Posts Tagged ‘Sheldon Mayer’

Right Comics, Wrong Format: Sugar and Spike


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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Normally I’d be overjoyed at the news that DC comics is at long last doing a book reprinting Sugar and Spike, the delightful kids comics Sheldon Mayer started in 1956  and continued working on till 1992. Chronicling the misadventures of two talking babies (who can communicate with each other and other kids but not adults), Sugar and Spike hasn’t received the critical acclaim doled out to Carl Barks or John Stanley, but the series has a real sweetness to it that is worth cherishing.


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Sheldon Mayer: Prisoner of DC


Friday, July 9, 2010

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Back in the Comics Journal #126 (January 1989), R. Fiore wrote about a Plastic Man comic that made a nodding reference to Jack Cole. “It’s especially galling when Jack Cole is one of what I think of as the Prisoners of DC,” Fiore observed. “DC doesn’t think reprinting Cole’s Plastic Man, or Beck and Binder’s Captain Marvel or Sheldon Mayer’s Scribbly would be profitable enough for them, but they’re unwilling to license them to other publishers for fear of hurting sales of cold crap like this.”

That was 21 years ago. The situation has since improved slightly, but not enough. DC has given us eight volumes of Plastic Man (alas in their hideous Archives format) and allowed Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd to do their Jack Cole book. There have also been books reprinting Captain Marvel (and I’m eagerly anticipating a Captain Marvel volume from Abrams that Chip Kidd is working on). And there were a few Mayer stories in the Spiegelman/Mouly Toon Treasury.

Of the three artists named by Fiore, Mayer has been the worst served by DC. He did thousands of pages of very entertaining kids comics, most notably Scribbly as well as Sugar and Spike.  In an ideal world, the best of these comics would be reprinted in a format similar to the John Stanley Library D&Q put out. At the very least there should be a thick, 300-page Best of Sheldon Mayer, as rigorously edited as the Toon Treasury or Art In Time. If DC doesn’t want to do such a book, there are other publishers who would be happy to take up the task. Sheldon Mayer spent the vast majority of his life working for DC as a writer, artist and editor (he was actually at the company before Superman was first published). If the people at DC had any sense of obligation to the artists who created their company, they would give Mayer a “best of” volume. But as things stand, Mayer remains in death the most luckless of the “Prisoners of DC”: still trapped in a copyright prison with only the occasional, very brief release into the freedom of republication.




Thursday, December 17, 2009

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Feiffer on the left, Mayer on the right…

A couple recent items have sparked my comics fancy. First, The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. This 350-page, full color book is a brilliant anthology by two masters of the form. I haven’t seen much about it in the comics press, so I thought it would be worth mentioning here. The book collects a few dozen stores from the 40s and 50s by well known cartoonists like Barks and Stanley as well as lesser known figures like Milt Stein and Jim Davis, not to mention complete unknowns like Frank Thomas and Andre LeBlanc. The promotional aspects of the book are pitched at children, as it should be (after all, the work is exactly what I wish I had as a kid), but the beauty of the organizing conceit is that many of the best cartoonists in the world were making “children’s” comics, so what the book really is is an anthology of masteful drawing and storytelling — the kind that informed cartoonists as diverse as the Hernandez Bros (Bob Bolling, Al Wiseman), R. Crumb (Barks and Kelly) and Seth (Stanley). And Spiegelman and Mouly don’t stint on the background material — the biographies of the artists are snappy and well-researched and the historical introduction nicely contextualizes the stories that follow.

Even for an obsessive (and fellow anthologist) like me there were stories that were near revelatory, like Walt Kelly’s “Never Give a Diving Board an Even Break” (composed entirely around a see-saw) and the aforementioned Frank Thomas’s “Billy and Bonny Bee”. Part of it is getting to read a single story at a time by someone like Barks, Stanley or Bolling. Making it bite-sized, without the weight of 10 other stories in an anthology or 3 others in a comic book, allowed me to just focus intently on what Barks was doing, as opposed to what, say, Milt Stein was doing. It’s good to see the “giants” amongst the unknowns — it feels like an accurate context.

All the different sensibilities here, most fully developed and deployed, are staggering in their diversity. And the other part of this book is simply the pleasure of looking: The production quality is ideal: the original comic book colors are intact and printed on uncoated stock against an off-white tone. Ahhh, perfection.

Anyhow, as a collection of near-flawless cartooning, this book can’t be beat. Go get it and learn from it.

The other item is less an item and more a stray idea: No one has really mentioned that Robert Williams has been chosen to participate in the 2010 Whitney Biennial (warning: obnoxious web site) It’s not the first time someone “outside” the mainstream art world has been exhibited — Chris Ware and Forcefield both exhibited in 2002 — but it nonetheless marks an important moment: Williams’ penetration into the curatorial world that Juxtapoz so despises. It may or may not have any real ramifications, but it would be nice if it meant there was some real curatorial interest in someone like Williams (and extending beyond him, in collecting and preserving other non-mainstream artists). I loved walking between his show and Mike Kelley’s a month or so ago and I think the work will kinda throw everything else into stark relief. In a good way. Context, baby. It’s all about context.

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