Book Review: Art Out of Time
Dan Nadel’s Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900-1969 arrived as a Christmas gift from my s.o., who bought it off my Amazon wish list after I blindly put it on there a few years back. Something about the cover design and the concept of trolling through old newspapers for comic obscurities appealed to me. For once a stab in the dark paid off, for this is a beautifully produced book chock full of eye-popping images — not only from the world of newsprint but from short-lived standalone comics as well.
The various comics collected here mainly tell me that the word “visionary” in the book’s title carries a wide definition. In some cases it might be a series that never caught on, while a few pages later a popular and long-running newspaper strip which wound up getting lost over time might be showcased. Some (like Gene Deitch’s Midcentury Modern Terr’ble Thompson) contain brilliant visuals supporting rather dull stories, while others crackle with subversive wit but are ordinarily drawn. A few others, like the work of Rory Hayes and Fletcher Hanks (who recently got his own anthology published by Fantagraphics), are so singularly bizarre they could have only come from one mind. Whatever their origins, all of the included comics are at the very least fascinating glimpses into the times they came from. Dan Nadel arranged the comics non-chronologically in loosely thematic groupings, so paging through them gives the reader an eclectic experience. Nice touch.
On another note, I want to point out how gorgeous some of those early, pre-WWII newspaper Sunday strips were. Being able to lay out a strip on an entire full page must have been a luxury that some artists undoubtedly used to full advantage — and you get to see a lot of lovely examples of this in the book. It’s especially heartening when looking at today’s pathetically scaled-down newspaper comics.