I’ve been picking up a lot of good books lately and though they’ve been classic comics-related, all have animated cartoon connections. Check these out…

Frazetta Funny Stuff edited by Craig Yoe

It wouldn’t be a book round-up without one or two from Craig Yoe. His latest compilation is this remarkable 256 page hardcover collecting much of Frank Frazetta’s (Fire & Ice) funny animal comic art of the 1940s. These comics, which emulate Hollywood cartoons of the era with characters like “Hucky Duck” and “Bruno Bear”, show that Frazetta was equally skilled at exaggerated cartoon line art as he was with his later realistic fantasy paintings. The book devotes over 70 pages to these rare “animated” stories, over 60 pages to his remarkable text-page header illustrations (for such tales as Percy The Pufferfish and Abbott the Rabbit), and another 70 to humorous stories drawn in Frazetta’s more realistic style. Yoe recounts Frazetta’s earlier years in his lavishly illustrated (with rare art) opening essay, and Ralph Bakshi contributes his memories in a sincere Introduction. All in all, its a lot of fun!

Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow and The Little King edited by Dean Mullaney

If you’ve ever admired the art or illustrations of cartoonist Otto Soglow, this book is a must-have. Over 400 pages filled with Little King Sunday strips, including a sampling of his associated characters The Ambassador and Sentinel Louie. The book includes a thorough biographical introduction by Ohio State University comics historian Jared Gardner accompanied by numerous rare Soglow images, animation art, advertising pieces and commercial illustrations. A beautiful package, a wonderful collection.

The Sincerest Form of Parody: The Best 1950s MAD-Inspired Satirical Comics edited by John Benson

If you collect any and all things related to classic E.C.’s original Mad comics – here is the missing link! This 192-page trade paperback is the last word on the bakers dozen of Mad knock-offs produced by Marvel (Atlas), Charlton, St. John, Harvey Comics and others in 1953-54 pre-comics code era. Editor John Benson compiles the best of these humor comics – with art by Jack Kirby, Norman Maurer, Howard Nostrand, Dan DeCarlo and others – and writes an informative and lavishly illustrated essay on the history of these books and their creators. Hilarious fun, The Sincerest Form of Parody is sincerely great.

Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945
by Ernie Bushmiller

Ahhh, the joys of Nancy!
Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy is one of those acquired tastes. Deceptively simple, it’s the comic strip stripped to its bare essentials. The end result may be perfection; there are many who think so. They’ll get no argument from me. This new compilation book is lavishly produced (by Fantagraphics Books), with an introduction by Daniel Clowes, and compiles the daily strip from the wartime years (not that you’d know that; the strip rarely references the war). If you like Bushmiller no explanation is necessary; if you don’t, no explanation is possible. Buy this book and make Nancy happy.

Popeye Comics by IDW

Finally, I must note IDW’s new Popeye comic book (32 pages, $3.99). It’s cover is a take-off of Action #1 – which is appropriate as some consider Popeye the first comic strip superhero. It’s also available with an “incentive cover” by cartoonist/Popeye screenwriter Jules Feiffer. Craig Yoe, Ted Adams and Clizia Gussoni are editing this four issue series with writer Roger Landridge (The Muppets) and artist Bruce Ozella. Ozella’s art is so authentic you’d think this was a reprint book. If you are going to revive Popeye – this is the way to do it. Five thumbs up, sez I.

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