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Graphic Novel Friday: Classic Comics Made New

If you are at all a fan of classic comic strips, then chances are great that Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder has long been on your wishlist—emphasis on “long,” because, as fans know, this special project from publisher Fantagraphics has been in the works for years. The good news: it’s here, it’s real. The better news: it’s incredible. Walt Kelly’s lively, robust, and poetic world is faithfully and lovingly produced in this, the first of a proposed twelve volume series. The hardcover is printed horizontally, maintaining the integrity of the “strip” format, with ample margins to avoid any gutter-loss. Fantagraphics knew this first volume would be scrutinized by hardcore Pogo fans, and they’ve outdone expectations, dating each strip, providing historical context for the more esoteric 1940s references, and even reproducing the color Sunday strips. This volume even collects the earlier New York Star strips, where Kelly is still laying the groundwork for his world and finding bits that he liked enough to later rework into the proper Pogo run.

Through the Wild Blue Wonder is one of our Best Comics and Graphic Novels of 2011, and there might not be a better gift this holiday for the historical and literary comics fan.

Before Pogo, however, Walt Kelly drew Our Gang comics based on the popular live-action hooligans, and in these comics were backup stories featuring Barney the Bear and Benny Burro by Carl Barks. Enter publisher IDW, who collected over 200 pages of this hard-to-find Barney the Bear material in a sturdy new hardcover. Bone creator (and Barks fan) Jeff Smith provides a new cover and an introduction, and Craig Yoe serves as editor and designer (and he pens front matter essays that help place Barks’ work and career in context). It’s an oversized book, perfect not only for aficionados but also for younger readers—the images are bright and large and the book looks like it is built to last. The coloring, unfortunately, is a sign of its time, with plenty of smudging and bleeding. Barks’ scripts call for plenty of exclamation points and the stories almost always wrap up with a zinger in the last panel. It’s nostalgic, good-natured reading and is accessible for all ages. Fans looking for more familiar work from Carl Barks have much to celebrate: Fantagraphics recently released Walt Disney's Donald Duck: "Lost in the Andes" as part of The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library and they will publish Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man" in June 2012.

All of this classic comics talk would be incomplete without mentioning the recent reprint project of Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse adventures. The usually tight-gripped Disney empire agreed to turn over their most treasured property to Fantagraphics (yes, again!). The results are eye-opening, featuring a Mickey that might be unfamiliar to most present-day fans. The stories are dense, packing plenty of dialogue into the strips—and the themes are darker than the bright-eyed, factory-sealed tales of today. Mickey is multi-dimensional in the first volume, Race to Death Valley, making rash decisions without much concern for everyone’s safety. Thankfully, Minnie is by his side to both reign him in and sometimes encourage his recklessness. The reproduction is crisp—the black inks are meticulous in their separation, and the book is augmented with over 50 pages of essays and Mickey esoterica. Volume 2, Trapped on Treasure Island, published last month, and Fantagraphics has a gift edition slipcase that contains both volumes. This dynamic look is a revelation in the life of the character who started it all for Disney.

--Alex

 

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