Tuesday, May 15, 2012

He Done Her Wrong

Today on Not Quite a Graphic Novel Month is a blast from the past.

One of the precursors to today's graphic novels, He Done Her Wrong is an epic story, or, as subtitled, "The Great American Novel (with no words)." Published first in 1930, the book has a plot reminiscent of a silent movie, which was likely a reflection of the author's work with film star Charlie Chaplin.The story is a typical "boy meets girl, boy loses girl" tale, with lots of twists and turns. The story begins in a wilderness setting, with a hulking, heroic outdoors-man/lumberjack meeting and falling in love with a beautiful singer. They get together, but complications arise from corrupt business partners and the machinations of various villainous rich people. I do not want to spoil the ending, but after various changes of venue, fights, hijinks, ambulance rides, and finding a convenient birthmark, the story comes to a happy conclusion.

The book's creator Milt Gross was born in 1895 and started cartooning when he was just 12 years old. He produced a prodigious amount of work for the newspapers of the day, including The New York Journal and later The New York World. His strips were full of madcap escapades and immigrant humor and had titles like Banana Oil, Nize Baby, and Count Screwloose of Tooloose. He also published collections of these strips, and these volumes today are collectors' items. For those interested, there is additional biographical information about Gross on Lambiek and JVJ Publishing.

A book that has enjoyed a recent revival, He Done Her Wrong is considered a classic but also still a vital work in its own right. Lance Eaton wrote that "it could easily compete with some of today's graphic novel despite its simplistic plot." The reviewer at ComicList called the book "frenetic and wildly creative in its style." Paul Karasik wrote in appreciation of this book, "Gross uses whatever graphic device he needs to prove a point, get a giggle, or prod the plot. Nothing fancy. Nothing artsy. Just tell the story clearly, get the gag across, and go home. It's all in a day's work."

A short preview is available here from this edition's publisher, Fantagraphics.

Why it's not quite a graphic novel:  As wonderful, boisterous, and dramatic the art is, this book uses sequential art images without any dialogue or other words to propel the story. Graphic novels use a combination of words and images. I am picky, I know...

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