||[Jul. 17th, 2008|04:12 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#76 THE JUNGLE BOOK – Harvey Kurtzman
(Ballantine/Kitchen Sink Press)
“Who said you can’t kill yourself? I give my executives complete freedom as much as possible.”
Mad magazine has three things to teach the young. 1) Don’t trust anything you see on a screen. 2) Don’t trust people in authority. 3) We haven’t come as far down from the trees as we’d like to think. When Harvey Kurtzman, Mad’s founding editor, left the magazine he kept teaching those same lessons. Someone at Ballantine Books gave him his own paperback and it was another opportunity to spread the good, irreverent word.
Kurtzman’s Jungle Book doesn’t contain any actual jungles, but its four stories are full of people acting like animals. His take on the decadent southern gothic, Decadence Degenerated, shows a redneck town called Rottenville where the peoples’ main hobbies are spitting, forming lynch mobs and waiting for dogs to fight. Everyone in the town talks in a thick hick accent: “We may cuss an’ spit and raise a little hayl ... but whey women is concerned we gennulmen!”
The run-down buildings of Rottenville are drawn as little more than boxes with signs on them to differentiate the shops. The people who live there are almost as sketchy. Kurtzman’s artwork and lettering is practically doodling, as if he can’t wait to finish each panel and get to the next joke. Most of his women are just lips, hips and tits while the men are leering and monstrous apes.
When he turns his satirical eye on television and movies, Kurtzman’s parodies are weakened a little by the dilution of time. His send-up of the jazz-detective show Peter Gunn is mostly notable for its excellent title, Thelonious Violence. Apart from that it’s all trumpet sound effects and people saying like and man. Taking aim at westerns like Gunsmoke he hit his target more squarely; Compulsion On The Range’s depiction of a peaceable Zorro and a slow-on-the-draw marshal is still funny today.
The magazine publishing business Kurtzman was intimately familiar with is the target of the most pointed story, Organization Man In The Grey Flannel Executive Suite. His innocent protagonist, Goodman Beaver, goes to work for Shlock Publications Inc, clearly inspired by the real magazine publishers he worked with. At Shlock Publications profit is more important than integrity – in fact, coffee is more important than integrity. To Mad magazine’s three rules, he added: 4) Don’t trust anything you read in magazines, either.