Comics: Always in the Gutter, Looking Up

The comics medium was criticized for decades, derided as juvenile before being hailed as the great American art form of the 20th century — sometimes by the same media outlets. During the intervening decades, comics went from pure genre formulae to topical subject matter and experimentation in both form and content. Readers no longer have to choose merely between Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner. Some of this fall's major releases demonstrate the variety and extent of this wide range of options, and the high and low aspects of our culture that comics relishes.

Fantagraphics continues its gorgeous reprints of the entire run of Charles Schulz's Peanuts with its first collection of color Sunday strips, Peanuts Every Sunday, 1952-1955 (Nov. 10). In these cartoons from Peanuts' first years, Schulz's familiar potato-shaped heads are rounder and the artist's line-work more controlled than the looser look that would become his signature. But the humor and humanity that endeared the strip to so many are already on full display.

At the same time Schulz was producing his first Peanuts strips, Al Feldstein was working as an editor, writer, and artist for Williams Gaines' EC Comics. Feldstein was the line's primary creative powerhouse, overseeing most of its titles, which included Weird Science, The Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, and Tales from the Crypt. Grant Geissman's butcher block of a biography, Feldstein: The Mad Life and Fantastic Art of Al Feldstein! (Aug. 20) from IDW pays tribute to the man and the era with beautiful reproductions of his work and text based on Geissman's research and interviews.

Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps (Sept. 17) from Drawn and Quarterly surveys Art Spiegelman's 45 years as a comics creator, including his designs for Topp's Wacky Packages trading cards, selections from his own underground comix magazine, Raw, and the genesis of his Pulitzer Prize-winning story of his father's Holocaust experiences, Maus. Exploring the breadth of his work, the book shows that, perhaps more than any other single artist, Spiegelman has energized the range of emotional possibility in comics.

Among the embarrassment of under-appreciated riches this fall are a number of additional titles of note. These include a new collection of Jim Steranko's treatment of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., one of the high points of Silver Age creativity (Sept. 24); A Boy and a Girl (Nov. 27) by Jamie S. Rich and Natalie Nourigat, a completely disarming take on the world's oldest storytelling trope; and a trade paperback collecting the first several issues of Francesco Francavilla's pulp-throwback hero, The Black Beetle (Oct. 29).

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