Friday, August 28, 2009
Harvey Kurtzman's Mr. Risk
The Art of Harvey Kurtzman, The Mad Genius of Comics by Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle is a fabulous book, highly recommended, which covers the most pertinent aspects of the career of one of comics' most revered creators. Kurtzman, born in 1924, first got work in comics at an early age. The biography shows examples of his postwar comic book work, but doesn't show any of his comic book art before he went into the Army. This particular Mr. Risk strip, from Four Favorites #9, dated February 1943, was drawn in 1942, when Kurtzman was barely 18. There's very little, if anything, of what we would later know as the Kurtzman style (arms and legs like noodles, bold graphics, stylized). It looks more Jack Kirby than Kurtzman.
It is always fascinating to look in on an artist's early work, if only because you know how he developed. Had Kurtzman continued on with this Kirby-style artwork we'd remember him today as a copier, not an innovator. The story is a fairly typical programmer of its day. Kurtzman also drew the Lash Lightning feature in that issue of Four Favorites, but the copy I have is too damaged. Of the two strips I think Mr. Risk is the better drawn, which isn't saying a lot, but considering his youth it's actually extraordinary. I ask myself what I was doing at age 18. Nothing like this, anyway.
Hairy Green Eyeball has Kurtzman's 1949 syphilis comic book here.