September 10, 2014 posted by

Long-Overdue New Book Round-Up

A few months have gone by and its time once again to weed through the books piling up from various publishers. These are the good ones.

mickey-mouse-readerFirst up, an anthology of articles on America’s favorite mouse, Gary Apgar’s A Mickey Mouse Reader. There are 81 text pieces compiled in this almost 400 page paperback – some of them can be dismissed (for one, “Vox Bop” by Maurice A. Crane – a 1958 tidbit about the use of the term “Mickey Mouse” in music) but most of them are quite interesting and several of them are historically important (“Mickey Mouse Maker” by Gilbert Seldes from a 1931 issue of The New Yorker; “Mickey Mouse – How He Was Born” by Walt Disney from a 1931 issue of Windsor Magazine; “Growing Up With Mickey” by Maurice Sendack, from a 1978 issue of TV Guide, et al).

There seems to be an endless stream of books about Walt Disney, the Disney characters and the films he produced – all of it fascinating stuff. This book does a good job curating particularly significant pieces about the Mouse – from such noted writers as John Canemaker, John Culhane, E.M Forester, John Updike, M. Thomas Inge, Charles Solomon and our own Jim Korkis, among many others.

The highlights for me are reading the older pieces – with such noted authors as Irving Wallace or a screenwriter like Frank Nugent discussing the evolution of Mickey Mouse in the 1940s – written at a time when the maturing studio was still in a “golden age”. And there is also some real meat here – Arthur Mann’s 1934 article for Harper’s Magazine on Disney’s finances and distribution is a real find.

Just when you think you’ve read it all, A Mickey Mouse Reader will indeed add to your knowledge of the Disney studio and its most famous creation. This is a good one and I recommend it.

marc-davis-bookMarc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man is also an anthology featuring John Canemaker and Charles Solomon – along with Bob Kurtz, Andreas Deja, Glen Keene, Pete Docter, Don Hahn, Mindy Johnson and several other notables.

In case you couldn’t tell by its title, this is a beautiful tribute and scrapbook devoted to Disney legend Marc Davis. This volume takes a deeper look at Davis the artist and mentor. It’s oversized and generous with pencil animation art from many of Davis’ films including features like Song of The South, Ichabod And Mr. Toad, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty – and shorts including Duck Pimples, Toot Whitle Plunk and Boom, and The Little House.

Sketches, paintings, Imagineering concepts, personal photographs – It’s a strong look at one of the true masters of character animation. Canemaker pens a brief biographical introduction; Kurtz discusses what he learned from Marc; Marty Sklar discusses Davis’ work with the theme parks; Pete Docter and Andrea Deja examine his animation – and there’s much, much more.

I want a book like this for each of the other “Nine Old Men” – and the hundreds of others at Disney and all the other Hollywood studios. For now, I’m satisfied that such a book was assembled for one as great as Marc Davis. I highly recommend it!

uncle-scrooge-gersteinI admit I’m late to the game concerning Carl Barks and his famed Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics.

For whatever reason, when I grew up I seemed to sample (or devour) almost every comic book available in the 1960s and 70s. Everything Marvel and DC, everything Archie and Harvey, almost everything Charlton and Gold Key (not to mention all the oddball Dell, ACG, Tower, Atlas, et al). But for whatever reason, Uncle Scrooge, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics did not appeal to my sensibilities. Oh, I loved all things Disney and the animated cartoons – a more devoted member of The Mickey Mouse Club you never met.

I missed out.

Mike Barrier’s Funnyworld first turned me on to Barks back in the 1970s – but by then picking up the books on the newsstand by habit was not going to happen. I was certainly aware of Barks and what he contributed to comics and storytelling. I was aware of Scrooge’s money bin, the Beagle Boys and the Junior Woodchucks. So it is with great appreciation that I received Uncle Scrooge, The Seven Cities of Gold, apparently Volume 14 of Fantagraphics The Carl Barks Disney Library (though this is not noted anywhere on the book itself).

This latest one is a beautiful hard bound volume collecting over 25 vintage Barks stories and one-pages (as well as covers). I’ll never experience these tales from a child’s perspective – but there is no question of their quality from my point of view as an adult. I’d always heard how Indiana Jones was inspired by Bark’s and here in the first story, The Seven Cities of Cibola, there are direct comparisons in the panels. I’m not Barks literate enough to know if these are his best stories – but I can recommend this volume with hesitation.

Especially helpful to me are the story notes compiled in the back pages. Written by several notable Disney comics scholars, there is a brief bio of Barks himself by Donald Ault and three pages of uncredited “Panels That Never Were” – which I suspect were compiled by Editorial Consultant David Gerstein. The whole book glows with the touches he brings to his Disney book projects.

don-rosa-booksSpeaking of David Gerstein, he is the editor of Fantagraphics Walt Disney Uncle Scrooge And Donald Duck: The Don Rosa Library Vols. 1 & 2.

Again, I hadn’t kept up with Disney comic books over the years – but I know who Don Rosa is. In fact, Rosa was the first person ever to refer to me “an animation expert” – in his wonderful column The Information Center in the old Rocket’s Blast Comic Collector (RBCC), back in the 1970s and 80s. I used to send in questions AND answers to his column… and he was nice enough to take notice. His column, and his artwork, was a highlight in that ‘zine in those days.

Rosa was into every aspect of pop culture and his knowledge of it was impressive. He went on to write and draw Disney comics, apparently with a lot of freedom to do what he wished. And what he wished for was to be a latter day Carl Barks.

Clearly, no one can be Barks again. But Rosa is so sincere in his desire to revive Barks style of adventure and humor it shows in every panel, every detail of his work. He’s taking this seriously, folks, and its all there.

I love what editor Gerstein is doing with these volumes – loading each with “bonus material” essays on the making of these comics, by Rosa himself, abetted with rare pencil sketches, paintings, photographs. Good stuff, sez I.

adventure-time-titlesAdventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards. Here’s a surprise! I got sent an advance copy of this new Titan Books release and I’m delighted.

As fans of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time know, one of the coolest parts of the show are the beautifully painted title cards at the head of every episode. They aren’t on long enough to appreciate – and I’m to lazy to freeze frame the image. This book collects all the titles from the first two seasons – and what a great idea for a coffee table book this turned out to be.

But wait – there’s more! Not only does each card get its own full page, but the opposite page shows the painting’s original pencil layout – and notes and quotes from the artists and principal creatives: Pen Ward, Nick Jennings, Pail Linsley, Andy Ristaino and Phil Rynda. Inspired by Frank Frazetta, B-Movie posters, comic books and romance novel covers – the story behind these title cards add another dimension to an already dimension-spanning series.

If you are a fan of Adventure Time this book is a must-have.

master-marksMasterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed The World by Monte Beauchamp is another surprise. It’s the story of 17 cartoonist creators who changed pop culture (if not the world) through their creations: Walt Disney, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Dr. Seuss, Winsor McCay, Osamu Tezuka, Hirschfeld, Schulz, Addams, Hergé – even Hugh Hefner – and others.

The “gimmick” here is that their stories are told in comic strip form – by some of today’s most important practitioners. There are several highlights here – first and foremost is R. Crumb and Me by Drew Friedman. Friedman is the perfect match to explain Crumb’s importance and influence, particularly on Drew himself and how their careers intersect. I think I’m as big a nut for Friedman as I am for Crumb, so this 8 page extravaganza alone makes the book worth having.

The other 100-plus pages are pretty amazing in their own right. My favorite cartoonists portrayed by my favorite cartoonists: Arnold Roth’s Al Hirschfeld, Dennis Kitchen on Dr. Seuss, Ryan Heshka’s Siegel and Shuster, Dan Zettwoch’s Osamu Tzuka are stand outs. A few cartoonists I’d never seen before delighted me with their unique take on their subjects: Sergio Ruzzier’s charming story of Charles M. Schulz, Greg Clarke on Edward Gorey, and Nora Krug on Hergé.

The strangest piece is on Walt Disney by Beauchamp and artist Larry Day. It features nary an image of Walt or Mickey nor anything to garner the attention of The Walt Disney Company legal team. Not sure it works – but I’m glad its here. Highly recommended!

heroes-of-comicsSpeaking of Drew Friedman — Heroes Of The Comics by Drew Friedman is one of the best books of the year! If you love comic books and the people who created them – this is a must-have!

Not that there aren’t a few animation icons given the Friedman treatment here – Otto Messmer (see below), Woody Gelman, Walt Kelly, Carl Barks are a few with animation ties – however if you count Alfred Harvey, Alex Toth and Harvey Kurtzman, you’d have a few more. The point of this book is a curated who’s-who of important comic book artists. Each given a gorgeous full-page Friedman portrait. But that’s not all.

I knew I would appreciate the art – but these portraits are really wonderful. Several of them made me laugh out loud, whether that was the intention or not (Artist John Severin posed painting Sylvester P. Smythe; Publisher Martin Goodman staring at, of all things, a copy of A Date With Millie; Alfred Harvey, with a Friedman drawing of Casper, on model!)

What surprised me is how affectionate and informative the writing is. I could feel Friedman’s enthusiasm and respect for the subjects in both the portraits and the bios. With “History of Comics” courses beginning to spring up in colleges – I could seriously see this book being assigned as a required text!

I was blown away by this book – considering there isn’t one image of Shemp nor a mention of Joe Franklin, it ranks as one of the best by Drew Friedman. Buy it!

Otto Messmer by Drew Friedman - from his new book.

Otto Messmer by Drew Friedman – from his new book.


  • It is great Barks is in print again. And Fantagraphics is in some cases providing uncensored and better versions of the stories than appeared in the Another Rainbow Barks Library. I’m buying these for my four year old niece as they are issued to introduce her to some of the greatest stories ever told. Kim Weston is the scholar who first uncovered the censored/unused pages and panels that likely is the source of the article. But I should also note David Gerstein is a marvel of industry. Cibola is from a great period of the Scrooge stories, when Barks was still excited about exploring the character. Anyone yearning to learn more about Barks can look forward to Mike Barrier’s new tome Funnybooks due at the end of the year which has extensive comments on the Duck Man (along with Walt Kelly and John Stanley). I’ve read the manuscript and it is amazing the information on Western Publishing that Barrier has uncovered. Weston has just released on CD a Concordance of the Barks stories that I have heard is excellent. And I hope it isn’t out of place to mention back issues of my fanzine Duckburg Times are now on Ebay to clear out the back stock. They have lots of material on Barks and other Disney comics artists and I made sure every issue had something by Jim Korkis. Glad to see Barks is enjoying a revival.

  • Thank you very much for your kind words.

  • Actually, the one new book I’d most like to hear more about is Stephen Cavalier’s “World History of Animation”. It’s popped up on Amazon but I haven’t heard much from the experts.

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