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CARL BARKS/Donald Duck Lost in the Andes: The best friend a duck and a comic book ever had, Fantagraphics return to the golden era of comics ala Barks gets off to a flying start with some of the later works of his first decade with some stories that are considered to be his best Donalds. Start off at the high spot and trail off from there? Truth be told, it's all high spots. With a head loaded with thoughts we wish we could find in our politicians today, Barks pulled at every heartstring that could be tugged with humor, pathos, celebrations of the "human" spirit and sideways glances at when that spirit wasn't firing on all cylinders or at it's best. With over 200 pages of his sprawling stories mixed in with some shorties, we find Donald and his nephews roiling the waters everywhere from South America to early television game shows. If there's not a laugh on every page it's because Barks was enough of a story teller to know when to let you catch your breath and to dig a hole deep enough to make you appreciate the next high. As our culture becomes more disposable, it's nice to let the clock roll back over 60 years to appreciate something that was probably meant to be disposable in it's time but endured regardless. It's stuff like this that inspired boomers to collect comic books an other cultural ‘empheria' in the first place. How wonderful that this is only Volume One in the Complete Carl Barks Collection. In addition to what Barks gave them to work with, Fantagraphcs has done a fantastic job of presenting this in what could be called a legacy edition. It hits all the high spots all the way around.

JACK DAVIS/Jack Davis-Drawing American Pop Culture-A Career Retrospective: About 25 years ago, there wasn't the kind of love for the commercial art of cats like Davis that there is now and the only to get a fix like this was via an ok collection published by a well meaning fan that didn't get the love he deserved for his efforts. It's easy to see why this suthun genulmin fit in so well with the yankees once he hit New York, his pork fat art fit in perfectly with the chicken fat art crowd he hung out with. A vibrant artist that could do it all, at one time his work was so ubiquitous that you paid attention whether you wanted to or not if something just looked like it might have been done by him. From Mad Magazine to Homer & Jethro album covers to movie posters to what ever kind of art needed drawing, our eyeballs probably wouldn't mind cataracts so much if there was no Jack Davis. A great coffee table book you'll want to keep away from rambunctious kids and coffee cups, any pop culture consuming boomer that doesn't feel this work is part of his DNA has spent too much time on drugs. If you're not a Davis fan already,...well, tsk, tsk. Take this opportunity to get immersed.

GAHAN WILSON/50 Years of Playboy Cartoons: A partnership that has outlasted Martin & Lewis, Beatles and Rolling Stones as a functioning unit, Gahan Wilson and Hugh Hefner have weathered every storm that roiled America and have produced hundreds of cartoons with a warped view of everything over the last 50 years. With Hef providing the platform, Wilson's view of the world, which can be summed by the monsters under the sleeping kid's bed saying "...and then we'll get him." have been enjoyed by millions, probably the most revered and looked at feature of the mag right after the centerfold. A three volume, hard cover slip cased collection that has left no expense spared and even includes Wilson's written features in the mag, this is why Kindle might be cool but it will never replace print totally. This collection is freaking cool and it's cool to be able to hold a tangible copy in your hand. Just because he didn't have a daily strip doesn't mean Wilson isn't one of the greatest comic artists of our time. Always off center and slightly macabre but never off putting because he finds the humor in the darkness, this would look great on your shelf next to the massive collections of Far Side and Don Martin. It's wonderful seeing this stuff get the love it deserves.

GAHAN WILSON/Nuts: If Wilson's Playboy cartoons were all he did, that would be a good day's work he could be proud of, but he didn't stop there. When the National Lampoon came along after years of boomer kids digging in their pop's sock drawers to dig up old Playboy's, they were finally confronted with a different side of Wilson that showed them the side of childhood they were just growing out of, and remembered all too well. With a sensibility informed by the world being out to get little you, the "Nuts" strips said plenty in 5 panels, but it was never room enough to say enough. Now in his 80s, I'll bet Wilson could still revisit this like it happened yesterday. This is the first time all the "Nuts" strips have been brought together under one cover and I'll bet there's a spot on your bookshelf for it right next to "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book". If you'd like a final vindication of all the things that screwed up your childhood, Wilson's tip toe through these tulips will save you millions of dollars in therapy and who knows how much wasted time. A wonderfully subversive work.

PAT THOMAS/Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1965-75: Here I though Pat Thomas was just a guy that sent me reissues of records that I would have reissued myself if I had the platform. Thomas is a first class contemporary, American historian. For boomers that came of age in the 60s and knew that killing Martin Luther King was wrong but never understood the whole 400 years of oppression thing and the explosive anger that flowed for years in it's wake, Thomas puts it all in perspective with the power of music as the tent pole that pulls it all together. Filling in the gaps in whitey's collective knowledge with well thought out and well researched writing, this is a thought provoking work that will bring knowledge, understanding and closure to any white, ofay, motherfucker seeking it. History and sociology are rarely presented so cogently and full blooded, so much so that the work's bloodstream carries you along willingly. A profusely illustrated work where many of the pictures are worth a thousand words on their own, this is an essential work for anyone interested in the resilience of the human spirit.

JOHNNY GRUELLE/Mr. Twee Deedle-Raggedy Ann's Sprightly Cousin-The Forgotten Fantasy Masterpieces of Johnny Gruelle: I recently tripped across a discussion online about the origin of the word ‘twee'. In light of this reissue, they all missed the boat entirely thinking it began with Belle & Sebastian or Zooey Dechannel. If Raggedy Ann was Gruelle's "Born to Run" then the earlier adventures of her wood sprite cousin were Gruelle's "Nebraska". A wildly popular feature 100 years ago, these surreal, mushroom eating comics were wildly popular and are now all but forgotten. Originally birthed as a winning entry in a contest to replace a strip the newspaper was losing, this sprite and the two kids he befriends has wonderful adventures in the colorful land of childhood, one that was well illustrated to the level of looking like paintings, and it's charm was boundless. A work that could easily be restored to the level of an "Alice in Wonderland" but at a different level, Deedle certainly is loaded with the kind of whimsy that is sorely missing from every day life these days. Time for a trip down a memory lane you never knew existed? Give it some serious thought, this feels like one of comics great blue highways.

ERNIE BUSHMILLER/Nancy is Happy-Complete Dailies 1943-45 (Vol. 1): For the longest time, "Nancy" was reviled as the unhippest comic ever, and then, like the lounge music craze, the girl whose artist's mantra was ‘dumb it down', suddenly found herself the pin up girl of the comic cognoscenti. Ostensibly a gag panel by a working comic artist, could we really have had Nelson Muntz without Sluggo? Weren't boomer boys whacking it to Aunt Fritzie years before Bobbie Gentry delivered the "Ode to Billie Joe"? The list goes on. This collection gathers panels from the war years and have references as dated as those in a Three Stooges short, but you'll find yourself unable to look away once the pages start turning. Strangely riveting without being train wreck riveting, she might look pretty much the same but this Nancy is miles away from the Nancy of today. If only we could finally solve the mystery of whether Aunt Fritzie is really Nancy's older sister/mother. Isn't there an Indiana Jones of the comics world that can unearth the original Fritzie Ritz series and solve this? There are answers to the mysteries of life in old comics. Remember, Dagwood was once a rich fuck up of a son who was disinherited for falling in love with a flapper (wink!).

E.C. SEGAR/Popeye V. 6-Me L'il Swee'Pea: So you think you know Popeye? A lot of people think Segar was one of the funniest people to ever grace a comic page--and he was that and so much more. This final collection of Segar's Popeye strip before he died in the 40s finds Popeye in severe need of anti-depressants. Sea Hag is back, his 90 year old father is driving him nuts, he becomes the protector of a girl living on the streets, Swee'Pea shows his violent side right on the cover and the rest of the cinematically moving panels flow from there complete with additional headaches from the Jeep and the Goons And then some other Bluto inspired schmuck wants to fight with him. It wasn‘t easy being Popeye but at least we got to find it hilarious. This collection doesn‘t have to represent the end of the series but it certainly represents the end of an era..

Volume 35/Number 164
April 2, 2011
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2012 Midwest Record

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