The latest issue of Fantagraphics's wonderful annual tribute to the classic EC Comics is now out, and as always this book is a total pleasure for anyone who loves wonderfully transgressive old comics.
You can pretty much tell right away if this is the book for you based on your reaction to the cover of this comic. If you look at that loose sketch by Harvey Kurtzman on the cover and think, "Ooh, a lost cover sketch by the comedic master," then this is a book you must have. Or if you see the back cover and palpitate a bit at the chance to see a long-lost piece of Jack Davis war comics art, you will love this book. And if you don't, you might find some material in this comic that will delight you.
This issue is dominated mainly by three features. Up front is an exhaustively research and tremendously well-written article by EC authority Roger Hill that describes the search for the original art for the great Basil Wolverton's famous illustration of Lena the Hyena, "the ugliest girl in the world." Hill quotes directly from fascinating mail of the era, and I found myself spellbound by his stories of how he retored and found the original art. I'll freely admit that I'm a big geek for that sort of thing, but this meticulously researched article was fascinating to me.
The second major feature is a "virtual reprint" of the never-published MAD rival Flip #3, including many pages of work by comics great Howard Nostrand. MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman often said that Flip is the comic that came closest in tone to his great, original series, and we see that smart, insouciant, irreverent humor on display in this story, especially in the wacky, balloon-puncturing story about Christopher Columbus. While some of the humor of this story may feel a bit obscure to modern readers, we still will be able to relate to the style and energy of these stories. And maybe most interestingly, the creators' commentary after the story gives a very different perspective on the time that these stories were created. Suffice it to say that nobody's opinions are censored in this section!
The final major feature of this issue is a collection of single-panel comic strips drawn by the great Jack Davis during his nine-month stint in Guam in 1945 and '46 when, as Davis says, "I had no talent." But Davis is being a bit too modest — these panels are a bit primitive and broad but are fun and light and present a wonderfully vivid portrait of the frustration and wonder of being a young kid set loose on a beautiful Pacific island, complete with attractive local women, white sand beaches and the grinding frustration of life in the Navy.
So if any of these three pieces make your heart beat a bit faster — if the idea of seeing Jack Davis's contemporary thoughts of Christmas in Guam makes you interested in picking up this book — then Sqa Tront 13 is the book for you. As is always true of books from Fantagraphics, the reproduction in this book is spectacular and all the work is meticulously researched. But it is true that this material is for those who are already fans of EC comics and their era.