Harvey Kurtzman, selon Marcel Gotlib

« Tous les merdeux ricanaient en se disant qu’une revue sans merdeux à la tête, ça ne marcherait jamais.* »

In issue 63 (April, 1974) of the recently rechristened « Charlie Mensuel » (to avoid confusion with its sister publication, Charlie Hebdo, yes, *that* Charlie Hebdo), insightful bandes dessinées critic and French national treasure Yves Frémion-Danet (b. 1947, Lyon), writing under his « Théophraste Épistolier » nom de plume, provided a classic essay accompanying a reprint of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder‘s « Goodman Gets a Gun », originally published in Help no. 16 (Nov. 1962, Warren). In his piece, Frémion posits that, with his 28 issues of Mad / Mad Magazine, Kurtzman’s brand of satire completely changed the rules of the game, and that despite an utter lack of commercial success and name recognition for himself and his work (reportedly, a French edition of Mad was published in 1965-66, for six or seven issues) on the continent, his influence on a significant swathe of the subsequent generation of French and Belgian cartoonists easily validates his vital importance.

PetitsMiquetsA
Théophraste Épistolier’s column’s logo, which translates as “Little Mickeys give you big ears”. A “Petit Miquet” is, in french, a generic name for cartoon characters from a dismissive and/or ignorant perspective. Someone to whom Mickey Mouse is the sole precursor of all Little Mickeys. Artwork by Gotlib.

Frémion spares no praise for Kurtzman’s acolytes Elder, Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton, Wally Wood and John Severin, and publisher Bill Gaines, but has nothing but contempt for editorial successor Al Feldstein (“vile copier”, “lumbering”, “regular”…). Frémion charts Kurtzman’s subsequent projects and associations, and his rôle in the rise of Underground Comix. Recommended reading… if you can read french.

Ah, but that brings us to an apt illustration of that creaky adage, « A picture is worth a thousand words »: as it happens, the legendary Marcel Gotlib (b. 1934, d. 2016), speaking of influential, provided a quartet of original illustrations to put across what comics were like Before and After Kurtzman, commenting at once on American comics and on Franco-Belgian bande dessinée, with a snappy Gallic twist. Like Goofus and Gallant, but with far more tongue.

It took me a long time to come to terms with Gotlib. In my formative years, in Québec, his was such an outsize, smothering influence that one got quite sick of him. To be fair, not of him so much as his multitudinous, third-and-fourth-rate would-be clones. His style was easy to imitate, yet difficult to master. You see how that could easily careen off the rails?

GotlibKurtzman01AGotlibKurtzman02A

GotlibKurtzman03A
In the left panel, the pistol is missing, having been whited-out « in accordance with the law on publications intended for young people », a quite repressive set of regulations adopted in 1949.
GotlibKurtzman04A
More of the same: « Certain body parts have been whited-out. » Gotlib’s point is well made: when something relatively innocuous gets erased, the mind often fills the blanks with more perverse possibilities. Serves you right, censors.
Charlie63A
The issue in question. Charlie / Charlie Hebdo was published from Feb. 1969 to Feb. 1986, lasting, in fits and starts, 198 issues. It then merged with Pilote… and disappeared. Cover, of course, by Charles Schulz.

-RG

All the shitheads giggled, telling themselves that a magazine without an shithead in charge never would stand a chance. » – Théophraste Épistolier

 

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