PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

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The PopCult Bookshelf 

Welcome to the first PopCult Bookshelf, where we take a look at pop culture-oriented books and current comic books, with a pretty intense focus on comics. The plan is to make this a regular Thursday afternoon feature in PopCult.  

Comics About Cartoonists: The World’s Oddest Profession
edited and designed by Craig Yoe
Yoe Books/IDW Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1613773468
$39.99

“Comics About Cartoonists” is an absolute treasure. A collection of comic strips, panels and stories about the people who draw comic strips, panels and stories. Loaded with some of the biggest names in the history of the cartooning world, this book is a massive, loving collection of “inside baseball” stories, in-jokes, self-mockery and even a little score-settling. 

Jack Kirby, The Romantic

Compiled by Craig Yoe, a cartoonist and comics historian (and a PopCult favorite), this over-sized 230-page book is a goldmine of classic comics, mostly pre-1960, by a stellar line-up of talent that includes Winsor McCay, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Jack Cole, Sheldon Mayer, Steve Ditko, Milt Gross, Basil Wolveton, Chester
Gould, Milton Caniff and many more.

The book begins with a gushing and detailed essay by Yoe, explaining how this book was such a labor of love for him. Sprinkled throughout the essay are gems such as Charles Schulz drawing an adult, Bob Kliban showing what a superstar cartoonist looks like, and a rare secular comic strip by famed Tractician, Jack T. Chick.

The real meat of the book, the comics, kick off with a full-length Jack Kirby romance story about a cartoonist falling for his model. This is a primo example of Kirby in his pre-Marvel renaissance days, still near the top of his game.

What follows is a must-have for anyone with a genuine love of the comics medium. Its the top creators of their day turning their pencils and pens on their own industry: We get a couple of stories of Inkie, a boy cartoonist, by Jack Cole (Plastic Man) and Milt Stein; Strip sequences from Dick Tracy, Joe Palooka, Lil’ Abner, Nancy and Steve Canyon; a Harvey Kurtzman “Hey Look” classic; and even a selection of Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in slumberland) strips from over a hundred years ago.

Will Eisner’s “Where is The Spirit?”

Highlights are Sheldon Mayer’s “Scribbly,” a sort of autobiographical strip about a boy cartoonist, Will Eisner’s “Where is The Spirit?” from 1942 and rarely-seen “Funnyman” story by Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, with John Sikela. This collection ends with the Al Feldstein/Wally Wood classic, “My World,” from Weird Science #22. I would imagine that Yoe had that story in mind to close this book before he started compiling it. It’s the perfect ending for an amazing book.

Anyone interested in cartooning, either as a job, a hobby or just as a fan, will love “Comics About Cartoonists.” It works as an historical tome, an archival collection and as a downright entertaining collection of top-notch comics.

A stellar line-up of talent, from the back cover

Toy Confidential: The Secret Life Of Snarky Toys
by Aled Lewis
HOW Books
ISBN 13: 978-1-4403-2043-9
$12.99

“Toy Confidential: The Secret Life Of Snarky Toys” is, to put it bluntly, a waste of time and money. It does serve an educational lesson. It taught me not to order a book simply because it says it’s about toys and is relatively cheap. This book is why the book industry is failing.

Seriously, this is about as funny as it gets

This book, ostensibly written by Aled Lewis, a London-based graphic designer who has unwittingly proven that not everything that comes out of England is clever or funny. “Toy Confidential” is a collection of blurry, poorly-lit photos of toys with lame captions or word balloons. Most of this stuff isn’t funny enough for anyone to even post on Facebook. At most, it’s mildly amusing, until you realize that you paid money for this, then you get all Grumpy Cat on this mess.

For God’s sake, don’t pay full price for this junk. If you find it at Dollar Tree it might make for five minutes of good toilet reading, but if you don’t want to see what seems like a very unfunny person trying out for a job writing gags for Family Guy (with no hope of getting the gig), then give “Toy Confidential” a pass.

Cool Comics

Mars Attacks Popeye
by Martin Powell and Terry Beatty
IDW Comics
$3.99

This is one of the most fun comic books I’ve read in ages. I was skeptical when I first heard of IDW’s plans to do a series of cross-overs between Mars Attacks and the other properties they publish, but Mars Attacks Popeye is so freaking brilliant that my fears have been laid to rest.

Martin Powell’s story perfectly melds the worlds of the classic Topps trading card set, Mars Attacks, with the classic E.C. Segar style take on Popeye The Sailor Man. Wisely, the entire story takes place on Popeye’s turf. The Martians team up with The Sea Hag and Popeye has to defend Sweethaven. Going any further into the story would run the risk of spoiling it.

Terry Beatty’s art is a triumph. This comics veteran (Ms. Tree, Batman, currently The Phantom Sunday page) has made no secret of his lifelong desire to draw Popeye, and his work on Mars Attacks Popeye is a tour-DE-force, with Beatty supplying pencils, inks, letters and color for the entire comic book, which is printed with old-school style large dot color separation for an added nostalgic look. This is a labor of love that shows it with every panel.

The cover, by Ray Dillon, is painted in the style of the classic Mars Attacks cards, and depicts the “Twisker Sock Punch.” There are alternate covers, which are clever but confusing, that I hope are collected with the entire series when IDW releases their compilation in April. Later books in the Mars Attacks crossover event include Martian battles with KISS, The Real Ghostbusters, The Transformers and Zombies vs. Robots.

They will have a hard time living up to this first chapter.