Thursday, March 18, 2010

A plogg I'm hefta givvink...



Craig Yoe's MILT GROSS Complete Comic Books and Life Story is here at long last. I was relishing the book last night till all hours, it's a wonderful tribute and the sumptuous quality of the book design and printing exceeds expectation, even as an avid fan of ARF! and Craig Yoe's other stunning publications.

Hopefully more people will turn on to Gross, who of all the "golden age" comic strip artists, is somehow frequently overlooked. Perhaps because like Tex Avery, Gross capitalized on gags & style over character: he skipped from one title to the next and led a more varied career than many of his contemporaries. As a result, his work is more eclectic and less comprehensive than peers who mined a single series over a lifetime. And his life was tragically cut short by heart disease at the age of 58, when he was planning to launch into TV animation.

The trade off is that he wrote prose (often in lovingly humorous Yiddish dialect), contributed to stage shows, was drafted to help Chaplin gag at least one feature, wrote for the radio, did advertising, published several books and launched his own original comic books, which are reprinted in full in the book.

I first stumbled across his newspaper comics in a nostalgia magazine when I was around 11. Already a fan of George Herriman's KRAZY KAT, I was thunderstruck when I saw Gross' COUNT SCREWLOOSE, BANANA OIL and NIZE BABY tucked in with more familiar characters. My first thought was : "WOW! THIS is what cartoons are SUPPOSED to look like! Who was this guy?" When I found the artist's name I was jolted again, this time by the copyright dates: mid 1920's and early 30's---His style was so sharp and lively and polished, it seemed decades ahead of his contemporaries... Even the best comics of the 20's-30's sometimes feel labored, hap-hazard, scratched out with sweat and effort, but Milt Gross's world was different: vibrant, fluid poses, explosive expressions, clear as a whistle staging, and crisp confident linework--the closest thing to it in my opinion didn't come along until Kurtzman's HEY LOOK! (I think his closest contemporary rival was probably the equally inimitable Cliff Sterrett, another idol, but even his work seems sedate by comparison). Something about it hinted at animation too... As it turns out, he brought his unique signature style to a few MGM cartoons in the pre-WWII years and even worked at Disney in the late forties for a few months.

I began collecting and have been a rabid fan ever since. Everybody who loves cartoons should get to know Milt Gross. Whether you already do, or haven't heard of him before, this book is a great way to get more acquainted with the man's genius.

7 comments:

Sherm said...

Very well-said, Will! I hope many people discovery Milt Gross' wonderful breakneck, manic, and joyful comics thru this book!

Will Finn said...

Thanks Sherm, great tribute on your blog too.

I see there is another Gross book actually titled IS DISS A SYSTEM? but i have not seen it. From what I can tell it is all excerpts from Milt Gross' various books, and since i have complete copies of all the titles listed, I haven't purchased it. Anybody who wants to see more and can't find used copies of the titles (all long out of print), may enjoy that one as well....

ZODCORE said...

Very interesting. The art is pretty cool. Seems like something I would check out for sure. TWO THUMBS UP SMALL ROOM.

RooniMan said...

Milt Gross is a cartoon GOD.

Craig said...

thanks a lot WILL! your fan, craig yoe
p.s dug yer art!

Will Finn said...

Thanks Zodcore, Rooniman and Craig!

Craig--such a great book, I cannot thank you enough. The comic book stuff is MG at his most cinematic, (apart from the actual short films he did)--and the scarcity of the originals makes the book all the more valuable.

Wonderful bio too!

Eric Noble said...

I want to buy this as well. I want to put energy into my art like Milt Gross can. He may not be the best draftsman, but his work exudes so much life that I think is lacking in many artists (cartoonists or otherwise) today.