Reviews

'Art in Time' Makes For a Terrible Kind of Pleasure

Romantic literature, Norwegian death metal records, and especially comics: no matter what your cultural obsession may be, you’ll always hunger for more. Here, at least comics-wise, you're fed well.


Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures 1940-1980

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts
Length: 304 pages
Author: Dan Nadel
Price: $40.0
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-05
Amazon

It’s a terrible kind of pleasure. Romantic literature, Norwegian death metal records, and especially comics: no matter what your cultural obsession may be, you’ll always hunger for more.

These days, though, one will never go hungry for long. Today, big chain bookstores and mom-and-pop comic shops are filled with nuggets from out of the past, lost classics, and forgotten oddities that have maintained some kind of cultural cache through the years thanks to a faithful few. Now, those few are running things, and they’ve got their fingers on the pulse of consumers. For every contemporary comic book packaged as a trade paperback there are a dozen anthologies landing in the hot little hands of readers desperate to take a peak between the hidden seams of history.

In 2006 Dan Nadel’s Art Out of Time collected stories from “unknown” comics artists ranging from 1900 to 1969. The work of those artists, like Fletcher Hanks and Herbert Crowley, haunt the pages of contemporary and canonized artists alike. Reading those stories is like discovering a lost mythology. The book is full of a mystical charm that is truly out of time. It springs forth from the collapsing coil of the past to land here in the present both as an important historical marker and an artistic oddity.

Nadel’s new collection, Art in Time is more of the same, but that’s a good thing. The title implies heroics, as if the book is here to save us from something -- drudgery, wheel-spinning continuity, mediocrity -- but it’s also a way of framing the selections. Instead of starting with the earliest stories and moving ahead, the stories are presented on a level playing field, the strengths of an older story supported by those of a newer one.

Thematically they’re all the same. These are adventure stories spanning the years 1940 to 1980, a time which saw the initial rise of the comic book, Senate investigations into their effect on young readers, Marvel’s ascendance as a publishing powerhouse and the beginnings of the cross promotional blitz of the Hollywood blockbuster.

With such a broad time period to work with, who and what should be included? In academia and popular history alike there are ideological battles over bias and intellectual canon, and comics are no different. Nadel writes he deliberately avoided greats like Will Eisner and Jack Kirby because their work is already widely anthologized. The artists in this collection who are widely known, like Harry Lucey, are not represented by their best-known material, but rather by the departures from the norm caused by creative and financial impulses.

There are some kinds of stories you’d expect to find in a book like this. Kona is a Tarzan-like jungle lord with a mane of shaggy hair and monosyllabic vocabulary, but “Cave of Mutations” by Sam J. Glanzman is anything but typical. There are giant sharks and huge single-panel pages in which dinosaurs and people are tangled together in a struggle to the death. The text is a kind of philosophical treatise on war and desperation that’s impenetrable at times, but the art is full of awful beauty and action throughout.

Harry Lucey, whose work defined Archie from the '50s to the '60s, offers detective Sam Hill, a milk-drinking private eye who says “dame” and runs into the usual femmes fatale and gangsters one would expect, but the story’s tone that’s playful and fun with a dark streak of cynicism running underneath.

The most recent stories in the book stand out not just because of their unusual styles and subject matter but also for the simple fact that they’re in black and white. Sharon Rudahl’s 1980 story The Adventures of Crystal Night is a futuristic tale in which the poor pawn their organs for food and cartels of the idle rich fight for power and influence. Theirs is literally a layered society where the lower class occupies the bottom of a multilevel city and the rich fly above on expensive machines. Beyond the lack of color there isn’t much difference between Rudahl’s art and that of H.G. Peter’s, whose “Man O’Metal” stories precede Crystal Night in the book. Peter’s stories, however, were published in 1942, a time in which themes like race, reproductive rights, and sex were not the subjects of comic books.

That juxtaposition is at the heart of what makes this book great. In his introduction, Nadel writes that the history of comics is “really the story of the slow march toward a more open and inclusive understanding of what makes a compelling comic”. On every page of this book we see that idea in action, and it’s exciting to know there are more examples out there waiting to be discovered.

9

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image