MAD Artist's Edition: a massive tribute to Harvey Kurtzman


(The cover; my feet, a KISS matrioshke, and spring-loaded gag eyeballs included for scale)

IDW's Artist's Edition series is a line of enormous (15" x 22") hardcover art-books that reproduce the full-page, camera-ready paste-ups used to create classic comics, from Groo to Spider-Man, offering a rare look at the white-outs, annotations, corrections, and pencil-marks that give tantalizing hints about the hidden workings of these amazing pages.

A recent and most welcome addition to the series is MAD: Artist's Edition, a spectacular tribute to the early years of the magazine and especially to the brilliant satire of Harvey Kurtzman, one of the great heroes of satire, which features an introduction by Terry Gilliam himself.

MAD: Artist's Edition isn't just an amazing book, it's an amazing object, a massive and weighty presence that drew me magnetically to it as soon as I got it back to my office. I spent the next several hours on a rug on the floor with it, clambering all around it (it's much easier to move yourself than a book this size!), marvelling and delighting at it. I snapped a few highlights (full-rez photos here) to give you a sense of what's going on here.


(Love, Kurtzman style -- from Shadow!)

Let's start with the obvious: Kurtzman was a genius of parody, with a wolvertonian grasp of the grotesque and a sense of humor that was capable of expressing itself in both broad and subtle strokes. This was a man who could capture both drama and comedy, as in this sequence from Smilin' Melvin', where the punchline is just a lagniappe on top of a sequence that is as illustrative as it is absurd:


(Q-Tips and the sound-barrier, from Smilin' Melvin')

And Prince Valiant is reproduced with pitch-perfect veracity, even when he's holding his ass and screaming in agony:


(Love the gothic lettering on the onomatopoeia, from Prince Violent)

It's that veering between styles and modes that really makes this stuff sing. Is Howdy Doody a daemonic possessed toy, or a agent of commercial forces bent at getting kids hooked on booze? Why choose?


(Stare into the eyes of madness, from Howdy Doo-It?)

Not only could Kurtzman strike some wolvertonian notes, he could also write some spectacular material for Wolverton to illustrate, like the series of full-page spreads dedicated to portraits of typical MAD readers:


(Wolverton and Kurtzman, a match made on MADison Ave)

And since this is such a big ole compendium, the IDW folks saw fit to include these illos as finished inks, later in the book:

It's only the book's rather smashing price-tag (north of $225) that stopped me from grabbing a scalpel and hacking out some of the full-page sheets and the splashes, as every one of them would make a fantastic framed piece:


(Kurtzman's "Flesh Garden" is much classier than the pornographic "Flesh Gordon," which was a little too on-the-nose)

There's even a lavishly illustrated page of fake classifieds:

Every detail of this book is pretty damned special, right down to the end-papers:

Mad: Artist's Edition

Update: You can also get this from IDW direct for $150!

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