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.