Tag Archives: Harvey Kurtzman

Graphic Content – Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
69/501Title: Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book
Creator: Harvey Kurtzman
Year: 1959
Country: USA

There’s a bit of an interesting history to the graphic novel in today’s post; one that I can better appreciate having crossed off MAD magazine nearly six months ago. After parting ways with MAD‘s publishers over financial control, his next project was  Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book – a graphic novel composed of four satirical short stories told through Kurtzman’s own style.

The critical opinion of this work has really improved over time, with some wondering how different the world of US mainstream comics would have been had this not flopped. I guess that, for some, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book was an important influence. As someone who is not too knowledgeable about this medium and as someone who didn’t exactly rate the Kurtzman era of MAD… it ended about as well as you would expect.

In the end, I just don’t think that the Kurtzman style (in both storytelling and graphics) is quite my thing. Don’t get me wrong, there were enjoyable parts of Jungle Book – most specifically the first story about the private eye who isn’t all that he seems. The other three, however, just fell flat. The second story is a satire on the publishing industry where Kurtzman puts some claws into those who wronged him… so it reads a bit more sour than satirical. The final two just felt of their time and not necessarily in a good way.

I also find it hard to admire the graphical work. For something that was meant to his way to stay relevant one he lost MAD, it just felt a bit lacklustre. I know that the extra lines and some of the more primitive shapes are a stylistic choice, but it looked at times that he was trying to meet an impending deadline rather than having the chance to apply polish (polish that he may not have felt that he needed).

All in all, this is one of the lesser works that I have read for the comics list. Mercifully it was one of the shorter ones and I hope it means that the only way is up for the next pick.


Graphic Content – MAD

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
57/501Title: MAD
Editor: Harvey Kurtzman
Years: 1952-1955
Country: USA

I learned something new with this comic – that the long running MAD Magazine actually started life as a comic series that is a lot like Shock SuspenStories and Frontline CombatIn the three stories within each issue they go between genres like horror, war and science-fiction – pretty standard for this era. However, as the series progresses the depiction of the genres start to become more and more infused with parody.

It’s a gradual process that starts with a wink it its eye and then ends up with full blown take downs of contemporary cultural references and other more famous characters like Superman, Alice in Wonderland and Tarzan. I mean, a frequent character is a take on Sherlock Holmes as being both wildly intelligent, so this kinda speaks for what the comic ends up becoming.

As it starts off MAD isn’t exactly a stand-out comic because I’ve read a lot of these before. As the comic goes on the ratio of hit-to-miss gets better (with the best moments being when the stories start to go a bit surreal), but it’s still not the best comic I’ve read so far. In fact, it’s downright average. Still, it’s interesting to see how this world famous magazine got its start.

Graphic Content – Frontline Combat

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
51/501Title: Frontline Combat
Creator: Harvey Kurtzman
Years: 1951-54
Country: USA

As I said last time, it was about time that I covered a war comic for this list. Since it was my husbands turn to pick, I ended up reading this series from the early 1950s whose cancellation was due to reduced readership following the end of America’s involvement in the Korean War.

In each issue the aim is to tell four ‘real life’ stories from the front lines of war. A lot of these were moreorless contemporary with the bulk being based in the, then current, Korean War and most of the main focuses are American. However, there are times where the comic goes historical with figures such as Julius Caesar and Geronimo getting their own stories.

When reading this you get a sense of a strong sense of patriotism (which sometimes threatens to cross the line into jingosim) on behalf of the writers. One story, involving Japanese-Americans very much came close to making me roll my eyes just a little bit.

It’s also not easy to read some of the stories that start to go into stereotypes of East Asians and Native Americans – although I have to keep reminding myself that this comic is 65 years old.

To be honest, for the first issues of this I did find it to be an interesting, if slightly, heavy read. However,  after the seventh issue, I began to tire a bit of the same narrative tricks. The historical stories helped to extend the shelf-life a bit, but I would not have been able to read more than the 15 episodes of the original run.