Sunday, July 27, 2008

Art Out of Time edited by Dan Nadel

Art Out of Time is a book of comics oddities, strips and comic-book stories from the formative years of the medium by lesser-known creators with idiosyncratic viewpoints and styles. The subtitle -- Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 -- claims somewhat more for these guys than I'd agree with, but it explains the purpose of the book.

Dan Nadel is a professor, author, and the director of a small comics publishing house, PictureBox -- best known for the annual Ganzfeld anthology. For Art Out of Time, he's apparently dug through his own collection -- and possibly those of others -- to find work by some of the most individual creators of the period before the underground comics hit in the late '60s. (It's explicitly Nadel's thesis that it was difficult "for eccentric talent to publish personal work" before the undergrounds, and, by implication, it was henceforth easy or common.)

Art Out of Time is divided into five sections, and let me quote Nadel on what they contain:
"Exercises in Exploration" focuses on comics that bring readers into new visual worlds.
"Slapstick" is full to the hilt with mercilessly funny comics.
"Acts of Drawing" compiles artists distinguished for their unique way with a pen.
"Word in Pictures" gathers cartoonists who, above all else, were prose stylists and plot technicians.
"Form and Style" is concerned with ingenious graphic devices and aesthetics in comics.
Nadel is generally more interested in the art side of comics than the writing side, but he's unearthed some interesting stuff. (Though the old strips in particular can be difficult to read at the size he reproduces them -- there were a lot of words in newspaper strips in those days.)

Not all of the creators here are particularly forgotten; there are the usual suspects like Boody Rogers, George "Jingle Jangle Tales" Carlson, Milt Gross, Gene Deitch, and Herbie's Ogden Whitney. But Art Out of Time did drag Fletcher Hanks out of obscurity, and a half-dozen other cartoonists in here could be collected as interestingly and successfully as I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets.

So Art Out of Time is not always easy to read -- books of early 20th century strip cartoons never are, unless they're printed broadsheet size -- but at least some of the stuff inside is worth perusing or poring over for fans of oddball comics. (Though I will admit that I just looked at the pictures for some of the weirder old strips.)

1 comment:

Rick Klaw said...

Don't know if you saw this or not, but Fantagraphics is publishing Boody: The Bizarre Comics Of Boody Rogers, and Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes (1939-1941) featuring the talents of Fletcher Hanks, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Basil Wolverton, Jack Cole, Ogden Whitney, Lou Fine, Charles Biro, Dick Briefer and others. Both books are due in Feb '09. I can't wait!

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