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Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book — forgotten 50s classic re-issued in the quality format it deserves

Here’s a very brief history of humorist Harvey Kurtzman’s career: He created the comic book MAD for EC comics in 1952. EC’s publisher, William Gaines, owned MAD outright, and refused to give Kurtzman a percentage. Kurtzman’s new friend, Hugh Hefner (a MAD fan who created Playboy) lured Kurtzman away from MAD by letting Kurtzman launch an expensive color humor magazine for Playboy called Trump. But Hefner shut it down after two issues and Kurtzman was out of a job.

Kurtzman couldn’t go back to MAD, and he never regained his footing. He tried publishing his own magazine, Humbug. It failed. He tried again with a magazine called HELP! It, too, suffered a similar end.

It’s a sad fate for this brilliant humorist and cartoonist, who nurtured the careers of many successful creators, including Robert Crumb, Terry Gilliam, and Art Spiegelman. Crumb, who contributed to Kurtzman’s HELP!, called Kurtzman a “tragic hero.”

Jungle Book was Kurtzman’s attempt to produce an ongoing series of long-form satirical comic stories over which he retained creative control. in 1959 he proposed the idea to paperback publisher Ian Ballantine, who had made a great deal of money publishing MAD paperbacks consisting of reprints of MAD magazine articles (almost all of which were written by Kurtzman). Based on the past success of the MAD paperbacks, Jungle Book would surely be a success, figured Kurtzman and Ballantine. As Denis Kitchen, producer of this new edition of Jungle Book, writes in his essay, “Both men would be very disappointed.”

The original Jungle Book paperback was a commercial flop. Kurtzman, who had a wife and three kids (one of them severely autistic) to support, never earned out his puny $1,500 advance. To add insult to injury, the Ballantine edition was poorly printed on cheap pulp paper, making Kurtzman’s delicate line art and sumptuously varied ink washes look crude and blotchy. He never did another Jungle Book again.

This 2014 edition, edited and designed by John Lind, is how Jungle Book should have been presented. Kurtzman’s four satirical stories (lampooning popular TV show genres of the era) are a treat to behold. This edition includes great new material, including the aforementioned article by Kitchen, an introduction by Kurtzman protégé Gilbert Shelton (creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), another introduction by another protégé, Art Spiegelman, and an interview with cartoonists Peter Poplaski and Robert Crumb about the book. It’s a fitting tribute to a talented, unlucky creative genius.

Jungle Book is the first volume published in the “Essential Kurtzman” series that cartoonist and underground comic book publisher Denis Kitchen launched at Dark Horse.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Bomb Run – 1950s-era war comics filled with intense ironic twists and surprise endings

Part of Fantagraphics’ fabulous EC Library series, collecting and beautifully-presenting the best of Max and William Gaines’ EC Comics, Bomb Run collects the 50s-era war comics of Kurtzman and Severin.

Read the rest

MAD #1 is free as a Kindle e-book

My friend Jon Lebkowsky (an editor at bOING bOING and the co-founder of Fringe Ware) says, "Your Popeye post sent me to Amazon, where I discovered you can acquire old original issues of Mad Magazine (and various other comics, including Batman #1 and Superman #1) for the Kindle. Best of all, Mad #1 is free!" (It's also free on Comixology)

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman - a short film

Damen Corrado from Imperium Pictures let me know about this nice video tribute to MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman. He says "it features a lot of his work from the current exhibition at the Society of Illustrators in NYC, and interviews with Al Jaffee and Bob Grossman, with a jazz soundtrack by Nik Turner of Hawkwind."

Cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) founded the satirical MAD magazine in 1952 and forever altered the way young readers experienced the media and consumer culture around them. As the late film critic Roger Ebert explained, “I learned to be a movie critic by reading MAD magazine. I learned a lot of other things from the magazine too, including a whole new slant on society. MAD’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin–of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same dumb old formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe.”

After MAD, Kurtzman worked with a team of artists including Al Jaffee, Jack Davis and Will Elder on a series of short-lived but influential publications, including Trump, Humbug and Help! At Help!, a fortuitous nexus of nascent sketch comedy and underground “comix,” Kurtzman worked with then unknowns Woody Allen, Gloria Steinem and R. Crumb, among many others. Terry Gilliam, who met John Cleese while working there, considered Kurtzman “one of the godparents of Monty Python.”

The Society of Illustrators in NYC is hosting a retrospective exhibition on Harvey Kurtzman through May 11, 2013

Previously: The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman at the Museum of American Illustration: exclusive preview

Kurtzman's ground-breaking color rough for the cover of MAD #1 along with the printed cover (1952).

“I think Harvey’s MAD was more important than pot and LSD in shaping the generation that protested the Vietnam War. . . . Kurtzman was the single most significant influence on a couple of generations of comics artists.” — Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus

“In many ways Harvey was one of the godparents of Monty Python… [he] was one of the great idols of my generation of cartoonists.” — Terry Gilliam, director

“The covers of MAD #11 and Humbug #2 changed the way I saw the world forever!. . . Even though I’ve made a name in my own right, I still feel like a worshipful fanboy.” — R. Crumb

“After MAD, drugs were nothing!” —Patti Smith

“Had he not existed, I’d be a dull, humorless lout working in a muffler shop somewhere, and so would practically everyone I know. I shudder to think how horrible the world would be today without that which Harvey Kurtzman begat!” —Dan Clowes, creator of Ghostworld

My friends Monte Beauchamp and Denis Kitchen have curated a 120-piece exhibition showcasing the work of MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman. It opens March 8, 2013 at the Society of Illustrators in New York. It looks incredible.

The Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators is proud to present "The Art of Harvey Kurtzman," a diverse exhibition spanning the career of the man who created MAD and who had a broad and profound influence on American popular culture. This eight-week exhibit showcasing over 120 works will be on display March 6th through May 11th in the museum’s two-floor gallery in New York City’s Upper East Side.

Co-curators Monte Beauchamp (founder, editor, and designer of the comic art/illustration anthologies Blab! and Blab World), and publisher/cartoonist Denis Kitchen (co-author of The Art of Harvey Kurtzman and representative of the estate) have assembled the most comprehensive assemblage of Kurtzman art to date, culled from select private and family collections. Highlights include: Kurtzman life drawings from 1941; rarely-seen late '40s strips done for the New York Herald-Tribune as well as for Marvel's Stan Lee; key covers, strips and full stories Kurtzman created for MAD, Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Humbug and Help!, sometimes in collaboration with fellow comics geniuses Will Elder and Jack Davis. In addition, "Kurtzmania," numerous rare artifacts and ancillary publications seldom seen by the public, will be on display.

Classic Kurtzman cover art to Frontline Combat #7 (1952)

Cartoonist, writer, and editor Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) was the founding editor and creator of the most important comics satire magazine in twentieth century America — MAD. He later founded the satire publications TRUMP, HUMBUG, and HELP!, and created "Little Annie Fanny" for PLAYBOY, considered the most lavish comic strip ever assembled. The New York Times called Kurtzman “one of the most important figures in postwar America.”
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