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April 13, 2014


Ten Quality Comics Works Available On AbeBooks For Less Than $10, At Least At 5:00 AM This Morning

People tell me that comics cost a lot. In terms of many ways we may look at them, they certainly do. While a lot of what we love about comics costs a significant amount, there are several comics and books out there full of beautiful cartooning that don't cost very much at all. Many of them are out-of-print or perhaps even slightly out-of-favor books available through the used book site Abebook.com. Here are ten that I like, all at a base price of less than $10. You may also feel free to leave money out of the equation entirely and just see the following as potential new works to discover. I've enjoyed them all.

*****

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1. Dirty Boulevard, Tony Fitzpatrick
I have had a hard time selling people on painter, printmaker, actor and poet Tony Fitzpatrick's verbally/visually blended series of images structured around a theme as comics, but I honestly read them that way. Fitzpatrick's work is compelling enough for its craft qualities that if it's a car parked right outside the main house it's as worth walking out to see as one safely ensconced in the underground garage.

*****

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2. Fires, Lorenzo Mattotti
I am practically alone among my friends in that I prefer Murmur to Fires of Mattotti's two, prominent Penguin books of the early 1990s, but for the sake of this exercise there's no contest because Murmur is very expensive now while Fires is not. Mattotti's like a great singer in that what he does no one else quite does but as you're reading something he made, the painter's choices seem like such good ideas you wonder why there aren't 75 people doing work in a similar vein.

*****

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3. Heartbreak Comics, David Boswell
This was later reprinted by Boswell himself in a stand-alone and by IDW as part of their mission to get all of Boswell back out and under a book cover. I still own my original, from Eclipse, bought the day it came out. It's a really good comic, evocatively drawn and featuring a world so fully realized it's a place I can remember visiting 25 years later.

*****

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4. I Can't Tell You Anything, Michael Dougan
When the early success of the collected Maus alerted the New York book publishing world to the possibility that there may be comics work out there ready to be presented in bookstores nationwide, not enough cartoonists answered the call by providing accessible, sophisticated, literary work. Both of Michael Dougan's books from this period fit this bill. This is the one -- the other is called East Texas -- that doesn't cost over $10 in the entries I've found.

*****

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5. It's Better With Your Shoes Off, Anne Cleveland
Seth rediscovered Anne Cleveland for a lot of us by engaging her work in his Forty Cartoon Books Of Interest. An expressive cartoonist with a lively variance in her line and a fun way of showing figures throwing their energy this way and that, the Vassar graduate's most-read work was this one, from a period of time after World War 2 when North Americans became fascinated with the culture of a bowed but unbroken Japan. I prefer this landscaped edition, which comes right in at $10.

*****

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6. Rudy In Hollywood, William Overgard
There's very limited space for a strip that can boast a book collection but fails to work out after its first couple of years, but it happens. It happened to Rudy, veteran comics-maker William Overgard's feature about a talking monkey enmeshed in show business. This was my favorite strip my dad ever brought home as a proposed comic for his paper's funny pages, even more so than Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side. Rudy is not as good as either of those works, but it would have been a wonderful thing if that mini-explosion of the 1980s had opened up a crack more for this and a few other other worthy, oddball features.

*****

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7. Sick, Sick, Sick, Jules Feiffer
This material was reprinted in The Explainers and in the third volume of Fantagraphics' earlier album-sized collections of Feiffer's work. I think because of how successful the book was in its initial two years out of the gate -- multiple editions, and a UK version featuring an introduction by Kenneth Tynan -- you can find first edition or near-first edition copies with ease. I think this is one of the perfectly-realized works of comics in that form: the one with the maroon cover and the cartoon of the man looking over his shoulder. And the comics are excellent: well-observed, in an authoritative adult voice, funny, trenchant and gracefully drawn. Every library should have one.

*****

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8. Sizzling Platter, Peter Arno
I wanted to go Charles Addams here, but I couldn't find anything other than later collections at the price point this article suggested. Arno is rougher for a lot of people, because a bunch of the cartoons are basically dirty-old-man jokes of the kind that you saw a lot of in the first half of the century. That works in comics -- the jokes are based on the shallow absurdity of many May-December relationships and being able to see that underlines the point -- but it can be pretty discouraging for some readers experienced over and over again in a book format. Arno drew wonderfully in the manner of a man that made up a dance step no one else cared to match, and he was a master of using an image and a caption together to reveal a third meaning that neither had separately.

*****

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9. Two Guys Fooling Around With The Moon, B. Kliban
All of B. Kliban's landscape books are wonderful, and were hugely influential in terms of form and content. This is the one that shows up most frequently at the acceptable price point, but they're all good. It's a shame we don't have that giant, single collection yet.

*****

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10. The Inspector, Saul Steinberg
This is the only Steinberg work that isn't a magazine with Steinberg cartoons in it that I saw for less than $10. I believe this may be the only of his great coffee-table books with an affordable paperback edition. Steinberg is more cartoonist than comics-maker, and more visual artist than cartoonist, but whatever name you want to put to what he did it is nearly impossible to deny its humor and inventiveness. If you can't find some formal notion expressed in a Saul Steinberg book that is of at least some interest to whatever art you're making, you're probably not trying hard enough.

*****

Two books I like that are available for less than $15 are Barkis, by Crockett Johnson, and Hirschfeld's Harlem, by Al Hirschfeld. One of the better-known novelty books, VW: Think Small is available for just over $10, too. That one is a bunch of cartoonists doing cartoon about the VW Beetle. You can buy the Oliver Harrington collection of essays Why I Left America for very cheap; his art book Dark Laughter falls just outside that $10 figure. So does another favorite of mine, Rowland Emett's The Early Morning Milk-Train.

Now, I suppose a weakness of this article conceptually is that people might buy the linked-to books making the indivually links inert. I hope they do. I hope anyone that encounters a dead link will search the book's title and author and get the next best offer.

My wider point is that there are great comics available in a lot of ways, and that you don't have to be locked into one set of consumer's routines in order to be a great fan and enjoyer of this medium.

*****
*****
 
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