Friday, 24 April 2015

BILL SCHELLY'S HARVEY KURTZMAN - THE MAN WHO CREATED MAD - GUEST POST BY BARRY PEARL...



Okay, Criv-ites, do we have a treat for you!  Celebrated
Comicbook collector and historian BARRY PEARL has kindly
consented to allow CRIVENS! to publish this guest post of his
review on the above book.  Take it away, Barry.  (But don't
forget to bring it back!)

******

Bill Schelly's book, 'Harvey Kurtzman - The Man Who
Created Mad And Revolutionized Humour In America', is
a delightful, easy to read and compelling look at an immense talent,
Harvey Kurtzman, most famously noted for being the creator
of Mad Magazine.  It reads like a novel - a five star novel.

Schelly doesn't get bogged down in telling Kurtzman's family his-
tory and early life, like so many authors do.  Here, Schelly uses Kurtz-
man's history to show us how his character and personality developed.
In fact, throughout the book, many of Kurtzman's friends refer to these
times and why he was the way he was.  Of great interest is the time he
spent in the High School of Music And Art developing his talent
and his friendships with such people as Bill Elder.

After the war, Kurtzman worked at Timely Comics (now known
as Marvel).  We see many sides of Stan Lee, a positive one first from
Harvey, but a cloudier side emerges from others who were there.  Most
important, we begin to see the relationship Kurtzman would have with
publishers, beginning here with Martin Goodman.  This becomes
an important theme that is developed throughout the book.

The next stop, of course, was EC, where he developed in-
credible war books and created Mad magazine.  Again, his rela-
tionship with the publisher is paramount to the storytelling.  Without
taking sides, Schelly successfully brings out the publisher’s point of
view.  William Gaines and his mother financed Mad, investing a
large amount of money.  As the businessman, Gaines arranged for
the production, publication and distribution, something Kurtzman
would have trouble doing when attempting to publish his
own work later.

Kurtzman saw Mad, and his other works, as primarily a
creative process, a view at odds with a publisher concerned, he
felt, only about money.  Kurtzman’s micro-managing, insisting on
doing the scripts and artistic layouts, would cause huge problems
and haunt him throughout his career in regard to deadlines and
hiring the best talent.  It’s an interesting tug of war, often
between ownership, Kurtzman and his artists.


As Mad Comic transforms into a magazine, Schelly could
have, as so many do, become bogged down with a huge section
on the creation and implementation of the Comics Code.  He
doesn't, thank gosh.  Instead, he shows how the code directly
affected the industry, EC, Gaines, Kurtzman and Mad.

This leads to Kurtzman leaving EC and creating Trump for
Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame.  It lasted only two issues and
Schelly examines from all sides, even using current interviews, why it
failed.  Later, Kurtzman turns out not to be that good a businessman.
His creation of Humbug and his relationship with the men who ran
Charlton and their distributors are another fascinating part of the
book.  Also, his relationship with Jim Warren putting out Help!
is interesting, as is the 'guest appearance' of one of Kurtzman’s
assistants, Gloria Steinem.

For some time I had read that his character of Goodman
Beaver just got a 'sex change' and became Little Annie Fanny
for Hefner’s Playboy.  I never quite saw it.  Here, Schelly shows how
Goodman was a forerunner of the project, but the character was so
altered for Playboy that it’s hard to call them clones, although there
was an evolution.  And we see how Kurtzman’s micro-managing
collided with that of Hefner’s.

The last part of the book shows how much Kurtzman in-
fluenced a new generation of comic book talent, especially those
involved in what we call the Underground Comics.  His relationship
with Robert Crumb is described, but then it gets sad.  He is being
recognized and celebrated, his EC output is being reprinted in Russ
Cochran’s archive editions.  Yet, Kurtzman’s brief return to Mad
is gloomy experience as is the end of Little Annie Fanny with his
now distant relationship with Hefner.  All this goes on while he
is fighting Parkinson’s disease and Cancer.

The only problem with this book, which contains some
great black and white (and a few colour) images, is that you want
to pull out all those Mads, Humbugs, Helps! and Annie Fannys
and re-read them as you go through this wonderful volume.

Barry's collection of books by Bill Schelly

Once again, thanks to Barry for his informative review.
Jump in and let him know just how much you appreciate his
time and trouble, frantic ones.  You remember where the
comments section is, don't you?

9 comments:

Barry Pearl said...

That group,of books at the end are all books by Schelly!

Kid said...

Yup, I know - but they're also part of your collection.

John Pitt said...

Very informative review, Barry. Some titles there I hadn't heard of before (Trump, Humbug, Help!)
Mad - the original and the best! It spawned many immitators, like Cracked and Frantic, etc., but these were never quite as good.
I don't know if you are aware of our own humour pioneer, Viz, which started in the late 80's, but this too begat a myriad of immitators.
My favourite comic obviously influenced by Mad was Not Brand Echhh! Forbush Man is very similar to Captain Klutz.
Anyway, thanks for guest-posting some of your pearls of wisdom.

John Pitt said...

P.S. - Barry, hope the cats are OK now?

Barry Pearl said...

The cats are okay! Thanks for asking.

Phil said...

I really should have more to say about Kurtzman but I don't. Never met him, love his work. I do remember as a kid looking at the girls in Playboy, reasoning the comic at the end. That's about it.

Kid said...

As a kid? What were you doing looking at Playboy, Phil? You were too young to be 'reading' that kind of material. I'm calling the social workers right now.

Phil said...

At the barber!

Kid said...

Where you no doubt also got your "something for the weekend", eh? They don't seem to offer such a thing nowadays and the magazines are tamer fare.

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