« Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise. » — Bertrand Russell
When last we left Abner Dean (catch up with Part One), he was contemplating a professional change, something transcendent, something more lasting, but still using most of the traditional tools of cartooning. We can surmise that, at first, the resultant works weren’t necessarily to be shared widely: “I’m at work on a long series of drawings now that are not intended for publication ”, Dean had confided to a friend in 1941.
First came, in 1942, a Life Magazine article premiering a handful of these drawings. Then, in 1945, It’s a Long Way to Heaven landed in bookshelves.
Incredibly (if you’ll forgive the cynicism), the book, and its sequels, were solid sellers. Given the groundbreaking character of these cartoons (for the lack of a more fitting term), such well-merited success is quintuply impressive. Hell, maybe the audience for such material actually existed then.
« Much as he hates to admit it, the life of the average man (which means virtually all of us) tends to assume the form of a longish doze, interrupted by fits and starts of bewildered semi-alertness. We will invent a hundred ways of heading off self-alertness to one that may force us to ask ourselves who the devil we are. You cannot turn on your radio or unfold your newspaper without being offered all the answers. But where shall we go if we wish to be asked the questions? » — Clifton Fadiman, from his “Prefatory Note” to What Am I Doing Here?
Regrettably, Dean’s five books in this new idiom [It’s a Long Way to Heaven (1945); What Am I Doing Here? (1947); And On the Eighth Day (1949); Come As You Are: A Book about People at Parties (1952) and Cave Drawings for the Future (1954)] have all-but-entirely faded from collective memory, but there have been encouraging stirrings of a revival in recent years, owing to the efforts of a dedicated handful of brave souls.
Dedicated… and perhaps influential: What Am I Doing Here? was granted a new facsimile edition in 2016. Here’s a brief review.
As in the case of the couldn’t-be-more-highly-recommended Abner Dean’s Naked People: A Selection of Drawings from Four of His Books (1963), we’re omitting any excerpts from Come As You Are, not because it’s inferior work, quite the contrary, but because it deserves a showcase of its own. We’ll return to it.
In the meantime, enjoy these peeks into Abner Dean’s Id and, I daresay, the human condition at large. Thanks to Dean’s visionary approach, these haven’t acquired a wrinkle in the past eighty or so years.