John Carlin: Masters of American Comics

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Carlin, John, et al. Masters of American Comics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005)

Masters of American Comics is the catalog of an exhibition (from UCLA's Hammer Museum, LA's Museum of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, The Jewish Museum, and The Newark Museum), and it sits quite nicely alongside other overviews of the field such as the three Smithsonian volumes (The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, and The New Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Stories) and the recent anthology from Ivan Brunetti.

The master artists selected for this book are:

• Winsor McCay (Little Nemo)
• Lyonel Feininger (Kin-der-Kids)
• George Herriman (Krazy Kat)
• E.C. Segar (Popeye)
• Frank King (Walt and Skeezix)
• Chester Gould (Dick Tracy)
• Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon)
• Charles Schulz (Peanuts)
• Will Eisner (The Spirit)
• Jack Kirby (everything)
• Harvey Kurtzman (Mad)
• Robert Crumb (Zap, Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat)
• Art Spiegelman (Raw, Maus)
• Gary Panter (Jimbo)
• Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library, Jimmy Corrigan)

The only choice I question is the inclusion of Gary Panter. While I don't wish to slight either Panter or his art, I can think of many artists--Cliff Sterrett, Burne Hogarth, Hal Foster, Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Barry Windsor-Smith, Vaughn Bodē, Craig Russell (my personal favorite), Dave Sim, Frank Miller, or Bill Watterson--who are far more deserving of the title "master." (In fact, those are fifteen masters whose work could easily fill a sequel to this book.) The Atlas Comics list of "The Top 100 Artists of American Comic Books"--which omits foreign artists, underground artists, and comic strip artists--gives an idea of the breadth yet to be covered by future exhibitions and their catalogs. (Alex Raymond, Al Capp, Jack Cole, CC Beck, Wally Wood, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Garry Trudeau, Michael Gilbert, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike Mignola, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Joe Sacco, and Adrian Tomine would be good choices for a third volume...)

The first half of the book is devoted to John Carlin's essay covering all fifteen artists; the second half consists of essays by other writers covering each artist in turn. The entire volume is well-illustrated throughout, with selections ranging from preliminary sketches to finished art to the published works. Some of the Little Nemo strips still seem cramped at full-page size--slightly more than 9"x12"--and would have benefited from being printed on fold-out pages; McCay's artwork is so detailed that anything less than tabloid size is an unfortunate compromise.

This 328-page large-format hardcover book was $48 when it first hit bookstores three years ago, but can now be found in remainder bins for $10. If you're at all interested in graphic fiction, go out and pick up a copy right now! I might not recommend this book for a comics neophyte, but it's a great coffee-table book that could start some conversations. Regardless of the artistic sensibilities of your house-guests, there should be something in here to catch an eye and spark a thought. This image from Art Spiegelman is one of many such potential conversation-starters:


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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on August 24, 2008 9:11 AM.

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