Classic Comic Double Feature: The Rocketeer (1991) & Dick Tracy (1990)

rocketeer posterA few weekends back we found ourselves in the enviable position of experiencing a light snowfall without much else to do so we decided to scroll through our On Demand options for a family movie. As it turns out we have free Showtime for a bit and The Rocketeer was on there, so we decided to give it a watch.

I don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theaters when it came out, but we did subscribe to Disney Channel back then (long before it was free) so I remember seeing a lot about it and probably caught it on TV.

Set in 1938, it’s about a stunt pilot named Cliff who discovers a rocket pack in his plane, designs a costume and helmet and fights bad guys including local mobsters (lead by Pau Sorvino) and movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) all while trying to keep things going with his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelley).

Directed by Joe Johnston who went on to eventually helm Captain America: The First Avenger, the movie not only works as an action-packed superhero film, but also a fun period piece that references a number of classic actors, actresses and other historical figures from the era (including Lost star Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes!). Add to that that real-life elements like potential Hollywood stars working with the Nazis and mobsters refusing to do the same and you have a great film that holds up really well aside from a few clunky special effects scenes here and there.

As a kid, I had no idea who the Rocketeer was before the film hit, but now I know that it was an indie comic book created by Dave Stevens in the 80s during that boom. However, I never got around to reading the actual comics until last year when I got my hands on the IDW-published reprint of Stevens’ entire run, though I was more interested in the pictures. You really don’t need to read the words because the art is just so crisp, clear and expressive. Plus, the colors in that book are just amazing. I don’t know how they compare to the original, but imagine they’re much better given IDW’s reputation for doing super high quality reprints and today’s far better printing techniques.

Dick-Tracy-PosterWhile scrolling through the options to get to The Rocketeer, I also saw Dick Tracy as an option. I LOVED this movie as a kid and realized that, given the obvious similarities, it would make for an excellent double feature mate with Rocketeer.

Based on the classic comic strip created by Chester Gould in the 1930s, Dick Tracy was directed by and starred Warren Beatty as the yellow-clad copper. He’s joined by Charlie Kormo’s The Kid, Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney, Al Pacino’s Big Boy and a variety of others as Tracy attempts to bring the mob boss down while keeping his relationship with Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) together and figuring out what to do with his new ward.

The beauty of this movie is that Beatty went full boat when it came to recreating the look and feel of the comic strips on the big screen. The suits and cars are all wildly colorful, matte paintings give the world an ethereal feel and the bag guy make-up brings characters like Little Face, Flat Top and Pruneface fully to life. Add in the idea of a kid trying to constantly get in on grown-up cop action, the pseudo love triangle with Breathless and the mystery of No Face and you’ve got a super fun and compelling movie that doesn’t get enough kudos from the comic-loving crowd.

As I mentioned, I was a huge fan of this flick when it came out. I definitely remember seeing it in the theater and as scenes appeared on my TV I remembered them from that viewing experience as well as moments captured by the trading card set. That feeling has lingered to this day when I basically want an Apple Watch just so I can feel like Dick Tracy (anyone else remember the wrist watch walkie talkies they sold?).

My four year old daughter slept through most of the first film and was looking at Disney princess dresses during the second, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend these for kids her age. Given the presence of mobsters, shooting, concrete and Madonna’s crazy dresses, it might not be appropriate.

That reminds me. I’m not a fan of Madonna’s outside of this movie and A League Of Their Own, but man, she just KILLS it in this movie. I’m sure I was dazzled by her sheer dresses as a kid, but this time around I really found myself feeling bad for her when she was ever so desperately trying to convince Dick Tracy to love her. Her character adds an interesting intensity to this film that just adds to the overall unique nature of a project that could have easily become what all the terrible late 90s comic book movies turned into: exaggerated cartoons with no concept of what made the source material work.

So, while these might not be the best movies to show a couple of kids (like we did), they are a ton of fun and act as a kind of vanguard for quality comic-based films that would come a decade or so later.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Dick Tracy Figures & Walkie Talkie

As you will see in a post going up on Thursday, I was a huge fan of the whole Dick Tracy experience in 1990. I loved the movie, I picked up some of the toys, I collected the trading cards and I desperately wanted a watch that doubled as a phone.

In this spot, you can see some of those toys and a replica of the famous watch that basically just told time. If memory serves, there was a set of massive wristwatch walkie talkies you could buy as well.

The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

comic pileLongtime readers might remember a time when I was reading so many books a week that I would simply take pictures of them in a stack and do a quick hit kind of report on them. Well, I’m not knocking down nearly as many books these days, but I did read through a good number from the library and figured I’d return to that form for this post. Let’s hit it! Continue reading The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

Casting Internets

airborne vhs notebook

My pal Rickey Purdin did one of my all time favorite 90s movies Airborne over on his excellent VHS Notebook Tumblr.

My other pal Alex Kropinak did an amazing stop motion trailer for David Ezra Stein’s upcoming children’s book Dinosaur Kisses. The video’s above, see how he did it over on his blog.

league of extraordinary gentlemen volume 1

There’s going to be a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen show on Fox? Huh. (via TVLine)

Jon Negroni took a lot of time to come up with a timeline that supposedly sets every Pixar movie in the same universe. There’s some huge logical leaps many of which are based on the idea that Easter Eggs (visual or verbal nods to other films) mean something more. It’s fun and a little crazy, but also a lot crazy.

Hey have you seen the new action movie and video game news site called Explosions Are Rad? You should check it out.

There’s a Rambo video game in the works according to Topless Robot. I like the idea of this news, but I’m not sold on the quality based on this trailer. Still, if the mechanics aren’t terrible, I’ll probably dig the game.

J.W. Rinzler and Mike Mayhew’s adaptation of George Lucas’ original Star Wars script, called The Star Wars, from Dark Horse is something I will aim to read in trade. (via CBR)

THR reports the Duplass Brothers’ Togetherness got ordered to series for HBO. This is good news for the world.

There’s a Calvin & Hobbes documentary called Dear Mr. Watterson. What else do you need to know? (via The Mary Sue)

Fearnet did a cool list of George R. Romero’s projects that never actually happened. That dude was involved in a LOT of dead or morphed projects!

Tony Shasteen Vincent Price

Tony Shasteen’s Vincent Price art over on Ashcan Allstars is fantastic.

My fellow Happy Endings fans will be interested in reading this TVLine interview with the show’s creators who talked a bit about the end and where they would have gone next season.

Like a lot of people I watch most of Sharknado. Before the movie even hit, GQ did an interesting article on The Asylum as they were filming Atlantic Rim. Interesting stuff.

I’m not done with Sharknado links. THR talked to the film’s VFX supervisor and also analyzed of the film’s success and what that might mean for quality shows on the network moving forward.

I Tweeted this out, but while looking through my wife’s old Martha Stewart magazines I came across this ingenious idea for a hidden office space made out of two book shelves hinged together. I don’t even have the space for something this small these days, but if I did, I’d be all over it.

Rolling Stone talked to Pete Wentz about Fall Out Boy’s recording session with Ryan Adams. I need to hear those tracks.

The Fwoosh ran down the first wave of M.A.S.K. figures, if you were a fan of this line like I was, this’ll be a nice walk down memory lane.

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Tom Whalen‘s 66 Batman poster is fantastic.

My favorite news of the week comes from this ComicAlliance story explaining that Dark Horse is taking over the EC reprints. I adore the copy of Weird Science Volume 2 I have and want more!

Stacie Ponder analyzed the importance of landline phones over on her Final Girl blog. Entertaining as always.

Finally, I feel for Riley in this clip where she says that girls want to play with girl toys as well as boy toys. Can we finally cut this gender specific BS, please? Thanks to The Mary Sue for posting.

Strip Search: Al Capp By Michael Shumacher & Denis Kitchen (2013)

Al Capp By Michael Shumacher & Denis Kitchen I should probably stop accepting books from PR folks. The people over at Bloomsbury were nice enough to offer me a copy of Al Capp: A Life To The Contrary by Michael Shumacher and Denis Kitchen way back in January and promptly sent me the book when it was available. Here I am writing about it three months after the biography came out in late February, so I feel bad about that.

I was initially interested in this book because it covers an almost total dark spot in my historical knowledge of sequential storytelling. As a kid I loved the funnies and would gladly leaf through them in the morning and on weekends while eating breakfast, but aside from buying or borrowing a few collections here and there, my knowledge of comic strip history doesn’t go very deep. In the past 6 or so years I’ve tried to remedy that by snatching up classic collections, but my slow, sporadic reading habits have left most of them half-read. However, I felt the need to finally finish A Life To The Contrary so I made  a big push recently and cleared the last 100 pages or so over the holiday weekend.

Of course, the big question then comes, what took me so long to read the book, right? I knew absolutely nothing about Capp or his most famous strip Lil’ Abner going in, but the more I read the more interested I became in this man who was not only the most successful cartoonists of his day, but also one of the first to really capitalize on his popularity in the way that someone like Walt Disney was able to (both men inspired theme parks after all). And yet, I would put this book down for long segments of time. Part of that was my own desire to not read anything without pictures, but I think there’s also something about the book I can’t quite put my finger on that doesn’t fully draw you into the character of Capp.

I was contemplating this idea while reading through those last 100 or so pages recently as things were getting pretty exciting. Capp was hugely successful and had been for a long time. He even seemed to be doing pretty well with his friends, family and colleagues and then the 60s hit and I found myself liking him less and less (as did many people of the day). He’s one of those guys who claims to have been a liberal in the 50s, but switched to conservatism in the 60s (he and Nixon became acquaintances and often wrote letters to one another). Capp took it so many steps further by going on college speaking tours where he would spend his time haranguing the peace-nicks and protestors in the audience. He did the same on television, radio and in magazine pieces to the point where his meanness was making people not want to  bother talking to the once witty personality. Heck, he even traveled to John and Yoko Ono’s bed-in for peace just to give them shit. It basically sounded like he — a kid who connived his way through art schools thanks to his silver tongue — liked expressing his opinions, but wasn’t such a big fan of a younger generation coming along with their own.

And then it got so, so much worse when Schumacher and Kitchen drop the biggest bombshell in the whole book: Al Capp lured college women into his hotel room and tried to force them to perform sexual acts on or with him. He did this while on his college tours and it was apparently a pretty common occurrence with a half dozen cases mentioned in this book alone, plus instances of similar behavior with young starlets of the day like Goldie Hawn and Grace Kelly. He even wound up getting punched out by Harlan Ellison after Capp tried the same thing on a photographer friend of Ellison’s. Capp wound up getting outed by a scandal columnist and eventually going to trial, but it sounded like everything pretty much got swept under the rug because this was a time where that kind of thing was apparently tolerated.

Of course, I found this behavior repugnant and was instantly disgusted by the man to the point where I almost stopped reading. The news came as a shock to me because I knew absolutely nothing about Capp going in, so this was a whammy indeed. His story doesn’t end there, though. The man suffered personal tragedies in the form of family deaths as well as the decline of his creative work and the success of his strip until he wound up retiring. Two years later he died. As much as I was turned off by him as a person at that point, I did find it interesting that by the end he had basically turned into Ham Fisher the man who gave him his break in comics, at least partially inspired Lil’ Abner and eventually became his mortal enemy (these guys pulled some serious shady business on one another). At one point, before Fisher’s suicide, Capp said something along the lines of his nemesis being an example of evil old men just getting more evil and more old without justice ever being served. Some might say that’s the same road Capp set himself down.

I realized while gathering my thoughts to write this post that Schumacher and Kitchen might have purposefully kept the reader at arm’s length from Capp. I was pretty thrown when the full extent of his sex crimes was explained, yet I would have been thrown for a total loop had this been a person I really found myself invested in. I wonder if they chose language, situations and turns of phrases that didn’t overly ingratiate the reader to the subject for fear that either, 1) the reader might not be able to take the news or 2) they wouldn’t believe the news like many of the people of the day when it broke by way of scandal column. Either way, it was a difficult road creating a book about a man who clearly thought he was owed something by the younger generation.

I think I can recommend this book, though even though I have immense reservations about Capp. It’s impeccably researched with 16 pages of notes citing everything from articles in Time and Life to correspondences written by Capp to the people in his life. It also does a great job of painting a picture for the modern reader about how large of a figure Capp was both because of his personality and his fame, the former of which clearly lead to the latter. And even though I’m disgusted by Capp’s action and how they were handled by the colleges and local governments of the time, I do think Schumacher and Kitchen present all sides of the man, from the fast talking kid who hustled his way into cartooning to the dirty old man who used cartooning to hustle women. I might be disgusted by his choices, but the book paints a round, full portrait of a man who had hutzpah, artistic talent, jealousy, greed, a keen sense of humor, rage and a need to overpower those around him in all ways. For that, Al Capp: A Life To The Contrary gets a thumbs up.

Casting Internets

I haven’t read the Panels on Pages Wizard Alumni Where Are They Now interviews featuring Ben Morse, Chris Ward, Jim Gibbons, Brian Cunningham and Rick Marshall just yet because it looks pretty long, but I did skim it and yes, I did get mentioned and do appear in a photo or two, so it’s worth looking at.

Speaking of Wizard buddies, Josh Wigler has loosed himself upon the world of freelance again! I assume this will mean fewer jobs for myself, but he’s a good dude, so that’s okay.

One last plug for my friends, but world renowned toy animator and my number one walking-around-NYC-post-NYCC companion Alex Kropinak now has a blog. Go read it, fool!

There’s an “Avengers of horror” in the works starring Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Mr. Hyde and  seven other horror icons. Could be interesting. (via THR)

Justin Timberlake’s records have never been as appealing to me as his SNL hosting gigs, but Jody Rosen’s Rolling Stone review of his new album The 20/20 Experience sounds more up my alley.

BTM-Budget-Travel-Mag-10t

I love me some eboy. His cityscapes are amazing and somewhere in the depths of my ToyFare-acquired toy collection I have a Hugh Hefner figure based on his artwork as well as a poster. I literally said, “Whoooaaaa,” when I saw this cruise ship image of his. Super neat!

Jack White talked to Rolling Stone about new solo tracks, new Dead Weather and the rad sounding blue Reissue series from Third Man Records. Give it a look.

THR says that Kurt Sutter of Sons of Anarchy fame is creating a horror/timetravel series at FX called Lucas Stand. I haven’t seen SOA yet, but have only heard good things. This sounds like an interesting concept and FX hasn’t steered my wrong yet, so I’ll give it a watch if it actually happens.

THR also made a list of 15 interesting bits of information discussed by the Big Bang Theory cast and creators at Paley Fest. There’s some fun stuff in there for fans.

beetlejuicevarlayered

I’m actually kind of happy these days when I see Mondo posters I’m not into because I know I probably wouldn’t be able to get one and don’t have the scratch to spend on one anyway. However, this Beetlejuice one by Ken Taylor as shown over on Bad Ass Digest is spectacular.

Sylvester Stallone tweeted that he wants more humor in Expendables 3. Not sure how I feel about that considering the hackie jokes were the worst part of 2. I’m still in, though, even more so if Jackie Chan’s involved. (via Collider)

Have you tried Nicolas Cage Roulette? It’s a website you can go to with many Nic Cage faces. You click whether you want it to chose any movie from the actor’s filmography (at least what’s on Netflix Instant) or just the action movies. I tried “All” four times and got Face/Off twice, Season of the Witch and  Adaptation. Fun stuff!

An album of Elvis Costello recording with The Roots sounds rad. Maybe THAT record will get me to finally get back to writing Supergroup Showcases. (via Rolling Stone)

superman silver age dailies

IDW’s collection of Silver Age Superman comic strips looks pretty neat. Looks like they’re also doing Batman and Wonder Woman strips. I didn’t even know there WAS a WW comic strip! (via Robot 6)

I’ve had this Boing Boing link about 22 Pixar storytelling rules saved for a while, but only recently read through them. It’s interesting how many of them I wound up following in my recent comic script.

This Toledo Blade article about some of the fancier restaurants from my home town’s past was incredibly interesting.

Esquire‘s right, Dubai’s weird you guys.

Ron Marz’s latest Shelf Life column over on CBR is about his one experience with comic writing stage fright, but he also talks about some behind the scenes stuff when it came to DC Versus Marvel and Amalgam, two ideas that captured my imagination when I was kid.

mignola tusken raider

My buddy Jim Gibbons reposted this rad piece of Star Wars Mike Mignola art over on his Pizza Party! Tumblr. So rad.

Casting Internets

I’ve been doing more off-line reading lately (hence today’s About A Boy review) and the kid’s been exploring her sleeping options lately, so I haven’t been sitting down and reading things on the computer as much lately. Anyway, here’s the things I dug from the past few weeks.

First of all, my wife made a fantastic photo collage for our daughter’s first birthday. I warn you, it’s 16 minutes. I won’t feel bad if you don’t watch…much.

I talked to Robert Kirkman about the 100th issue of Walking Dead, Geoff Johns and Jim Fletcher about DC Collectibles and Steven T. Seagle about Batula. My dude Rickey Purdin did such an awesome job with this Street Fighter piece over on the Sketch Attack job that I want it on my wall.

I enjoyed this Robot 6 interview with Kevin Huizenga.

Rolling Stone posted this 2006 feature about Fall Out Boy talking about them rising to stardom. That’s about the time I started listening to it, so it was fun reading it, especially now that they’ve broken up.

Chris Cornell talked to Rolling Stone recently about the upcoming Soundgarden record and the song they created for The Avengers. I really, really like this James Bond 50th Anniversary poster by Max Dalton (who sounds like a Bond character himself).

Get yourself frozen in Carbonite at this year’s Star Wars Weekend!

I’ve been catching up on every episode of The Nerdist Writer’s Panel which focuses on TV writers, so this THR photo batch about show runners was very interesting. Lots of crossover.

I just heard today that Van Halen cancelled the rest of their tour mysteriously. Glad my dad and I saw them when we did. Anyway, before all that Esquire did interviews with Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen that I found enjoyable. I love these OMFG figures from October Toys.

I have a lot of ideas for a post about MCA’s passing, but while I’m still organizing all those thoughts, I really enjoyed Perry Farrell’s take on things for Rolling Stone. I am fascinated by that late 80s heavy LA club scene, man.

I’m not what you’d call a Gin Blossoms fan by any means, but I found lead singer Robin Wilson’s very realistic and honest take on the 90s nostalgia that he’s a part of refreshing (via Rolling Stone).

One more Rolling Stone link, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid started a jazz fusion supergroup with Jack Bruce, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman Santana. This makes me VERY excited. Oh goodness, Joao Carlos Vieira’s Spaceman Spiff drawing for Ashcan Allstars was AMAAAAAAAZING.

Wired‘s look at an old school fortune cookie factory was pretty darn interesting.

Neil Marshall is great, so I’m excited that he’s working on something called The Last Voyage Of The Demeter, which is about the boat that Dracula rode in to get from Transylvania! Sounds rad.  (via THR)

I will be studying Esquire‘s list of six summer cocktails, but I’ll probably just wind up drinking strange mixtures of whatever I have on hand.

Oops, here’s one more Rolling Stone link, apparently there’s a whole album of Joey Ramone tracks ready to be released called …ya know? I really like Don’t Worry About Me and of course everything Ramones, so this should be interesting.

Finally, Louis CK has some more awesome stuff on sale for $5, check it out!

Audiobook Review: The Ten-Cent Plague By David Hajdu, Read By Stefan Rudnicki

This is another one of those posts that have been kicking around in my head for a while. I actually finished the 10-disc audiobook version of David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare And How It Changed America a few weeks back, but haven’t gotten around to talking about it until now. My inlaws actually brought me this set the day our daughter was born, I’m sure I thanked them and set it aside next to my bed for weeks without really realizing what it was. A month or two back I finally dug it out, noted the awesome Charles Burns cover, and decided to start listening to it while driving around in my car. My dad does this instead of listening to the radio and it seemed like a good idea, plus I knew that my wife wouldn’t have much interest in listening to the book while on our trips to either Ohio or New Hampshire, though I do think it would have been highly informative for her.

This is not my first foray into the history of comics. That honor goes to a tape about collecting comic books I bought as a kid hosted by Frank Gorshin that briefly went through the history of the medium, even talking to EC’s William Gaines in his cluttered office, an image forever burned in my brain. I haven’t read too many books on the subject, but have absorbed quite a bit over the years. Even so, I’ve never experienced anything as in depth and complete as Hajdu’s account. He starts off where most other accounts of comics does with the Yellow Kid and ends with the failure of EC after a series of government inquiries into the effects of comics on children.

What sets The Ten-Cent Plague apart from the other sources I’ve seen or read is the fact that he seemingly interviewed every living person possible. And I’m not just talking about the EC folks who do wind up taking center stage for the last third or quarter of the book (as they should considering what was going on), but also people who just worked in the biz. It gives the sense of a complete account or as complete as can be, though obviously no such thing could actually exist, especially so far away from the events themselves. I do think that, had I been reading this book instead of listening to it, I might have quit because it could be dry, but Rudnicki’s deep, commanding and lyrical voice kept me interested the whole time.

There were three things that really caught my attention while reading the book. First off, I didn’t realize how bad the comic book backlash was, especially in small towns. Places all over the country were rounding up comic books and just burning them. Book burning! In America! The small mindedness really got on my nerves. Second, how crazy is it that 60 years ago comics were such a big deal that the government was looking into them and the millions of copies they were selling while today it takes a complete overhaul of a major company to sell a tenth of that. Can you imagine that much attention being paid to comics today?

Finally, I tried to really think about where I would fall on the issues of the day back then. I’ve read some of the horror and sci-fi comics that EC was putting out as well as some Creepy and Eerie issues and a few other things. They were pretty gruesome, especially in a more sheltered time. Were I a kid back then and a fan of these comics, I would have been incensed that adults were starting to get in my business and take away my secret window into a more adult world. At the same time, if I were a parent at the time, I would probably do my best to keep them out of my younger child’s hands. Note, I’m not making a suggestion for governmental censorship, but censoring kids is kind of a parent’s whole job after keeping them alive is taken care of. Hopefully parents are in tune with their kids and understand what they can handle, but that’s up to them. It’s also up to the merchants to decide what they want to sell, but not the government’s to tell us what we can and can not create when it comes to art and entertainment, assuming no one is getting hurt in the creative process. I have lived my entire life in a world filled with ratings and warnings of content, though. Movies and comics had ratings and stamps of approval, records eventually got notices of questionable content and video games their own system of ratings. I’m used to these things and trust them to an extent. Ratings systems can be great if they are well maintained and keep to a set of public rules that everyone can read and understand. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case back in the 50s and it lead to the end of a lot of great comics. Had things kept going the way companies like EC were going, we’d probably have a much different comic market now.

If you have any interest in comic book history, do yourself a favor and check Hajdu’s book out. I’d recommend hitting up the audiobook, but it’s worth consuming however you prefer.

Ad It Up: Morning Funnies Cereal

My favorite comic ads are the ones that bring back a flood of memories. My second favorite ones seem incredibly inappropriate given the subject matter of the comic they are found in. This one counts for both. Not only do I remember eating Morning Funnies Cereal a few times (the box actually folded open and had comic strips you could read!), but I got a kick out of flipping through an old Punisher issue (#20 from 1989) and coming across the full color visages of Hagar the Horrible, Dennis the Menace, Luann, Beetle Bailey and the rest. Does anyone remember what the actual cereal looked like? The art makes them look like tortured souls screaming out of the comic strip graveyard. Or goofy faces. Whichever you like

Strip Search: Hank Ketcham’s Complete Dennis The Menace Vol. 2 1953-1954

Welcome to a brand new feature here on UnitedMonkee: Strip Search. My first foray as a kid into sequential art was not the comic book, but the daily comics in the newspaper which we called “funnies” in my house. Perhaps it was that nickname that kept me firmly focused on only the comedy strips of the time and away from the more dramatic ones like Prince Valiant, Mary Worth and their ilk. My dad and I would trade the funnies back and forth in the mornings depending on who got to the breakfast table first. Our local paper, The Toledo Blade, had a special entertainment section called and colored Peach which we read every day for quite a while. The only problem was that The Blade didn’t really get too wild when it came to the strips they syndicated. You had your basics like Hagar The Horrible, Blondie, Garfield, Marmaduke, Dennis The Menace and Dilbert. It seemed like once Calvin And Hobbes went away, the paper stopped paying attention to new strips. Actually, I take that back, they added Zits which became a fast favorite, but after that? Well, honestly, I don’t even remember because my dad eventually started getting The Detroit Free Press, a paper with much better, more interesting strips like The Boondocks, Liberty Meadows and Get Fuzzy. Sure there was some redundancies, but we enjoyed reading both sets.

For the most part, I stopped reading the funnies when I went to college because the newspaper was no longer a part of my life and hasn’t really been since, aside from some trips home or visits from the in-laws who always buy a paper when they visit, they haven’t been a part of my life since. It wasn’t until the last year or so that I started getting interested in comic strips again, though not the ones being currently produced. With the huge increase of reprints from the long history of the medium and creators bestowing the virtues of those older creations it got me excited about exploring some of those strips. I’ll be honest, Dennis The Menace was not on that list. Sure, I liked the one-panel daily strip as a kid and even watched reruns of the 50s TV series on Nickelodeon as a kid as well as the mid-80s cartoon, but I kind of wrote the strip off as goofy kids stuff. What made me rethink that stance? A sale at a Borders in Jersey I happened to find myself in last weekend where I found Hank Ketcham’s Complete Dennis The Menace Volume 2: 1953-54 and Volume 4 from Fantagraphics for about $4 a piece! I’m a sucker for a good deal, especially when the books normally run $24.95, so I bit.

I was very pleasantly surprised with how entertained I was by the strips as I burned through this 653 page collection of every non-Sunday strip from Dennis’ third and fourth years in existence. If you’re not familiar, Dennis Mitchell is a five year old boy with a mother and father. He’s classically known for being precocious, overly honest as only children can be and what some people today would call spirited. Going in, I of course knew that his neighbor, the short-fused Mr. Wilson tended to be on the receiving end of Dennis menacement, but interestingly enough, he’s hardly in this collection. Neither are his friend Joey or his female nemesis Margaret who were prominent in the cartoon. Most of the strips revolve around Dennis’ boyishness getting on the nerves of his parents Henry and Alice with his ever-present canine companion Ruff along for the ride usually. Most of the gags revolve around Dennis’ ignorance of the adult world. He’s often misinterpreting sayings and metaphors his parents use to describe their neighbors and friends usually within earshot of those same people. He also worries his mother in the way that a boy of the time would: by getting into all kinds of trouble, occasionally coming home naked or bloody (not both mind you). I’d like to think that creator Hank Ketcham was attempting to poke fun at the seriousness of adult life and possibly the guards and niceties we hide behind which often sacrifice honesty and truth. I also found it interesting that I could relate my childhood more to a five decade old comic strip than kids today. Not to sound too much like an old man, I spent huge amounts of time running around the nearby park with neighborhood kids and being kids. I was never as mischievous as Dennis, but I’m sure most kids today are either kept inside for fear of abduction or would rather sit around and play video games. I hope I’m way off on that, but we’ll see.

I also want to talk about Ketcham’s art for a moment. The intro to this collection by comic strip historian R.C. Harvey goes on and on about Ketcham’s style, but the most important thing I read in there was that Ketcham liked to play with perspective and silhouettes to keep himself interested, but he also didn’t want the cartoon to draw too much attention away from the overall joke. As it is, these early strips have a looseness to them that does draw attention away from some of the details. You might think that with only so much space, an artist would take the easy way out and skimp on the backgrounds, but nearly every strip has a plenty of things to look at in the panel aside from the main action/figures. I found myself staring at his line work and seeing how deceptively complex they actually are. He also does great work when it comes to expressions. There’s not an abundance of line work done on his faces, but what he can do with a few dots and lines to show disapproval, embarrassment or a barely stifled laugh is pretty hysterical and impressive.

As much as I enjoyed the collection, I can’t say it was a 100% win for me. I like the majority of the strips, but as you might expect, some of them just fall flat. It’s impossible for your average younger person today to grasp every joke made in a 50 year old comic strip, but the great thing about reading a collection of single strip comics (each getting its own page) is that you can easily move right on to the next installment if the previous doesn’t do it for you. And overall, that’s the beauty of this book: while it feels, looks and is robust, the collection is very easy to read through. I read the whole thing in an evening and probably could have moved on to the other one I have waiting for me, but wanted to space them out so I didn’t get them confused when writing about them. One of the problems I’m having with some of the other comics I’m trying to read is that, with such high page counts and in-depth strips, it’s exhausting to get through. This hardcover measures 5 3/4×6 1/2×2 1/4 inches which really is the perfect size. They probably could have doubled the page length and covered twice as many years, but that would presumably also drive the cost of production up. I think this is the perfect presentation and like many of these fancy hardcover comics strip reprint projects, the series of these would look amazing up on a shelf. I have visions of shelves filled with various strip collections I like that make me want to move into a larger space. The price point for these books might be a little hefty without a sale, but I’m definitely going to keep my eyes peeled for more of these volumes in the future.

If you’re curious or want to read along with me. I’ve also got the very first Gasoline Alley Walt & Skeezix book from Drawn & Quarterly which I’m loving as well as the first two Dick Tracy collections from IDW and Peanuts Vol. 14 also from Fanta which has been shockingly fun and entertaining so far. If anyone has any suggestions for other old strips to check out, let me know. I’m also keeping my eyes peeled for a sale on that Complete Calvin And Hobbes collection because I’m a huge fan of that series and want to read the whole thing in a nice format.