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‘Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Essential Kurtzman – Volume 1’ – Advance Hardcover Review

Before my editor handed me this book to review, I had never heard of Harvey Kurtzman. I didn’t know that he was the man who created MAD Magazine, who had built the first graphic novel, and had subverted so much of this country’s youth for many, many years.

If you didn’t know these things either, then you should definitely pick up this volume, as you will go on a fascinating journey of discovery into how comic books grew to be the media form they’ve become today.  Kurtzman worked for many different companies over his years, but never did he produce anything like The Jungle Book, except when he was on his own.  Able to write and draw his own stories in his own way, he was able to lay out phenomenal panels that entertain and inspire half a century later.

In the ’60s, there were a lot of people shouting for the attention of the American people and telling them what they should want and how to achieve it.  Kurtzman took things from his childhood and turned them on their heads, poking fun at Marshall Dillon and Peter Gun, layering messages of truth into wonderfully paced panels with a dry, quick wit.  The chances he took in lambasting the “heroes” of the time lay out as satire in its finest form.  The story of Goodman Beaver will tickle any Mad Men fan, especially considering that he was slamming a similar industry in its own time.

You can see the MAD flair in Kurtzman’s work, the brilliant way he peppers folks into the background of panels, the ability to make an impossible hairpin turn in the story seem so natural, and the way that his characters pop off the page and into your mind.  The stories contained within this volume still ring true today, most especially for me in Decadence Degenerated.  It’s got scathing satire with the type of laugh I’ve not enjoyed outside of Mel Blanc’s work in the Merry Melodies on the final page.

There’s nothing like seeing a masterwork in the medium withstand the test of time and still be effective today.  Kurtzman’s work is worth any comic reader’s time, and this volume gives not only his work as a whole, but great reflections on his work from contemporaries and those who followed.  A must have for anyone’s shelf.

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