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An Experiment with Time

It's always a good day when another Paul Tumey column comes down the pike, and today is a good day. He's talking about Alley Oop:

It was the Dr. Who of the 1940s, a comic strip that traveled though history with verve and panache -- not to mention lots of wisecracks. Only, instead of charming, eccentrically dressed Englishmen wielding sonic screwdrivers, there was a practically naked caveman with a stone ax. Begun in 1932 by Vincent Trout Hamlin (1900-1993), Alley Oop continues to this day, ably written and drawn by Jack and Carole Bender and appearing in about 600 newspapers.

Alley Oop is an iconic American newspaper comic strip character. His nipple-less, six-packed, Popeye-armed body is as memorable and weird as Dick Tracy's hooked nose and Little Orphan Annie's blank eyes. No history of 20th century American comics, no matter how slight, would be credible if it didn't include Alley Oop. Aside from that iconic status, why should anyone today care about the early years of this ancient, dusty comic strip?

For me, a comics nut who was occasionally and momentarily drawn in by Hamlin’s singular visual language, but never fully “got”Alley Oop before, the answer lies in the strip's seventh year, a good chunk of which can now be found between the slate grey covers of Alley Oop 1939 (Dean Mullaney, editor, introduction by Michael H. Price, IDW Library of American Comics Essentials, 2013). This spiffy little volume presents, with the typical smart design and good production qualities we've come to associate with Dean Mullaney's Library of American Comics books, the daily episodes of the strip's first time travel adventure, from March 6, 1939 to March 23, 1940. You read that right: time travel.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News.
After many years of avoiding commentary on Israel, Art Spiegelman has provided an illustration for a Nation article on the conflict in Gaza. He shared the art (and some of his thoughts) on this Facebook post. The Forward (the Jewish paper which originally ran his In the Shadow of No Towers) has more on the story.

—Podcasts. Roz Chast makes an appearance on Gil Roth's great Virtual Memories podcast.

Roman Muradov made me laugh out loud two or three times on his episode of Inkstuds.

I also very much recommend the Tom Scioli/Ed Piskor episode of Tell Me Something I Don't Know, though the spirited defense of Rob Liefeld near the end of it left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Artists legitimately get their inspiration from all kinds of sources, which I'd never want to question, but I didn't really get any idea why the general reader (and particularly one who didn't grow up at just the right time) would want to read Liefeld. This isn't aimed at Ed P., who said he wasn't interested in convincing anyone, but any others out there who want to spread the word on Liefeld (I hear scattered reports of their existence) should try to get more specific about what's so great about him if they want to raise his stock. You know, make the case. What Liefeld stories (or pages or panels) might convert a skeptic? If he's really worthwhile as an artist, it shouldn't be impossible to communicate why.

—Reviews & Commentary.
The film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has reprinted a 1980 essay he wrote on the legacy of MAD magazine, on the release of the awful Up the Academy movie.

Literary blogger Ed Champion thinks Michael Cho's Shoplifter finds the cartoonist pulling his punches.

Interviews. Tom Spurgeon talks to Françoise Mouly. Alex Dueben talks to Farel Dalrymple and Eleanor Davis.

—Spending Opportunities.
Sparkplug Books is running a modest Kickstarter to fund their fall line.

—SPX Previews. Rob Clough has posted his annual list of creators and publishers to seek out at SPX. Calvin Reid at Publishers Weekly has an article on the festival's 20th anniversary. Panel Patter has a slew of SPX coverage up, including Rob Kirby's interview with Sophie Yanow, and Whit Taylor's interview with Josh Bayer.


5 Responses to An Experiment with Time

  1. spencer sturdevant says:

    Sarah Horrocks wrote a series of articles on Liefeld about a year ago which totally nailed it, imo.

    What’s valuable about Liefeld’ s work is the energy, the attitude, the boldness, and the risky experimentation. His design sense is vastly underrated-see X-force #4. His whole run on x-force was groundbreaking really.

  2. Up The Academy is notable for having a track from Iggy Pop and James Williamson’s Kill City album on the soundtrack.

  3. spencer sturdevant says:

    Another groundbreaking Liefeld comic is his half in Youngblood Strikefile #1-3. Issue two has one of the best fight sequences in comics, ever. Liefeld design sense and pacing were perfect in those issues- energetic yet not lacking in clarity. Just the right balance that his peers often lacked.

  4. Tim Hodler says:

    Thanks. I forgot about that Horrocks series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). I don’t personally find her arguments especially convincing (part 3 in particular indulges in a lot of strawman-smiting), but she certainly wasn’t afraid to cite specific examples, which I appreciate.

  5. spencer sturdevant says:

    I’m sure there will be more writings reassessing Liefeld’ s ouvre in the near-future. The Liefeld renaissance has only just begun, Tim. ;)

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