Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Arf Forum edited by Craig Yoe

For a few years in the mid-aughts, Craig Yoe had what amounted to a yearly magazine about comics, in an oversized album format, under the umbrella title "Arf." (Don't ask me why, but it's a very Yoe-ish idea.)

The third of the four Arf books was Arf Forum, from 2007. For some reason, it's the one that stuck on my find-this-and-read-it list, and so it was the one I'd been vaguely looking for. (With the even vaguer intention of figuring out the rest of the series and reading those if I liked it.)

Well, I have access to the vast holdings of the New York Public Library these days, since I work less than a block from the Grand Central branch. And I've gotten used to reserving library materials online over the past few years, because who doesn't like asking for free stuff and having it held for you?

So, yadda yadda yadda, I finally found and read Arf Forum. And it's a goofier, more idiosyncratic thing than I expected. I don't want to generalize about the other three books -- well, OK, I do, and my sense is that I can, so I will -- but this seems to be Yoe following his own very specific artistic loves, inspirations, and oddball ideas down some very quirky avenues to pull together a hundred and twenty big pages of reprint comics and new writing about comics, plus some aggressively artsy illustrations to tie it all together.

So this particular volume, the one I actually have in front of me, starts off with over twenty pre-Table of Contents pages of people reading comics: some photos (one of Elvis!), a bunch of strips, and a short comics story written by Stan Lee in the '50s. Just when the reader thinks this is going to be an artsy collage kind of thing, full of found images and loose themes, that ToC hits, and it becomes a more conventional magazine-type assemblage. Yoe leads off with an appreciation of Bill "Smokey Stover" Hollman. Then there's a short piece on Yoe by Stan Lee, and then mostly Yoe-written short bits on cavemen in comics, fine artist Max Ernst, the obscure funny animal character Harry Hotdog, the even more obscure cover painter William Ekgren, cartoonist Ted Scheel, cartoons about hell, and Italian cute-girl cartoonist Kremos. All of those are illustrated, generally with works by the people discussed, and in some cases with a new "portrait" of the artist by a contemporary artist in usually a very jarring style.

It's scattershot, unfocused, and seemingly random, like rummaging through the overstuffed attic of the least organized Museum of Comics imaginable. It's fun in its manic energy, but it's definitely a tour of Yoe's specific artistic/comic interests and obsessions, and will be of interest to other people almost entirely based on how closely one's own interests match up with Yoe's. Mine only loosely follow that pattern. But, after a decade, I finally found and read it, so I mark it up as a win.

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