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Arf Forum
posted May 25, 2007
 

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Creators: Various; edited by Craig Yoe
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, softcover, 120 pages, June 2007, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 1560978325 (ISBN), 978-1560978329 (ISBN13)

When I was a kid there was an older teen whose house was stuffed up and down with all sorts of comics, prose, and pop culture ephemera. A friend of my brothers, he had old MAD Magazines, a complete run of TV Guide, humor recordings I've never come across in all the years since, and one of the first VCRs I'd ever seen. I always remember that house when I look at Craig Yoe's Arf series of books. Yoe's third book, Arf Forum further establishes this series in my mind, at least, as less the collision between low and high art that the publicity on its behalf sometimes stresses, and more of a walk through Yoe's kick-ass and very, very deep collection of comics art from the medium's junkier, sometimes self-aware, mostly blissful and easy to please forgotten past. If you were to compare anthologies, it's sort of like Blab!'s plaid-jacket wearing, foul joke-telling uncle, only instead of Monte Beauchamp's unique take on what's valuable in today's visual art Yoe has let history take care of the first round of aesthetic sorting.

He's a good student. In this issue alone, we get comics and/or heavily illustrated features on Max Ernst, Jack Davis, Bill Holman, Russ Heath, Otto Soglow, Ted Scheel, William Ekgren, George Crenshaw and Whitney Darrow, Jr. The supporting material proves to be kind of hit and miss. The Arf books are solidly hosted entertainment, where the binding element is not just what Yoe chooses to present, but how Yoe presents them, which usually involves the backstory of his interaction with the material and the creator. Stories of Yoe choosing a piece of Holman original art or hanging out with a former student of the Italian girlie artist Kremos kind of lose out in the end to the Smokey Stover pages or the Kremos pin-ups, the same way when I was walking around that musty house back in Indiana the sound of my brother's friend's voice kind of collapsed into a whisper whenever I became absorbed in something fascinating on the bookshelf right in front of me. The presentational style makes some sense when you come across a guest-spot mini-essay by Stan Lee; as with Lee's exhortations, what you remember from Yoe is the enthusiasm more than the content of what the comic's ostensible host imparts.

Admittedly, I also don't much care for the "look at all this crazy stuff" school of diving into comics past except for one thing: comics kind of needs it. The very focused thrust of comics over the last several decades towards adventure comic book and humor strips has left so much material out there to be discovered and looked at that it really doesn't matter if it gets brought under my nose in a respectful leather-bound volume of complete works or from Uncle Craig's trunk of fun, or wherever he stores his extra copies of the Arf books. I'll take the musty whiff of old-timey lustfulness and the faint hint of self-satisfaction that wafts from the pages if I get to look at this many artists and either be reminded or learn for the first time what makes them valuable and worth tracking down. In the end, there's a bargain element involved, too. These are beautiful-looking, very affordable survey anthologies, and I can't imagine not wanting to seek them out, particularly at a bookseller's discount. You'll find something in them worth the price.