Comics. That position was held by a black boy named Bumbazine. (Kelly got the name from a shiny black fabric, bombazine, which he recalled from his days working at a ladies' underwear factory.) I think that Bumbazine was a non-stereotypal depiction but, as I have demonstrated in the past, I am not an appropriate judge of such things. Kelly, however, was a lifelong liberal and champion of Black rights. The use of Bumbazine was problematic in other ways, however. In any case, Bumbazine's last appearance was in Animal Comics #12 (December 1944).

Starting in 1989, Eclipse Comics released four volumes of Pogo comic books, and in 1990 Fantagraphics released eleven volumes of Pogo comic strips. Both of those series were softcover and neither complete but, between 2014 and 2018, Hermes Press released the complete run of Pogo comic book appearances in six hardcover volumes. In 2011 Fantagraphics took another stab at it with The Complete Pogo Syndicated Strips (dailies in b&w and Sundays in color), also in hardcover. The most recent volume, the seventh, was released in 2020 and takes the strips through 1962. 

As soon at these series passed the point at which the previous ones left off, I liquidated the earlier volumes. [NOTE to the person who ended up with them (if he is reading this): you no doubt noticed I held the first volume of the 1990 Fantagraphics series for myself. That is because the current hardcover series begins with the syndicated strip, whereas the earlier edition comprises the entire Star run (October 4, 1948 through January 27, 1949). As a (self-described) scholar of the medium, the juxtaposition of the two incarnations within that volume provides the opportunity for a fascinating comparison. Because the syndicated strip did not begin until May 16, 1949, you are missing only the first six weeks (36 dailies) of the strip by beginning with volume two.] 

Between Hermes Press and Frantagraphics Books, further proof that we are currently experiencing a New Golden Age of Comics!

THE SPIRIT and WILL EISNER

I don't have much to say about Will Eisner (or rather, The Spirit) except personal experience. the first S[irit story I ever read was definitely the one reprinted in Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes. The next ones, three of them, were those reprinted in the Smithsonian book currently under discussion. From 1983 to 1992, Kitchen Sink Comics published 87 issues of The Spirit starting with the post-war years. (This series featured four stories per issue and started in color but soon switched to b&w.) After that, Kitchen Sink went back to the beginning and began publishing Spirit: The Origin Years (also in b&w), but it only lasted ten issues.

In 1985 I saw the documentary Masters of the Comic Book Art which interested me in Will Eisner in general and The Spirit specifically. I bought and read all of Eisner's later graphic novels, as well as The Spirit Casebook (b&w) and The Christmas Spirit (color). When The Origin Years started in '92 I was right there but, as I indicated, it didn't last long. Around that same time I bought the entire Kitchen Sink run (minus one issue!) but, before I made the time to read it, DC began publishing what would turn out to be a 26-volume set of The Spirit in color in 2000. I started reading it volume by volume, fell behind, started over at the beginning again. (I had already read The Origin Years, so I read the early stories several times each.) 

When the final volume was published (in 2009), I started over at the beginning again, vowing that if I didn't get to the end this time, I'd pick up where I left off next time. (I got about half way through the fifth volume before my interests turned elsewhere.) Most scholars and critics agree that the series really began to get good after Eisner returned from serving in WWII, and (except for the odd story) I never got to that point to appreciate it. But, because we are living in a New Golden Age, I do have the entire run sitting on my bookshelf. When I begin again (something else to add to my "to read" pile), I'll pick up with volume five. 

The Spirit story in Feiffer's book was my first exposure to Eisner as well. The story made a big impression on me for several reasons. One - I had never heard of The Spirit or Eisner before, two - the storyline was much more exotic than most comic book stories of the time and three - the art was much better than anything else reprinted in the book.

E.C.

The Smithsonian collection ends with a look at E.C. Comics. It comprises two war stories (both written and drawn by Harvey Kurtzman), two humor stories (both written by Kurtzman one drawn by Wally Wood, the other by Bill Elder), an the excellent "Master Race" by Al Feldstein and Bernie Krigstein. All are fine choices, BUT... if I edited the volume, I would have chosen one horror story, one science fiction, one crime, one war and one humor and would have chosen a more diverse array of talent. Barrier and Williams even went beyond their self-imposed edit of "no post-Code stories" with "Master Race" (from Impact #1, Mar/Apr 1955). 

This brings us to the end of A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics. Speaking for myself, I find Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes to be a better collection and, if I had to choose between the two, that would be the one I'd pick. Then again, I am part of the audience that Barrier and Williams distains as the "sock-baram-powie-shoosh" crowd. Having said that, though, there really is no reason to choose between the two collections when one can own them both. Without the Smithsonian collection, I likely wouldn't have been exposed to some of the more humorous features, at least not until much later. Craig Yoe has published a collection of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics that I passed. I may need to reconsider that decision. 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

DONALD DUCK and CARL BARKS

My favorite of Barks' stories are those which take the ducks to exotic locales such as the jungles of Africa ….

This is where I started reading comic books before discovering the worlds of Superman and Batman. Their travels with Uncle Scrooge epitomize the Carl Barks stories to me. Of course, back then we were supposed to think that Walt Disney wrote and drew everything.

So, do Barrier and Williams choose 'Lost in the Andes' for their collection? No, they do not. Instead they chose a 1949 story titled "Letter to Santa" and I think I know why: "'Letter' is a rarity among Barks's longer stories because it is not a mixture of comedy and adventure but is instead completely comic from start to finish." That figures. 

Looking up Michael Barrier on Wikipedia, I found that, as expected, he is not a fan of superhero comics. He is (he’s 82 now) an authority on the history of animation and is a champion of funny comics. He was pushing back against the comic fans who hated funny animal comics by hating superhero comics.

Speculation on my part: Is it possible that the Superman and Batman stories are only here because he was forced to include them?

This reminds me of the people who think “why are they called comics and the funnies if they’re not all supposed to be funny?”

As for Martin Williams (excerpts):

“Williams, beginning in the early 1950s, became a prolific jazz critic……”

"Williams authored many books on jazz, a collection of sixteen essays, profiling jazz musicians, in a book titled The Jazz Tradition. From 1971 to 1981 Williams headed the jazz and 'American Culture Program' at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., where, in 1973, he compiled and wrote liner notes for The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz."

So he worked with the Smithsonian and had no prior writing experience regarding comics.

Fantagraphics' Carl Barks Library:

Volumes were released in random order, starting with v7, "Lost in the Andes" (although probably not "random" order; I imagine they started with the volumes deemed most popular). I'm not certain exactly how many volumes the series is slated to run, but there are currently 21 consecutively-numbered volumes available, from v5 through v25.

I have been buying these as they have been issued. I note that towards the end Barks was writing and doing layouts, not finished art. That’s close enough to the real thing AFAIAC. If/when they get around to v1 through v4, I wonder how they will stand up to the later work? 

POGO and WALT KELLY

The Smithsonian book reprints the very first story, "Albert Takes the Cake," from Animal Comics #1, as well as two stories from later in the eponymous run. But Pogo wasn't the star (or even co-star) of that first story from Animal Comics. That position was held by a black boy named Bumbazine.

I get that Kelly was presenting a little kid involved with the funny animals who “happened to be black,” but why was he given such a bizarre name?

The first story has Albert the Alligator as an adversary who actually wants to eat the others. It also has Pogo looking closer to an actual ‘possum, with a long nose. When we lived in Azusa we were a little closer to the forest. One night when we arrived home something with evil red eyes was looking at us. My first encounter with a ‘possum.

My earliest purchases at a Con were beaten-up copies of paperbacks reprinting Pogo newspaper comics.

THE SPIRIT and WILL EISNER

I was introduced to The Spirit by the Harvey Comics* reprint The Spirit #1 (OCT66), which contained a sampling of his stories. These included two of the three stories selected by Barrier and Williams: The deadly serious story usually called “Ten Minutes” and the (mostly) humorous story of “Gerhard Shnobble.” I had been a Marvel and DC fan for years, but these stories blew my mind. Mike’s Amazing World tells me this went on sale in July 1966, one month after my high school graduation. Harvey published a second issue that went on sale that December. Since then, I have purchased every soft-cover reprint of The Spirit and all of Eisner’s graphic novels.

*That July, Harvey published Fighting American #1 with its sampling of those Simon and Kirby stories, which were also a revelation to me.

 E.C.

…. the excellent "Master Race" by Al Feldstein and Bernie Krigstein

Barrier makes the snotty comment that the New Direction titles “grasped desperately for a mature audience and could not find it.”  This serves his point of view but ignores the fact that very few distributors were allowing comics without the CCA seal to go on sale. Impact #1 may have been “post-code” but it still did not have the CCA seal. Issue #2 was actually approved by the CCA and had the seal, as moribund EC finally gave in to the CCA. It still said EC on the covers, so that was probably enough to stop distribution.

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