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Arf Forum Paperback – May 30, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Readers will find this book doing strange and wonderful things to their minds. Imagine someone going through old magazines and stopping whenever an unusual picture or story catches his attention. Then imagine this reader taking the time to cut out the oddities and stick them in a file folder. And finally imagine someone selecting the most unusual, striking things out of a drawer filled with such folders and printing them in an elegantly designed, lovingly printed anthology. Arf Forum features Max Ernst's surrealist collages (a man with the head of an Easter Island statue cavorting in various melodramatic scenes) as well as a sleazy photo story from the early 1940s about a visit to a comics studio where girls pose in their underwear. Yoe's warm memoir of a meeting with cartoonist Bill Holman (Smoky Stover) shows the modern audience how dazzling this comic strip was, while a piece about ultra-obscure artist William Ekgren (known only for three covers) offers a tantalizing glimpse of an unfulfilled talent. Yoe fills this volume to the gills: Stan Lee on irate readers, Italian cartoonist Kremos's girly cartoons, a photo of Elvis reading a Betty and Veronica comic. There's no overall theme here except Isn't this cool! but that's enough; it is cool. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
For his third exploration of "the unholy marriage of art and comics," cartoonist-designer Yoe unearthed another cornucopia of obscure and delightful artifacts. They include a sampling of Bill Holman's singularly screwball newspaper strip, Smokey Stover; excerpts from an experimental 1934 graphic novel in collage by German dadaist Max Ernst; an appraisal of the enigmatic William Ekgren's bizarre 1950s horror comics covers; and an assortment of caveman cartoons by early-twentieth-century hands. Comics themselves are the subjects of some of the most beguiling entries, such as a metastrip in which Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse read and discuss their newspaper exploits, a 1941 fumetti in which scantily clad models purport to show how comics are made, an early story by Marvel Comics' Stan Lee (a beleaguered comic-book editor defends his horror titles against an outraged citizen), and vintage photos of Rock Hudson and Elvis Presley enjoying the funnies. Those of a scholarly bent might wish for more documentation of these intriguing works, but Arf's focus remains, appropriately, on the visual qua visual. Flagg, Gordon
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For the comics fanatic, the collector, the connoisseur who knows the details of publishing dates and artists' names, who can name tints and fonts, this is the coolest thing since shredded cheez. But for the other reader, the one raised on the decidedly more Heavy Metal and manga aspects of graphic storytelling, it falls rather flat, way too retro, way too enthusiastic about simplistic Sunday funnies and pulpy comic books from decades gone by.
There is no question that Craig Yoe, Arf's creator/curator/everything else--who strangely receives no mention on this book's/magazine's masthead, but is mentioned only on the back page as the co-director of YOE! Studio--is one seriously creative, imaginative and intelligent fellow, and one who is thoroughly dedicated to all things comics. Not "comic," and most definitely not the graphic novel we all know these days, but traditional, newsstand comic books and the ol' Silly Putty-copy-able Sunday strips.
This book is a loving tribute to the comics of the 30s, 40s, 50s, etc., to those cheapo comic books that Yoe and many others loved and still love so much. But, as the book's subtitle describes when it says that ARF is "the unholy marriage of art + comics," (note that art comes first) this book--it's not really a magazine--is also a deeply respectful and highly knowledgeable tribute to graphic illustration; this issue features late 18th/early 19th fanciful engravings of hell, the late 1800s/early 1900s fascination with dinosaurs and cavepersons, and offers a detailed Max Ernst study.
Faithfully reproduced within are comics classics Krazy Kat, Nancy (as head-shakingly stupid as ever), Smokey Stover, and Harry Hotdog. There are feature articles on artists Bill Holman, William Ekgren and Ted Scheel, and a short spot from O Most Exalted Comics One, Stan Lee.
The book is large format (12"x9") and is expertly rendered, with deep, rich color. This is no pulp book, the paper is heavy, and the art direction and layout are sophisticated. Every page is full of detail and content, lovingly put together by the Arf team. While there are no footnotes, there is a great deal of detail on everything, with captions, authors/artists, and dates, even a note on the various fonts used. There are original artist portraits commissioned just for this book, as well as a both vintage and original caps for each article.
As for my desire to see more of the delicious lady on the cover, I was disappointed. There is no more of her to be found. As for more, ahem, adult content, there is precious little of it, other than some avant-garde nudies in Yoe's own "Jungle Comics," in the portraits of William Ekgren and Ted Scheel, and in some of Scheel's featured work. And there is a concluding feature on Kremos (Niso Ramponi), with 13 of his 1950s cheesecake drawings. Fun, slightly risqué, but not quite what I was hoping for; the front cover's promise of "the strip in comic strips" delievered on its implied promise of a tease, but not on the unspoken promise of an illustrated full monty.
Bottom line: If you're after the raw gore, incredible flights of sci-fi/fantasy imagery and the more explicit sexual depictions, situations and narrative that you find in the titles offered in the SQP catalog, you'll find this publication far too tame. But if you're a professional illustrator, graphic artist, art curator, graphics historian, or just someone who is totally nuts for traditional comics in all shapes and sizes, you will find this book to be an absolute treasure.
Volume Three in the series, ARF FORUM, is (no surprise) a delight to behold: where else will you find artistic titans like Jack Davis, Ferdinand Opper and Max Ernst co-mingling amidst the pages of a single book? Of particular interest to me is the chapter on Kremos, (aka Niso Ramponi), a mid-Twentieth Century Italian Girlie artist whose wonderful work I'd never seen before. Throw in a hefty pile of long-lost comic book covers, a few zesty pages clipped from vintage Men's mags, even a zany contemporary strip by Mr. Yoe himself, and you've got some tasty pickins indeed; all of it so scrumptious, you never want the four color smorgasbord to end!
That's what keeps me coming back to the ARF books; the knowledge that Craig Yoe will once again dive deep into the ash heap of two centuries' popular culture and unearth rare cartoon gems, reminding us of an unfortunate truth: that most of our truly great artists are dead!