Best Books of 2022: Two Eras of Alley Oop

V.T. Hamlin’s caveman epic Alley Oop has been reprinted in several formats before, but Chris Aruffo and his Acoustic Learning Press have exceeded predecessors in several respects. First, the series reprints in parallel the two major eras and artists of the run, V.T. Hamlin’s original and most creative storylines of the 1930s as well as Dave Graue’s wildly imaginative takes on the Oop world in the 1970s. Even better, these dailies are being released in a regular quarterly cadence and at a very affordable price. Finally, these are the cleanest versions of Alley Oop I have seen. Hamlin’s fine line and unique visual style really pop here. Acoustic has also picked up the Sunday reprint series dropped by Dark Horse years ago. And coming in 2023, the reprint series will leap into the 1950s, promising event larger renderings. Hats off to Aruffo for this ambitious and disciplined publishing project. I don’t know if he is profiting at all from all of this, but I certainly hope so. He is doing God’s work.

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Best Books of 2022: TOPS – When the Comics Tried Adulting

While this blog focuses mainly on the American comic strip in the first half of the last century, we have a soft spot here for comic books of the pre-code, pre-superhero era. For a brief shining moment after World War II, the comic book medium tried in vain to lurch into adulthood. Romance and crime genres especially aimed for older audiences. And the trend peaked with the horror, suspense and sci-fi comics of EC. The backlash was severe. Political hearings threatened government regulation, which the industry pre-empted with a self-censoring “Comics Code” that effectively consigned the American comic book to decades of the arrested adolescence of the superhero genre.

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Best Books of 2022: Gladys Parker

I have called Trina Robbins a national treasure more than once in these pages, and she just keeps impressing me with her championing women cartoonists. Her latest and long-awaited Gladys Parker: A Life in Comics is one of the truly indispensable reprints of the last year. Parker was a fiercely independent fashion designer and artist, one of the most famous cartoonists of the 30s and 40s, and best remembers for her Mopsy strips and comic books. Like Nell Brinkley before her, Parker insisted that fashion was anything but frivolous. It was part of the artistic landscape of modern America and an important vehicle for self-expression among modern women who were constrained and limited in so many other ways.

Robbins’ book not only gives Parker the biography she deserves, but packages its generous reprinting of her work in one of the best-designed books on comics this year. More of Parker and her work in my homage earlier this year.

Best Books of 2022: Minority Report: Revisiting Bootsie/Breezy/Dayenu Dayenu

One of the biggest blind spots in the history of American comic strips is the community newspapers that spoke to and out of the ethnic minority experience for decades. About Comics is engaged in one of the most important reprint projects in bringing some of these overlooked comic strips. Throughout the 20th Century, Black, Italian, Eastern European, Jewish and other native and emigre minority communities generated newspaper networks that applied their own lenses to local, national and international affairs and produced unique takes on modern American culture rarely seen from the dominant comics syndicates. Few of the comics artists and serial strips have been reprinted in any depth…until now, and their inclusion in the American comics canon is long overdue.

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Doc Hero: Rex Morgan, M.D. Is Here to Help

Remember when doctors were iconic pillars of respectability and authority in pop culture? Before alternative medicine? Before CDC missteps? Before drug company bribery? Before all expertise became “elitist conspiracy?” Remember Dr. Kildare? Ben Casey? Marcus Welby? And how about the most enduring of them all, Rex Morgan, M.D.? Launched on March 10, 1948, the doctor-driven soap opera was the brainchild of a psychiatrist, Nicholas P. Dallis, who wrote under the moniker Dal Curtis. His intent was to create a doctor hero who ministered not only to broken bodies but to overall mental and moral health. Young Dr. Morgan, apparently not long out of medical school, moves to the small town of Glenbrook to take over the practice of the burg’s departed, beloved practitioner. The strip was very much part of the psychological turn in American pop culture after WWII. Morgan represented that new generation of more enlightened experts of all things both scientific and emotional.

But at the same time, Rex Morgan M.S. rightfully remains a monument of 1950s iconography. For many years under the hands of main artist Marvin Bradley and backgrounder John Edgington, the strip had the bland realist style of contemporary advertising illustration. Characters showed minimal expressiveness; environments were just as pristine and inexpressive; houses, cars, furniture were just as generic; and any cartoonishness was saved for the offbeat minor players and comic relief.

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