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CREATOR PROFILE:

HARVEY KURTZMAN

Biography:

“Had he not existed, I’d be a dull, humorless lout working in a muffler shop somewhere, and so would practically everyone I know. I shudder to think how horrible the world would be today without that which Harvey Kurtzman begat!”
Dan Clowes

“Kurtzman has been the single most significant influence on a couple of generations of comic artists.”
Art Spiegelman

“For my generation of cartoonists, Harvey Kurtzman was God! A perfectionist, a lampooner, a parodist, and a stylist, he taught us all. I was lucky enough to sit at his right hand during the brief but heady days of Help!, and to sleep in his attic when the magazine died. He was the mountain we aspiring comic book artists and writers bow down to.”
Terry Gilliam

Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) was born in New York City, USA and was a cartoonist, writer, editor and comics genius. He is generally recognised as one of the most influential humourists of the twentieth century. He is probably best remembered for creating the ground-breaking satirical MAD, the historically accurate war comics Two-Fisted Tales and Front Line Combat, as well as the Little Annie Fanny strip which appeared intermittently in Playboy magazine for 26 years. In the 1970s he became known as the “father-in-law of underground comix” for inspiring a new generation of media-bending cartoonists. Between 1973 and 1990, until health forced his retirement, he shared is wisdom and experience with the students at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Each year he published Kar-Tunz, an anthology of student work which showcased many of today’s top comic artists. Such is the respect for Harvey Kurtzman and his contribution to the comic medium, that the comics industry’s oldest and most respected awards, The Harvey’s, are named in his honour.

Essential Reading:


The Art Of Harvey Kurtzman
Abrams, 2009

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is the first and only authorized celebration of this ‘Master of American Comics’. This definitive book includes hundreds of never-before-seen illustrations, paintings, pencil sketches, newly discovered lost E.C. Comics layouts, color compositions, illustrated correspondence, and vintage photos from the rich Kurtzman archives.



The Complete Humbug
Fantagraphics, 2009

Between MAD and Annie Fanny, Kurtzman’s biographical summaries will note that he created and edited three other magazines - Trump, Humbug and Help! - but, whereas his MAD and Annie Fanny are readily available in reprint form, his major satirical work in the interim period is virtually unknown. Humbug, which had poor distribution, may be the least known, but to those who treasure the rare original copies, it equals or even exceeds MAD in displaying Kurtzman’s creative genius. Humbug was unique in that it was actually published by the artists who created it: Kurtzman and his cohorts from MAD - Will Elder, Jack Davis and Al Jaffee - were joined by universally acclaimed cartoonist Arnold Roth. With no publisher above them to rein them in, this little band of creators produced some of the most trenchant and engaging satire of American culture ever to appear on American newsstands. At last, the entire run of 11 issues of Humbug is reprinted in a two-volume slipcased hardcover deluxe format, much of it reproduced from the original art, allowing even owners of the original cheaply-printed issues to experience the full impact for the first time.



Will Elder: The Mad Playboy Of Art
Fantagraphics, 2003

All Kurtzman fans will want a copy of Will Elder: The Mad Playboy Of Art, which is the definitive career retrospective of Will Elder, Kurtzman’s collaborator of over 30 years. It contains over a hundred pages of comics from long out of print magazines like Trump, Humbug and Help as well as other collaborations with Kurtzman, together with examples of Elder’s commercial illustration work, painting portraits and sketches.

Will Elder said:
To dedicate this book to Harvey Kurtzman would be an immense understatement. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have met, worked with, and above all to have known him as a great friend. We worked hard but we had fun!



Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book
Kitchen Sink Press, 1986

Robert Crumb says:
He is as good as any cartoonist in history that I know of. Some of his greatest stuff was done in a little Ballantine Book called Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book published around 1959. Kurtzman did all the drawing as well as the writing. I hope somebody will reprint it someday in its entirety on good paper, as I’d like to own a copy.

Art Spiegelman says:
Like most of the other copies of Jungle Book I’ve seen, mine is like a murkily printed newsprint portfolio. The glue binding is just a memory. I keep all the loose yellowed pages in a plastic bag. I’ve handled these pages with all the care due a sacred text, but it just won’t hold up under many more re-readings… Nowhere else is there such a large body of Kurtzman’s drawings, and Jungle Book was an important step toward making comics Adult Entertainment.



Two-Fisted Tales
Front Line Combat
EC Comics, 1950-1954

At EC Comics, Harvey Kurtzman produced what are probably the best war comics ever printed. In collaboration with artists like Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Will Elder and John Severin, he refused to romanticise war and he was a stickler for historical accuracy.

William Gaines, EC Publisher, said:
...seeking perfection in a 10 cent comic book.

Harvey Kurtzman said:
I didn’t want to be a preacher, but I did want to tell the truth about things… I was absolutely appalled by the lies in the war books that publishers were putting out… This trash had nothing to do with the reality of life.

Mike McMahon says:
I’m really enjoying the complete Two Fisted Tales. It’s a revelation. It makes me wonder where American comics went wrong… It was only after looking at the layouts in there that I realised what storytelling was about.



MAD
EC Comics, 1952-1956

Alan Moore says:
The first time I encountered Harvey Kurtzman, I was around ten years old. The encounter took place between the covers of The Bedside MAD, a paperback collection; strange, American, the cover painting possibly by Kelly Freas, the edges of the pages dyed a bright, almost fluorescent yellow. To this day, it burns inside my head. The stories in that volume and the Kurtzman stories I discovered later brandised satire like a monkey-wrench: a wrench to throw against pop-culture’s gears or else employed to wrench our perceptions just a quarter-twist towards the left, no icon left unturned.

Art Spiegelman says:
I don’t think it’s going too far to say that for my generation, the generation that protested the Vietnam War, growing up with Harvey’s MAD and Harvey’s war comics shaped the situation to allow our generation to protest that war. It was comics about the media that made you question how you get your information, and that’s a necessary component toward taking any kind of political action.



Little Annie Fanny Vol 1 & 2
Dark Horse, 2000

The most lavish and most expensive comic strip ever produced. With Little Annie Fanny, Harvey Kurtzman, together with longtime collaborator, Will Elder, created a Playboy icon second only to the Rabbit Head logo. This risqué comic was stunningly rendered in full colour and took an irreverent look at the changing face of America. Satire, political commentary, sexy humour and artistic innovation all wrapped up in the perkiest package imaginable - Little Annie Fanny.

Hugh Hefner says:
Some of the farthest-out, most beautifully executed episodes of the zaniest, lushest, most unique cartoon feature ever conceived.

Melinda Gebbie says:
I’ve always loved Little Annie Fanny. I met Harvey Kurtzman many years ago, and I told him how much I loved Little Annie Fanny. I loved the drawing, and I loved her voluptuousness.

 

Bibliography:

Kurtzman Books:
The Art Of Harvey Kurtzman (2009)
The Complete Humbug (2009)
The Mad Archives Vol 2 (2007)
The Comics Journal Library: Harvey Kurtzman (2006)
Will Elder: The Mad Playboy Of Art (2003)
The Mad Archives Vol 1 (2002)
The GrassHopper & The Ant (2001)
Little Annie Fanny Vol 2 (2001) with Will Elder
Little Annie Fanny Vol 1 (2000) with Will Elder
Hey Look! (1992)
From Aargh! To Zap!: A Visual History Of Comics (1991)
Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures (1990)
My Life As A Cartoonist (1988)
Flash Gordon (1988) with Dan Barry
Betsy’s Buddies (1988) with Sarah Downs
The Jungle Book (1986)
Goodman Beaver (1984) with Will Elder

Kurtzman Comics & Magazines:
The New Two-Fisted Tales #1-2 (1993-1994)
Little Annie Fanny in Playboy (1962-1988)
Help #1-26 (1960-1965)
Harvey Kurtzman’s The Jungle Book (1959)
Humbug #1-11 (1957-1958)
Trump #1-2 (1957)
MAD #1-28 (1952-1956)
Front Line Combat #1-15 (1951-1954)
Flash Gordon (1951-1953)
Two-Fisted Tales #18-35 (1950-1953)
Hey Look! (1946-1949)

Short Stories:
Goodman Goes Playboy in The Comics Journal #262 (2004)
It Burns Me Up in The Ray Bradbury Chronicles (1993)

Interviews:
The Comics Journal #67, 153
The Comics Journal Library Vol 7, 2006

Links:

Official Sites:
The Harvey Awards
Will Elder

Online Resources:
The Harvey Kurtzman Collection
Time Magazine Appreciation
Terry Gilliam on Harvey Kurtzman

Publishers:
Abrams
Dark Horse
Fantagraphics