Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jack and Willie & Joe and Bill

As comics complete their journey from the ghetto of genre fiction to the mainstream, it's nice to see the literature of the past collected and preserved.

Jack Kirby's amazing and astounding contributions as an innovator and illustrator are unmatched. Bill Maudlin was a brilliant war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial

This is a slightly longer version of two too-brief reviews that ran in The Miami Herald yesterday; July 15, 2008.

Kirby: King of Comics. Mark Evanier. Abrams. 224 pages.

Creator or co-creator of just about every Marvel character (Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men et al), as well as a ton of heroes and villains for DC and other publishers, Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) is King of Comics.

Award-winning animation and comics writer Mark Evanier hosts this virtual tour of the Kirby Universe with gorgeous reproductions of the King’s art, and a loving but terrifically balanced biography serving as the narrative thread. At less than twenty-five bucks on, this beautiful books a bargain for fans and art lovers alike. The breadth of Kirby’s imagination still dazzles.

Willie & Joe: The WWII Years. Bill Mauldin. Fantagraphics. 650 pages.

As a kid, I used to leaf through my father’s dog-eared paperback of Mauldin’s single-panel Willie & Joe cartoons, This Damn Tree Leaks, drawn while the artist was embedded with American GIs and printed in Italy in 1945. Many of those panels, along with a text narrative, became part of a bestselling collection, Up Front, which was also adapted into a mediocre 1951 movie starring Tom Ewell and David Wayne.

Mauldin’s funny and frequently poignant single-panel black and white cartoons, faithfully reproduced here, capture the human qualities of the fighting men and the more mundane aspects of their struggle, without glamorizing the violence or minimizing the myriad sacrifices.

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