Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #9: The Someday Funnies edited by Michel Choquette

We all love a good story. And a behind-the-scenes story can be even better than the story told in the book itself. "Heroic editor spends years of his life trying to assemble a massive, global collection with contributions by the best in the field, but the book never sees the light of day" is a great story. That's the story Bob Levin told in a 2009 issue of The Comics Journal, about Michel Choquette and his massive book The Someday Funnies, which was almost published in the 1970s, and how all of the pages of completed art were still in storage, never seen but ready to go at a moment's notice.

That was a wonderful story, and it led to the actual publication of The Someday Funnies in 2011, with those hundred-and-fifty pages of 1970s comics displayed on oversized pages and introduced with commentary by comics historian and critics Robert Greenfield and Jeet Heer plus Choquette's own account of the path to creating Someday, and closed out with the usual author bios and behind-the-scenes details and an index.

Unfortunately, the actual comics don't live up to the hype. They're often jokes, almost all time-bound -- because the stated theme of the anthology was to be a look back at the just-ended '60s -- and only a page or two apiece. Yes, the list of contributors is impressive -- from Russ Heath and Jack Kirby to art spiegelman and Vaughn Bode, from Frank Zappa and William S. Burroughs to Rene Goscinny and Jean-Claude Forest, from R.O. Blechman and Ed Subitzky to Harlan Ellison and Federico Fellini -- but what they contributed is much less impressive. There's nothing here that I'd expect to see again outside of this context, other than spiegelman's strip "Day at the Circuits," which he reworked from the '72 Someday original into a '75 version for his comic anthology Arcade. Some of it is OK, some of it is incomprehensible without notes or specialized knowledge (I remembered who Vaughn Meader was, but how many people will?), and some of it rises to the level of pretty good. And some just looks like self-indulgence, of the kind that the '60s has been inspiring at the time and ever since.

Now, it's true that thirty-nine years is a long time for expectations to build up, and Someday Funnies grew out of a planned comics supplement for Rolling Stone magazine in 1972. But it kept growing, until the Rolling Stone piece would be just a teaser for the upcoming book, and then RS pulled out, and then a series of actual or potential book-publishing deals also fell through, leaving Choquette with a Montreal self-storage unit full of comics and correspondence and no use for them in 1979. It's not Choquette's fault that it didn't happen...well, maybe it was. He could have delivered that original RS supplement and then moved on to a larger project. He could have closed out the book at some point, and kept the scope limited and specific. Frankly, at this distance, it looks like the usual story of a deal-maker high on his own deal-making, wanting to keep going with the fun part of the job (signing up artists, finding new talent, flying around the world) and avoid the vital anthology work of making choices and finalizing the package. (I think he did do the latter, eventually -- but probably too late, and maybe not strongly enough to make a publication date in the 1970s.)

Someday Funnies is an interesting artifact, a comics time-capsule of both comics-makers in the early '70s and the cultural impact of the '60s when it was still fresh; as far as I can tell, all of these strips were done between 1970 and 1974. (For all of the details of Choquette's travels and work here, there's no explanation of which strips were delivered and finalized when; no timeline of the actual work assembled here.) One of Choquette's less inspired requirements of the original project, that every piece include a blank space that would be used for some unifying element to be decided on later, was eventually filled by new 2011 art by Michael Fog, depicting Choquete's travels in the '70s. Again, the background story is the more interesting, vital one -- the way this book came to be is more exciting than the actual thirty-five-year-old strips it contains.

One last consumer note: Someday Funnies is a physically big book, the size of a tabloid newspaper. So it can be cumbersome to hold and read as well, and some people may find it difficult to store. (I don't intend to keep my copy permanently, so I don't have that problem.)

I'm glad Someday Funnies was eventually published, and all of the contributors -- well, those who hadn't died in between -- got to finally get paid and see their work in print. That also was the perfect end to the real story of interest here, of Choquette and his travails. But you don't need to read or care about the book to know and appreciate that story, and it may be easier to care if you haven't read it.

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