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CELEBRATING SHOE: A BOOK REVIEW

Best of Jeff MacNelly's Shoe coverTo commemorate Shoe’s 40 years in the funnies, a retrospective collection of the comic strip has been issued by Titan Comics (240 9x9-inch pages, b/w with a section of color Sundays, $29.99), The Best of Jeff MacNelly’s Shoe. The reprints are arranged in chronological-order sections, beginning with the first strip, September 13, 1977.

The book begins with a clutch of essays — a Foreword by Dave Barry (Backword by Mike Peters), a history of Shoe (by MacNelly’s widow and another by his brother), and a MacNelly biography. MacNelly, who was the Chicago Tribune’s editoonist as well as Shoe’s perpetrator, died of lymphoma on June 8, 2000, having produced the strip single-handedly for 23 of its 40 years. Appropriately, slightly over half the book reprints his Shoe; the rest belongs, first, to Chris Cassett and Gary Brookins, who took over the strip upon MacNelly’s death; and then just to Brookins. Sue MacNelly, the widow, is listed as one of the strip’s writers; Bill Linden and Doug Gamble, the others. My guess is that she approves what they write; then Brookins draws it.

This may be the place to tell a couple stories about MacNelly, who was storied himself (and several stories tall, up to six foot five). He once worked in an office (first in Washington, D.C.; then at the Chicago Trib), but in later years, he worked at home in West Virginia. He was always pressed by a looming deadline because Jeff MacNelly photothere were many other things he enjoyed doing that took him away from aiming at the deadline. He said the advent of Federal Express let him beat his deadline by a day. Once. And when it became possible to transmit his cartoons digitally, he beat his deadline again by a day. Once.

Like many cartoonists, he experimented with drawing instruments. Finally, he said, he settled on a ballpoint pen, the least likely of choices. At a cartoonists convention once, he was standing with two other editoonists, all over six feet tall. I wandered over and asked if being over six feet tall was a requirement for being an editorial cartoonist. MacNelly said that it helped.

Most of us, impressed by his talent and the range of his artistic aspirations and accomplishments, thought he was one of a kind, irreplaceable. But his wife Susie once said, “They say there are others like him on his home planet.”

In The Best of Shoe, we can catch glimpses of his home planet. And that includes some of the earliest characters, many of whom don’t appear very often any more — Irv Seagull, Madame Zoo Doo, Mort (the aptly named operator of a mortuary), and the beloved looney Loon, mail and newspaper carrier whose aeronautic skills are scattered, to say the least; and Cosmo’s nephew Skylar, who spends afternoons practicing football with giant-sized teammates and opponents and his summers in the Marines, thinking it’s summer camp for boys.

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For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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