on June 20, 2011
Felix the Cat had his heyday in black-and-white silent cartoons in the 1920s, but that was just the beginning. In Felix the Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails, editor Craig Yoe sketches out Felix's murky beginnings and later popularity, then presents a generous sampling of full-color Felix comics from the 1940s and 1950s.
Yoe starts the book with a brief essay that introduces Felix without bogging the reader down with a lot of detail. Comics historians differ on who actually created Felix, Joe Sullivan or his employee, Otto Messmer, and given the way studios worked at the time, it's hard to know who exactly did what. Indeed, at the beginning of the book, Yoe notes that most of the artwork and stories in the book are by Messmer, and then he points out a few that were identified as being by Joe Oriolo, who drew the Felix comics in the 1940s and 1950s. Most of the comics aren't signed, and one that is--a newspaper strip from the 1920s--is credited to Sullivan although Messmer is the actual artist.
This introductory section includes a few remarkable facts about Felix: He was the first cartoon character to be represented by a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade; Charles Lindbergh had a Felix decal on the side of his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis; and Felix was the first cartoon character to be shown on television, although not as a cartoon. When NBC tested the first RCA television camera, in 1928, they used a Felix doll rotating on a turntable for their test image. Yoe includes photographs of this event as well as a fascinating array of early Felix ephemera before launching into the meat of the book, the comics.
All the comics collected here are from the same era, from 1945 to 1954. At this point, Felix has moved pretty far from his Roaring '20s roots, and like many cartoon characters, he lives in an ordinary house (complete with overstuffed armchair in the living room), works at various jobs, and is bedeviled by his mischievous nephews. What sets Felix apart is his almost hallucinatory adventures. Traveling to different planets on his flying carpet, he encounters vegetables bent on revenge (and is tried by an all-carrot jury); a fish tries to catch Felix and fry him up in a pan; and when he mixes jumping beans with his garden seeds, he ends up with fast-growing plants that get him out of a number of situations. The stories have a slapstick character, with lots of physical humor, and the gags come fast, one or two per page. That makes the stories seem rather episodic. It's like the creators start with a theme--Felix has an unlucky day, say--and run with it until they run out of ideas. And they have plenty of imagination: In one sequence, Felix lands his spaceship on the bottom horn of a crescent moon and falls asleep. When the moon wanes to a thin sliver, his spaceship falls off. The art and paneling are workmanlike, not brilliant, but the stories move fast and deliver plenty of laughs--just like a good children's comic from any era.
-- Brigid Alverson
on March 27, 2011
My favorite Craig Yoe book!
Funny animal comic books are a very underappreciated genre of comics. They're not the stuff of great literature, but they're perfect stories to read in while relaxing in your armchair on a cool summer day—and Craig Yoe's Felix the Cat collection is a perfect example of that. These comics are perfect for kids (and grown up cartoon nerds or cartoonists, like me) and make for great cartooning reference. The artwork of Otto Messmer and Joe Oriolo is deceptively simplistic, but full of solid drawing and composition skills, and rife with pure appeal. The stories are simplistic, but unpretentious and imaginative—something you don't see much of anymore.
Overall, Highly recommended!
on September 15, 2010
As with all of Craig Yoe's books for IDW Publishing, "Felix the Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails" is beautifully done. The binding will last a lifetime, and the paper stock is perfect for re-creating the look and colors of actual comics - bright and white on paper that isn't too hard or shiny.
And the stories are the cream of the crop from Felix comics from the late 40s and early 50s. The vast majority of the work is by Otto Messmer - done in his gorgeous, balloon-animal style of bigfoot cartooning. Man, I wish comics were still this good. The stories within are perfect examples of how good those old Dell comics could be.
This books celebrates the kind of magnificent art and storytelling that existed before comics became too self-conscious and full of themselves - before they took themselves too seriously and demanded to be seen as "serious art." Back then, they simply were art without trying so hard.
Craig Yoe deserves much praise for preserving this material in a lasting, beautiful format which can be treasured for years. - Mykal Banta
on August 18, 2010
Felix the Cat has been around now for nearly a hundred years. You don't last that long without changing to fit the audience. The earliest Felix animated cartoons were shown in movie theaters and intended for adults. My generation remembers the Felix TV cartoons that were clearly aimed at kids. The Felix the Cat comic books, however, appear to have been created for people on LSD. Except, since LSD hadn't been developed yet, perhaps they were created for the kids who would later grow up and invent LSD. (I'll bet Timothy Leary read Felix comics. Can you prove that he didn't?)
No, I'm not condoning drug use. In fact, psychedelics are completely unnecessary when you read these stories. They are wild flights of fantasy that leap off the page and worm their way directly into the subconscious mind; they are dreams on paper. Flying carpets, walking fish, talking vegetables - anything can happen in these stories and always does. And Felix is right there in the thick of the action, enjoying the ride, whether it's a visit to Candy Land or the moon. "Fantastic" in the truest sense.
Editor Craig Yoe and Felix honcho Don Oriolo have collected these vintage comic books and presented them in a gorgeous volume that belongs on every coffee table and bookshelf. The comic pages are reproduced as is, not doctored, re-colored and "improved" like in so many inferior collections. This is as close as you can get to reading the original vintage comic books. As usual with Yoe Books, it's beautifully designed and printed, with full-color endpapers, sturdy binding (unlike the flimsy comic books) and a very cool cover. Reminiscent of the Beatles so-called "White Album," the cover is white with the title printed in a clear varnish. When you're as famous as Felix, you don't need a name to let people know who you are.
In addition to the comic books from the `40s and `50s, the book contains 30-some pages of introductory material and rare, vintage artwork, nicely rounding out the package.
Yoe has set the standard for books of this ilk. Anyone else attempting to collect and reprint comics has to match this quality just to get in the game.