It was a thrill to learn recently that one of my favorite Mad magazine artists, the legendary Al Jaffee, would give his personal papers to Columbia University. Among those treasures are a massive cache of Jaffee’s much-loved Mad fold-in cartoons and notebooks of ideas Jaffee never even submitted for publication.
But the most intriguing part of the story, first reported by The New York Times, was the person who sealed the deal.
Karen Green is the Columbia librarian who popped the question to Jaffee at last year’s New York Comic-Con gathering: Would he consider donating his life’s work to the school? A lifelong comics fan, Green — Columbia’s longtime librarian for ancient and medieval history and religion — took on a not-so-secret identity as the school’s first graphic-novels librarian in 2005.
Under Green’s leadership, Columbia’s graphic-novel collection has grown to 4,000 works, including the priceless personal papers of X-Men writer Chris Claremont, early Batman artist Jerry Robinson, and “comics in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Hebrew, Russian, Finnish, Dutch, and more,” Green told The Arty Semite.
Along with her day jobs, Green also serves on the board of directors of the Society of Illustrators, which now houses New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. The Arty Semite caught up with her during a busy week that included two Comic-Con benefit events she was planning at Columbia.
Michael Kaminer: How did you hear about Al Jaffee’s archives in the first place?
Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City
By Peter Kuper, Introduction by Eric Drooker
PM Press, 208 pages, $29.95
This oversized, four-color 30-year compendium of comics, magazine illustrations, painting and sketchbook work by the artist best known for his “Spy vs Spy” pages in Mad Magazine, is stunning in its variety and vividness. “Chronicle” is evidently a play on words, because Kuper is looking at his Manhattan experience — ever since he moved from Cleveland in 1977 — from all sorts of angles, including geographical, aerial, animal, and, of course, human. It’s not always a pretty sight, that’s the price of admission to the real-life Greatest Show on Earth. The Mexican and French publishers of the volume, which preceded this version, must think so, too.
We don’t see the evidence here, but Kuper started as in comics by inking “Richie Rich,” and many of the pages of “Drawn to New York” might be understood as a depiction of the world that real-life Manhattan rich people would prefer not to see. Not that Kuper, a founder of the iconoclastic “World War 3 Illustrated,” is didactic. He takes in street violence, poverty, prostitutes, ecological and architectural crimes almost casually: How would you recognize modern New York without them? He also likes to be self-indulgent: the endangered species in the city is himself, threatened by some random or still unspecified source that makes 9/11 almost a relief in its specificity.
Corpse on the Imjin! And Other Stories
By Harvey Kurtzman, Edited by Gary Groth
Fantagraphics, 227 pages, $28.99
Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) is today remembered as the Bronx-born genius editor who invented Mad Magazine, the most pervasive satirical influence of the 20th century.
That single claim-to-fame is hard to avoid, but Kurtzman’s larger role in the history of comics, mainly but not solely as an editor, has long been a favorite subject of aficionados. Kurtzman, a worker in the vineyards (that is to say, cramped Manhattan studios) of comics production in the late 1940s, took charge of several comic lines at EC, a small company on the verge of bankruptcy. He shunned the cash-cow horror comics that made the other work of EC possible, and the Science Fiction comics that still give goose bumps to nostalgiacs. Mad Comics essentially created a genre by brilliantly ridiculing rampant consumerism. But Kurtzman’s military and war comics were every bit as provocative — and more shocking by far.
The “Two Fisted Tales” (1950-1955) and “Frontline Combat” series (1951-1954) remain the most realistic war comics ever conceived, non-ideological but essentially antiwar by virtue of their realism. They contrasted with the chest-thumping patriotic comics of the Second World War period, and they contrasted likewise with the war comics that remained a steady feature of the genre for several generations. Kurtzman’s editorial products, which he often wrote for other artists, are best remembered for their accuracy of detail, right down to military buttons. The comics actually drawn by Kurtzman may be best remembered for their heart-breaking character.