Fantagraphics’ complete reprinting of the Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse dailies has been among the most literate and richly contextualized comics history projects in recent years. This one volume color rendering of some of Mickey’s best adventures between 1930 and 1951 is a shorter, more affordable sample. Here is Mickey evolving from scrappy, spunky adventure hero of the 30s to bland suburban everyman of the 50s. Lest we forget, Mickey’s 1930 comic strip launch places him at the advance guard of adventure strips, along with Orphan Annie and Wash Tubbs and Popeye that would bring us 30s powerhouses – Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, Flash Gordon et. al. Gottfredson’s penchant for putting movement, gestures, expression and urgency into every panel is matched by his and collaborators’ mastery of story pacing and suspense. While I would quibble with some of the choices (really, no Phantom Blot?), this is a great sampling across eras for those who aren’t up for buying the enture run.
#9 Charlie Chan, 1938 (LOAC Essentials Vol. 13) by Alfred Andriola. IDW, $29.99
The LOAC Essentials series highlights a full year of classic strips that may not support a full reprint series. And it uses a uniquely narrow format that displays a strip per page for a singular reading experience. It is an inspired imprint from The Library of American Comics that makes accessible many strips that might be lost to history. Charlie Chan had decent locked-room mystery plotting that channeled the popular novels and films. Andriola, who went on to do Kerry Drake strips for years, took his visual cues from Milton Caniff, even if he lacked the master’s rich talents. Modern sensibilities will need to excuse the daily dose of stereotypical Confucian aphorisms, though.
Familiar to all comic strip mavens, the massive Yellow Kid newspaper pages were stunning tableaux of late 19th Century urban immigrant life. But R.F. Outcault was himself inspired by predecessors. Bill Blackbeard, the dean of comic strip history and preservation, begins his great 1995 celebration of the Yellow Kid reminding us how Outcault was echoing Michael Angelo Woolf’s (1837-1899) well-regarded panels for Life, Truth and other magazines of the day. Woolf was a pioneer illustrator of Irish emigres, labeled in his obituary a “tenement artist.” He pioneered the light comic take on alleyway waifs, riffing on their childhood renditions of adult behavior. Just as Outcault depicted his Hogan’s Alley population preparing for political conventions, hosting beauty pageants and mimicking “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Woolf depicted his children having discussions of fashion, hosting union meetings and free balls.
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