Monday, October 3, 2011

Harvey Kurtzman would have been 87 today

Harvey Kurtzman is one of the rare artists who not only changed his field but also the world. His work in comic books began in the early days of the medium, and he was a contributor and editor for EC Comics. One of his first innovations was doing realistic, non-sugar-coated war stories. Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales were more anti-war comics than typical jingoistic celebrations of violence and death.

When he needed more income and needed to produce more books, he turned to what he knew best, humor, and created a cultural institution. He wrote the first 23 issues of Mad the comic book and much of the material afterward when it became a magazine. His comics set the satirical, frenetic tone of the publication and influenced countless people, from future comics legends like Robert Crumb, Alan Moore, and Art Spiegelman, to counter-culture revolutionaries of the 1960s, many of whom grew up reading Mad. Questioning authority and the media were a large part of Kurtzman's parodies and humor. It is difficult to imagine our society or institutions like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, or The Simpsons coming to be without the path blazed by him.

After Mad, Kurtzman attempted to publish his own anthologies, such as Trump and Help! but he failed to grab the public's attention. He worked with Hugh Hefner for years, publishing his very adult, parody comic Little Annie Fanny (definitely NSFW) with art by Will Elder in the pages of Playboy magazine. He was also influential to budding artists as a longtime instructor at the School of Visual Arts.

Kurtzman's work has been praised by The Comic Journal's Gary Groth as the "the Platonic ideal of cartooning." He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1989. He is also commemorated with the annual Harvey Awards given for achievements in comics.

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