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39 years later, and does anyone care?

Brian Hibbs

What do C.C. Beck, Vaughn Bode, William S. Burroughs, Eisner, Fellini, Moebius, Kirby, Barry Smith, Tom Wolfe, and Frank Zappa have in common?


Really, you need to read Bob Levin’s exhausting account of the book in THE COMICS JOURNAL #299 — a fine fine piece of reporting — for why this book, tabloid sized, on glossy paper, purporting to be an examination of the 60s by many of the era’s greatest thinkers, in comics form, was never printed in the 1970s.

That tale telling was so compelling, it got Abrams to finally pull the work together (why Abrams, and not FBI? Surely Fanta was given a crack at it?), and, boom, here it is, “the El Dorado of comics”

Sadly, however, it’s kind of not that good.

Part of it, I think, is the format: Tabloid size hardcover, on super-archival paper, and a fiddy-five dollar price tag gives the work a huge weight of expectations upon it. This isn’t helped by the history of the work, either, but I found far too many of the pieces to be self-indulgent, nearly tossed off, or otherwise inconsequential tellings that can’t support the expectations upon them.

But packaging defines some of one’s reaction to a work, and I think if this had been mag sized, on white, but not archival paper, it might have come off much better. Part of the problem is that most/many of the American artists appeared to be working with the idea that their art would be sized down — look at that Kirby piece for example — it really would look better in comics dimensions; same with the BWS pages.

If it had been priced at half the asking price, I could see a lot of people being super-curious and wanting to have a copy of their bookshelf.

I also found the Michael Choquette drawings on most pages to be extremely arrogant and mostly out of place.

The thing is, there’s quite a few terrific pieces in the book — I didn’t know Tom Wolfe cartooned, for example — but when you juxtapose those against, say, Asterix or Spirit pages the latter seems incredibly… man, I don’t know, I sort of want to say “self-serving”, but that’s not it… maybe I can’t do worse than “unambitious”

One thing the book is good for is to remind me of how much I love some of what I’ve always thought of as the “National Lampoon Stable of Cartoonists” (Shary Flenniken, Bobby London, Ed Subitzky, and Charles Rodrigues especially), and how much I wish there were some in print collections of NatLamp comics. I bet most of it doesn’t really hold up that well either, but there is a passion in that stuff which was very appealing to me.

There are pleasurable suprises, as well — Steve Englehart writing AND drawing (basically) “What If Captain America was really defrosted today?” — Englehart has a surprisingly strong Golden-age-style style, or a nice little four-panel strip from Louise Simonson. Fellini’s cartooning chops are actually pretty crazy strong, too.

There really is a lot of lovely art that’s fun to look at in the book, and if the book were presented as “Look at this crazy mishmash of cartoonists — it’s nothing important, but you’re never going to see this pile of people together again”, then maybe I’d be raving about the book, but the format of the book itself argues against treating it like ephemeral frippery — it instead screams “Look! Important People saying Important Things about an Important Era!”, but you know, most of them actually don’t have anything all that interesting to say.

And, I’ll give them this: it probably IS a fairly Important Work, but it just isn’t all that compelling or wise with what to do with its format. Sadly, this is largely a failure of editorial stewardship, because people were clearly being told to do whatever they wanted (except leave space for the editor to make his own [physical!] mark on each page). At half price this might be a great curiosity to have on your shelf, but at over $50? (ESPECIALLY when the text is explicit that each contributor got a flat $100? And, it’s clearly implied that Abrams got the book without any really significant editorial costs?) Yowchies!

There’s some EXCELLENT work in here, as well as some purely AWFUL stuff, but the “Anthology Problem” rears it’s ugly head here, and the book as a whole doesn’t feel, to me, like anything better than an EH.


What did YOU think?



5 Responses to “ 39 years later, and does anyone care? ”

  1. Wasn’t that space on each page originally intended for a R. Crumb narrative of some sort? As I understand it, Crumb thought it was a terrible idea so the panels were left blank.

    My copy is in the mail so can’t comment further.

  2. Man, this is such a cool concept — but flipping through some preview pages on Amazon, the problems are obvious. (The insert panels of the editor globetrotting are a constant WTF — breaking up solid compositions and coming across as both pointless and self-indulgent.)

    Why DIDN’T Fantagraphics print this? Was the article in the Comics Journal just too harsh / truthful about this decades-long fustercluck?

  3. (However, comix fans will dig the great, funny collaboration of Roy Thomas and C.C. Beck — as Billy Batson loses a lawsuit preventing him from saying “the name of any Egyptian wizard” ever again.)

  4. […] “What do C.C. Beck, Vaughn Bode, William S. Burroughs, Eisner, Fellini, Moebius, Kirby, Barry Smith, Tom Wolfe, and Frank Zappa have in common?” Brian Hibbs on The Someday Funnies. […]

  5. My understanding is that (1) the comics were originally to run as full pages in Rolling Stone – when that mag was larger than at present [the the size of Choquette’s book], and (2) the spaces were intentionally left blank in the comics by the artists themselves to accommoditate a running, linking story.

    As a record of the 60s – and of the view of the 60s that was prevalent in the 70s – the book is invaluable. In its combinations of artists and story-tellers, it is unique.

    It’s also a heck of a lot of fun!

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