cover image The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics

Paul Buhle, Denis Kitchen. Abrams Comicarts, $40 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-7296-4

Though his tenure lasted less than two years at the publication, Harvey Kurtzman is the genius responsible for Mad magazine's design, cast of characters, and unique brand of irreverence. In this beautifully illustrated volume, Kitchen and Buhle follow Kurtzman from his youth in the Depression-era Bronx, through his early freelance work, to his big break with William Gaines of E.C. Comics and beyond. At E.C., Kurtzman aired his anti-racist, anti-imperialist views in war comics Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. Kurtzman spent ""long hours in the New York Public Library researching"" to create authentic entertainment that also ""compels contemplation."" Once he had a family to feed, Kurtzman embarked on a less time-consuming humor project, which in 1952 launched as a comic book called Mad. For 23 issues, Kurtzman did it all-""every word from front to back, and laid out every cover, each story, and filler""-and, ultimately, saved E.C. from bankruptcy. When E.C. denied the artist's request for partial ownership of the company, Kurtzman left. Eventually, he would establish three different humor magazines, none of which as successful as Mad, and spent the rest of his career doing a comic for Playboy. He remains a major influence on today's comic writers, and this vibrant collection makes it easy to see why.