Strip Teasers: Capsule Book Reviews

Writing long-form book reviews is a time-consuming process and I don’t have nearly enough hours in the day to write about every book I read that might be of interest to you blog readers. I do want to let you know what’s out there, though, so Strip Teasers is a new occasional feature that will provide capsule reviews.

Stay Tooned #3 (Gorilla Graphics, $9): Let’s start right out by breaking the rules — reviewing something other than a book. Stay Tooned #3 is the latest issue of the magazine that picks up where Jud Hurd’s late lamented Cartoonist Profiles left off. Editor John Read has the bugs out of the system now — no more duplicate pages or weird fonts in evidence. Hallelujah! The material, as usual is delightful — Jim Scancarelli and Richard Thompson interviews are the highhlights in another jam-packed 88-page issue. One picayune little carp — Read needs to hone his interviewing skills — he tends to ask the same questions in the same way to all his subjects.

Chas. Addams – A Cartoonist’s Life by Linda H. Davis (Random House 2006, $29.95): My gawd, what a life! Addams had the most gratifying existence that a red-blooded American boy could fantasize about. No, no, not that he was such a great cartoonist. That’s small potatoes. The man bedded gorgeous women like surfers eat fish tacos. We’re talking Jackie Kennedy here, we’re talking Joane Fontaine, we’re talking Greta freaking Garbo. And best of all, he was able to keep them all as good friends before and after their dalliances. A charming man living a charmed life. Author Davis doesn’t give his cartooning work a lot of serious attention in the book, and there’s entirely too few Addams cartoons reproduced. But who cares.

Call of the Wild – A Mutts Treasury by Patrick McDonnell (Andrews McMeel 2008, $16.99): McDonnell continues to turn out a modern masterpiece. Comparing this strip to most any other is like comparing Shakespeare to Harlequin Romances. And I don’t mean just strips of today. McDonnell gives Krazy Kat a run for the money. What continues to amaze me is that the strip is actually popular among the unwashed masses. In this land of “Git ‘er Done” and Rush Limbaugh, how can something as beautiful and delicate as this thrive in so many papers? Damned if I know.

Nitty Gritty – A White Editor in Black Journalism by Ben Burns (University Press of Mississippi, 1996): When I’m not reading books about comics I’m busy trying to round out my education in general newspaper history. The autobiography of Ben Burns, who worked at The Daily Worker and the Chicago Defender, is fascinating stuff. So little has been written about those papers by the people who were actually involved that I’m thrilled by every little scrap I can find. Particularly interesting were the underhanded tactics the Communists used against Burns to keep him on a short leash. The second half of the book deals with his work in black magazines (Ebony and Jet); normally I would have given this material a pass but Burns is such an engaging writer I was happy to follow him on his journey outside of journalism.

The Penny Gang Down Memory Lane 1989-2008 by Julie Larson (self-published, order at the Dinette Set website): Julie Larson’s world of pinheaded suburban couch potatoes never fails to make me laugh. Her Dinette Set cartoons are snarky and deliciously nasty, definitely the most outrageous feature being syndicated to mainstream papers. Larson’s cartooning abilities are essentially non-existent; I dream of the day she finds an artist for the feature and concentrates on the writing. But never mind — ignore the art and have a belly laugh at the expense of Joy, Burl and their brain-dead friends. This is the sixth volume in the Dinette Set reprint series, all of which have been self-published. This volume is a much cheaper production than previous ones, the printing is far too dark and muddy. So while I can’t recommend this particular volume, a hearty thumbs-up on the feature itself and the other books in the series which didn’t suffer the same production problems.

The Rose Man of Sing-Sing by James McGrath Morris (Fordham University Press, 2003): A definitive and exhaustively researched biography of Charles E. Chapin, celebrated editor of the New York Evening World. I hemmed and hawwed for several years about buying this book because I’d already read Chapin’s own published memoir, but I’m glad I finally caved in and bought this book. Morris does a superb job of detective work to uncover the details of Chapin’s life, and his coverage of the history of the Evening World during his tenure is first-rate work giving far more detail than Chapin himself did. Oh, if you’re wondering about the title, Chapin’s career hit a little stumbling block when he murdered his wife. That’s the lurid reason for the publication of this bio, but fear not. Morris gives us over 200 pages of sharp, incisive journalism history before the story takes that unfortunate turn.

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