Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > CR Reviews

Art In Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980
posted February 22, 2010


Creators: Dan Nadel, Bill Everett, Matt Fox, Sam Glanzman, Harry Lucey, Jesse Marsh, Michael McMillan, Willy Mendes, Mort Meskin, Pete Morisi, HG Peter, Sharon Rudahl, John Stanley and John Thompson
Publishing Information: Abrams, hardcover, 304 pages, May 2010, $40
Ordering Number: 0810988240 (ISBN10), 9780810988248 (ISBN13)

Dan Nadel's follow-up to the bracing and extremely well-liked Art Out Of Time finds the PictureBox publisher split between two of his other part-time jobs: museum exhibit curator and old-fashioned comics critic. If Art Out Of Time was about introducing even the hardcore comics readership to several cartoonists they might not have heard of before cracking its cover, organized by the genius conceit that before the underground emerged artists that might have ended up there went everywhere else, Art In Time is about the act of considering cartoonists long after their time has come and perhaps even gone no matter what you think you know about them. Drawing almost solely on two well-established Nadel areas of enthusiasm, adventure cartoonists and obscure underground talents, Nadel urges the reader to look at each artist with fresh eyes according to the sample provided, and to take into account his gentle urging in one specific direction.

imageNadel's approach allows for little-reprinted underground oddball Michael McMillan to sit a few pages away from much-discussed art hero and hardback book series beneficiary Jesse Marsh, each asking for your honest appraisal. While I didn't spend as much time parsing the pages of Art In Time in the gobsmacked manner I sat looking at the first book and all those people I'd never heard of before, I think I spent even more time after putting this book down wrestling with Nadel's views on certain cartoonists and what he finds fascinating about them. A lot of people will discover artists here, of course. And if you come to a book like this for the weird, there are comics by Matt Fox and Bill Everett as fiercely, deliciously idiosyncratic as any in Art Out Of Time. The mandate is clearly broader here, though. It's a sign of Nadel's light touch that there's enjoyment to be had even where you disagree with him. He seems to focus on a much different part of Pete Morisi's work than the parts I find interesting, and I think the Pat Boyette story he selected comes from among the late artist's most quickly completed jobs than from his best. Asking readers to look at some of these comics one more time and convincing them it's worth their while to do so, that brings with it a much greater degree of difficulty than introducing us to Cecil Jensen and smiling as we sit with furrowed brow and try to think of something to say. If I'm going to read another handsome but forgettable Mort Meskin comic at this point in my life, it better be for a good reason. Nadel's gentle insistence that there's more to learn from every cartoonist of note makes your own time spent feel like it's worth it.

Art In Time is also an immensely pleasurable read, and I spent part of my time in its company wrestling with my preconceptions regarding the relative sophistication of work that's 50, 60, 70 years old, comics I was always assured were ruthlessly crude but placed on my lap seem to stand up pretty darn well against their present-day, same-genre comics cousins. The greatest source of fun for me in the entire book came from another direction entirely. It was a reprint of Sam Glanzman's Kona #3, a comic that combines a little kid's game scenario-style concept (a complicated jungle escape) with maybe the strangest use of panel progressions I can ever recall seeing in a mainstream comic book. The whole thing heaves and pulsates like the ink itself has come down with a strange and maddening fever. As Glanzman is such a fine craftsman there's a grace and beauty to what's unfolding in every single shift in perspective and each flash of outright visual madness. Boy, what a thrill. That comic builds on a similar roiling, discombobulating effect that HG Peter gets through the ridiculous physique of a long-forgotten male protagonist named Man O'Metal, and breaks at an almost 90 degree angle with a Jesse Marsh cowboy story that's as measured and confident in its rigid grid-work and inexorable pacing as the Glanzman is wild and nearly out of control. There are hundreds of contrasts and comparisons like that here, and finding each one is a steady source of enjoyment. I doubt Nadel's follow-up is held as close to the heart as the first book in this series, but, like the artists it profiles, Art In Time deserves our respect and rewards our attention. One more volume, please.