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Forty Cartoon Books of Interest

Appropriately, this thing cannot be bought on its own, nor does it bear any individual price; it’s “A Supplement To Comic Art No. 8,” and can only be found bagged in with that latest issue of the newly revamped comics magazine (oooh, just like the ashcans and trading cards in Wizard!). Which itself apparently can’t be purchased right now; if you didn’t take advantage of the pre-release sale I pointed you to a few weeks back, you’re going to have to wait a few more weeks now for the proper Direct Market release, as the early bird copies are all sold out.

And that’s rather perfect for a small, elegant, gold-stamped 96-page ode to glorious collecting, a singular work totally deserving its own mention, dedicated to lengthy hauntings of all the used book places you can find, and discovering new things wherever you wind up. The book is by Seth, creator of the collecting-focused Wimbledon Green, and truly a master finder in his own right. The book radiates with his desire to share his findings with everyone; there’s a real drive toward education here, a pleasure inherent to setting the record straight and letting all of us in on what’s really been going on in over a century of comics, though there’s naturally also an element of pure collector’s boasting. There always is, and Seth isn’t shy about pointing out which lovely items he scored for a mere fifty bucks online, the details of the purchase always a bit obscured to give the cowed observer their very own taste for the hunt. And Seth’s words are not empty - there will be things in here you’ve never heard of, many things, and you will become interested in some of it.

At times, the book seems even more enamored with sparking in the reader an understanding of the joy of simply finding things than it is with telling them about neat books and cartoonists. Seth opens the book with a 10-page comics-format introduction detailing his feelings on searching for old cartoon books; a lot of it will seem familiar to anyone who’s heard from those enamored with finding things, what with the tribute paid to favorite places, hand-wringing over deals not accepted due to lack of interest at the time, and reflection on the differing flavors of bookstores, thrift shops, and university sales. There’s the obligatory sense of technological melancholy too: “Back then, I had a top-ten list of elusive books. I carried that list for almost a decade. I acquired them all instantly when a computer entered the house. I’ve yet to decide if that’s good or bad.” Anyone who’s willfully held back in ordering missing comics online for the sake of having something to rummage through bins after will find that one hitting close to home. I carry a list of things to find too.

But Seth isn’t talking about pamphlet-format comics; he means books. Cartoon books. As soon as you get to the meat of this tome, with each featured book given two pages (a cover shot and brief commentary on the left, an art sample on the right), you’ll probably notice the date “Circa 1901” on the first selection, and you’ll grasp the mad scope Seth means to harness. That’s far from the oldest thing he talks about either - that aforementioned $50 find happened to be a handsome edition of The Foreign Tour of Messrs. Brown, Jones and Robinson, an original Richard Doyle (uncle of Sir Arthur Conan) production from 1854 (huh - given the foreign travel, I wonder if it’s a Civil War tie-in?). “Does no one else want these books? A 1940s issue of Green Lantern would probably require my life savings!” So laments Seth, but that too is the simulations sadness and rapture of the seeker - those gems are rarely appreciated, which is precisely how they fall into our clutches.

Seth appreciates old gag cartoonists the most, so it goes without saying his personal passion is prominent in this book. But there’s other stuff, even newer stuff. One selection is something I’ve actually reviewed, the 2005 softcover Wally Wood’s Lunar Tunes (which is indeed excellent). There’s a nice running gag about the origins of the graphic novel, as Seth lists a goodly number of books that might qualify for such a label in the interests of educating those working off of limited information: “It seems that about every ten years in the early 20th century somebody invented the graphic novel.” You can feel the rapture as Seth presents a literal graphic novel - as in a comic designed in exactly the same format as a contemporaneous 200-page paperback original - all the way back from 1950, Joseph Millard’s Mansion of Evil, published by Fawcett.

And there’s more - how about The Crime Busters, a 1988 comic produced by the World of Dreams Foundation of Canada to fulfill the wish of its dying 16-year old author? Or the fortuitous presence of Town Boy, the 1981 sequel to Malaysian cartoonist Lat’s Kampung Boy, soon to be released in the US by First Second? Lord knows I’m suddenly very interested in the works of Martin Vaughn-James, an English-born artist who produced a fascinating-looking quartet of graphic novels in Canada in the ‘70s - Seth tackles 1971’s The Projector, and you can find an analysis of his 1975 opus The Cage here. Hell, Seth even talks up a 1968 hardcover collection of original strips from Hardware Retailer magazine (Forty Years with Mr. Oswald, by Russell Johnson), and makes it seem like something you need to get, right now.

"I really like this book. I like that it's published by a Hardware Association. I like that it's bound like an old yearbook. And I like the work inside it."

Simple statements of interest, but wholly effective. This is a fine and useful book, and it's possibly worth buying the new Comic Art just for it, though there's lots of other neat stuff inside the magazine proper as well. I just wanted to emphasize the beguiling utility of the thing, and the simple beauty too. Consider this a pre-release review at this point, if you want, but mark down Comic Art #8 as something to buy whenever you can.