Wednesday, January 6, 2010

TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics

Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s new anthology, The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, contains exactly what the title boasts — a smorgasbord of comics from 1945 through 1958 that includes Uncle Wiggily, Droopy, Supermouse, Little Lulu, Dennis the Menace and Sugar and Spike, among other wily children and wacky animals.

I have to admit these were before my time. I did read Sheldon Mayer’s Sugar and Spike — the mischievous toddlers whose “baby talk” could be understood only by each other — so that must have lasted into the 1960s or been reprinted. Certainly I recall Dennis and Walt Kelly’s wonderful Pogo as black-and-white newspaper strips, and Uncle Wiggily as a board game. But the rest exist as legend.

And that’s probably the key to appreciating these brightly colored samplings for those of us too young to wax nostalgic. Today we can admire the formidable art of Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge, Jules Feiffer’s Clifford, Dr. Seuss’s Gerald McBoing Boing ….

There also are other great cartoonists represented here who went on to fame, such as those future MAD magazine geniuses Harvey Kurtzman, Jim Davis and Dave Berg. (See my post on Kurtzman here.) Plus, this collection contains Pogo and his pals before they became politicized.

Another reason to treasure this treasury is to remember a time when comics came with a message, if not necessarily the one parents expected. One Dennis book ends with his mother comforting him with the adage that “Nothing (sad) matters as long you have at least one good friend.” With that, Dennis perks up and rushes off to share his “samwich” with his one good friend, his dog Ruff.

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