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May 12, 2008

BAH!

One of my cherished  possessions is an original Humbug #6 (1958) given to me by one of the authors of the comic, Arnold Roth.  I was at his apartment once, and when we started talking about the Humbug comic books, he took out a dusty bound collection of the comic's complete run.  I felt like Indiana Jones  holding a golden artifact; I expected a giant stone ball to descend from the ceiling and chase me out of the building.  Arnie later must have taken pity on me and decided to send me one of the comics.

I regard the first issues of Mad, produced in the mid-'50s to be the pinnacle of cartooning -- hilarious, exuberant, subversive satire made by the absolute masters of the form.  As I understand the story, after 28 issues, Mad's editor and primary writer Harvey Kurtzman had a falling out with the publisher, EC Comics, and left the company.  Mad continued its success, but without Kurtzman.

Kurtzman went on to create a very short-lived satirical magazine published by Hugh Hefner, Trump.   (Somehow The Donald's ability to get things named after him started at a very early age.)  Kurtzman then decided to create his own comic book with two of the original Mad artists, Jack Davis and Bill Elder, along with two other immensely talented cartoonists:  Al Jaffee (who went on to decades of fame in the Kurtzman-less Mad Magazine, and his run continues there today) and the aforementioned brilliant illustrator/cartoonist Arnold Roth.  The name of that comic book was Humbug, and its run was not much longer than Trump's, lasting only 11 issues.

Anyway, as far as I've always known, these issues of Humbug have never been reprinted, and aside from their very small initial print run, have been totally unavailable.  For a comics and humor fan, this has been the equivalent of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison making 11 albums in the early '70s, with, say, Ringo replaced by Keith Moon -- but the records are only held by a handful of collectors and have never been heard by the public.

Well, Fantagraphic Books is reprinting the entire run of Humbug this summer, in a hardcover, boxed set, and I can't wait to see this.  The only issue I've ever really read is the one Arnold Roth gave to me.  Fantagraphics is apparently doing an amazing job of reconstruction, and if the work they've done on another (probably, THE other) all-time comics masterpiece, Peanuts, is any indication, these books will be amazing.

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