söndag 18 november 2012

Brant Parker & Johnny Hart: The Wizard of Id. Dailies and Sundays 1972

In my teens, I read quite a lot of collections of daily strips. There were these cheap pocketbook collections of B.C., The Wizard of Id, Peanuts, etc, that I used to buy when we went from my small town home of Ånge to visit relatives in a real city like Östersund, which had proper bookstores. I loved Peanuts, and the rest of them were usually OK, but not up to the same standards – but hey, they were comics, so I read 'em.

Occasionally, my love of comics would lead me into the realm of cultural discourse – the gorgeous artwork of someone like Neal Adams would inspire an interest in fine art in general, sometimes the prominent culturati of the time would discuss comics (unfortunately rarely with any particularly impressive amount of knowledge about the subject), or some left-oriented critic would put out an article or a book condemning the USA-produced trash that was supposedly indoctrinating innocent kids into a capitalistic, imperialistic and evil worldview.

I remember reading a particularly galling review of a collection of comics dailies, where the reviewer complained that it was tiresome to read the whole collection because it got repetitive and the strips probably weren't intended to be collected into a book like that. First of all: well, duh – they were intended to be published as daily strips in a newspaper; collecting them was a bonus for people who liked the strip. Second, I don't recall what strip it was, but if it was Peanuts, the reviewer must have been an idiot, because any chance to read Peanuts strips is a treat to be savored.

And finally, the reviewer was an idiot, because how bloody hard can it be to simply put the book away and do something else for a while, and then come back and pick it up to read some more when you feel like it? After all, you can probably manage to do so with novels of short story collections, so how hard can it be to do the same when the book contains comic strips instead? Good grief.

Anyway, what this rambling leads up to is my appreciation for today's quite excellent trend of collecting old strips in complete editions, and more precisely Titan Books' The Wizard of Id. Dailies and Sundays 1972.

The Wizard of Id wasn't exactly one of my favorites; partly because the art wasn't as clean or pretty as in some other strips, partly because the jokes just didn't seem quite as funny. A lot of them were about how fat, ugly and unpleasant the Wizard's wife was, and I'd already read plenty enough of that kind of jokes to be kind of tired of them.

Re-reading the strip today, I have to say that I agree with my younger self. Apart from the "ugly wife" strips, there are strips with puns, strips with "short" jokes about the diminutive king of Id, booze jokes about the alcoholic court jester Bung, and contemporary jokes about women's lib etc. Some of the jokes work, some don't, but generally, the strip never really takes off. Like B.C. and Peanuts, The Wizard of Id was considered a "sophisticated" strip in those days. The term referred to how that sort of strips worked with words and small effects instead of "bigfoot" cartooning (of which Beetle Bailey would be the foremost example), slapstick and wild, grandiose, physical humor, and for that purpose, I suppose I'll go along with it. But Parker et al – and most of the other strips in that tradition – while often clever in their puns, put-downs etc, never reached the level of sophistication that Charles Schulz managed to achieve, really creating Art by sublimating his neuroses, anxieties and aspirations into a cohesive, captivating whole.

Actually, I think this is a pretty decent joke, as jokes go. But this is as good as it gets.

Nevertheless, my hat's off to Titan Books for collecting this bit of comics history into a nice, appealing package, and I hope they continue to do so, even though I won't recommend it. I would, however, recommend them to remove the annoying "JohnnyHartStudios.com" sticker that is in Every-Bloody-Strip mucking them up graphically and distracting the reader from what's important: the actual strips. (If they could also get the copyright stickers out of the panels and into the gutters instead, and preferably also make it just a smidgeon smaller, that would also be appreciated.)

Oh, and it does get a bit tiresome to read long stretches of the strip, because it is kind of scratchy in its artwork and kind of repetitive in its humor. It probably wasn't intended to be read like this, strip after strip after strip in a whole book.

But you know what? That's not really a problem. You can read a month or so at a time, put the book away for a couple of hours or a day or two, and then return to read some more.

That is, if you're not too stupid to figure that out.

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