Monday, January 17, 2011

Review Roundup: Yoe Books!

Let me try and explain what I like about the archival comics collections edited by Craig Yoe in general, before taking a closer look at some of the individual books in this Review Roundup.  There is no doubt that we are living in a Golden Age of classic comics reprints.  Several publishers have made available a wealth of material, often in "complete" editions which offer extensive historical and biographical information to give context to the work.  Drawn and Quarterly's Walt and Skeezix series, reprinting Frank King's Gasoline Alley comic strip, is a fine example of this approach.  I love reading these books and appreciate the efforts of these publishers and editors.  It is a wonderful way to revisit this material or experience it for the first time.

However, I sometimes feel that I am missing out on something reading these comics in these handsome, hardcover volumes.  Encountering the material for the first time in this way, it's easy to forget that these works were originally cheap, disposable, mass produced entertainment that the original audiance encountered first in short, daily installments in the newspaper or in children's comic books.  Craig Yoe's books are neither cheap nor disposable, in fact they are beautifully designed hardcover books, but something in Yoe's off-the-cuff editorial approach restores a sense of "fun" to the experience of reading these comics.  His books do not convey a sense of themselves as being the final, definitive way in which this material was meant to be read.  Rather, one has the sense, when reading Yoe's books, of visiting with a good friend, one who is enthusiastic and knowledgable about the medium and is eager to share with you his latest uncovered comics gem.  For some of the comics Yoe has reprinted in his books, this is the perfect approach.  For others, one perhaps hopes for a later, "definitive" collection while still being grateful for the initial glimpse provided.  They're all a lot of fun to read.

Below, I briefly examine a half dozen of the books published over the year just past from the Yoe Books imprint of publisher IDW.

* The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories - I read this over the holidays and enjoyed all of the stories to one degree or another, many of which featured Santa Claus.  There's some fine work here from artists like John Stanley and Walt Kelly, and even a cameo appearance by famed children's book illustrator Richard Scarry, who provides an adaptation of The Shoemaker and the Elves.  This book was a great reminder of all of the wonderful comics that were produced for children during comics Golden Age.

* George Herriman's Krazy + Ignatz in "Tiger Tea" - This was my favorite of the books under review here, just for the quality of the material.  I mean, it's George Herriman's Krazy Kat, you know?  The hook is that the "Tiger Tea" strips represent Herriman's one and only attempt at a continued storyline in the Krazy Kat daily strip, although really the strips herein are more thematically linked than they are a sustained storyline, and kind of peter out by the end of the book rather than coming to any sort of resolution.  But, who cares?  Herriman's art looks really good reprinted large, as it is here, and the strips are really weird and funny.  A neat look at one of the all time comics masterpeices in the form of a handsome little storybook.

* Dan DeCarlo's Jetta - This is the first in "The Good Girl Art Library" series.  There were only three issues produced of famed Archie artist Dan DeCarlo's Jetta, a sexy teen girl from the future similar to Judy Jetson but who predated that more famous character.  The comics are funny and well drawn without being remarkable, and the book is supplemented with 37(!) pin-ups of the title character by a variety of contemporary cartoonists.  This is the kind of book Yoe's editorial approach is perfect for.

* Felix the Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails - Over 200 pages of classic Felix the Cat comic books you can breeze through in less than an hour.  Seriously, these are some fast paced, vibrant, fun comics drawn by Otto Messmer, Joe Oriolo, and Jim Tyer.  An extensive introduction provides context for the character and the comics.  Did you know that Felix was the first cartoon character featured as a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?

* Barney Google - This would be a good example of a strip I would like to see picked up by another publisher for a full, "complete" reprinting.  Billy DeBeck's creation is a diminutive gambler who goes from rags to riches and back again.  The book reprints the first storylines involving Google's race horse, Spark Plug.  Lively, "big-foot" cartooning at it's finest.  I'd love to read more of this wonderful comic strip.

* Dick Briefer's Frankenstein - First in another sub-imprint, "The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics", Briefer's Frankenstein comics are notably not only for the expert cartooning chops of their creator, but for the fact that the series had both "serious" and "funny" incaranations.  The series started out as straight-up horror, was reinvented as a comedy, and ended again as horror to meet the demands of the market.  I liked the first two thirds of the book a lot.  The early horror material was of the crazy, off the wall, I can't believe they used to make comics like this variety, while the comedy material is just wonderful.  I would have liked to have seen a lot more of the funny stuff and less of the later, "serious" material, which, while well written and drawn, was pretty uninspired compared to the earlier versions of the character.  Still, a nice look at a lesser known, quality comics series that I hope to see more of.


Addendum: A while back, I reviewed another of Yoe's books, The Art of Ditko, as part of a series of posts about Steve Ditko.  You can read that review here.


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