Casting light on oddball traditions
Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969
By Dan Nadel
Abrams, New York, £24.95
Eye contributor Dan Nadel’s collection of strips by 29 under-the-radar US-based cartoonists is a delight from start to finish. Here you will find Charles Forbell’s ultra-colourful kid-strip Naughty Pete from 1913, Dick Briefer’s bizarre Frankenstein story from 1946, and an unintentionally disturbing Ogden Whitney comedy from 1964, Herbie and the Loch Ness Monster! featuring the Queen of England.
Such work is impossible to categorise, and the sub-headings (‘Slapstick’, ‘Form and Style’, etc.) seem a little superfluous; and a more accurate title might have been ‘Eccentric Talents That Have Fallen Out of Copyright so That I Can Reproduce Their Stuff in Glorious Colour at No Extra Expense.’ But there is nothing wrong with that. Nadel has done a great job of selection, and his eye for the graphically innovative is unerring – as you might expect from the editor of The Ganzfeld. His criteria may seem arbitrary, but are rooted in an alternative comics perspective: as if now the public has some knowledge of Crumb, Ware and Spiegelman, it is time to explore the cartoonists who prefigured or even on occasion influenced them.
Here, then, are the strips that have been passed over by the ‘official’ histories Some, like Gene Deitch’s 1950s funnies, look very contemporary (‘art out of time’, maybe). Others are rehabilitated for their ‘bad taste is good taste’ po-mo potential – Fletcher Hanks’ supremely kitsch 1940 superhero strip, Stardust the Super Wizard, being a case in point. But all of them are great fun, and Nadel has done us a great service by shining a torch on the nooks and crannies of an oddball comics tradition that other books cannot reach.