Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review - Streetwise

Edited by Jon B. Cooke and John Morrow
Contains "The Gorilla Suit" by Sergio Aragonés
2001 Eisner Winner for Best Short Story

Well, I'm back. After my globetrotting adventure involving sunken treasure, animal smuggling rings, spies, and a plot to undermine the free world (soon to be a trashy airport novel by Clive Cussler) it's time to settle back into the routine of reviewing comics. And to ease myself into that groove I've got something light and charming this time out.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Streetwise. The only thing I knew about it when I got it was that Sergio Aragonés had his award winning short story in it. Still given how terrific Aragonés is (and has been for fifty years) I figured that it had to be worth getting only for that story. What it turned out to be was a treasure trove of autobiographical comics and essays by some of the greatest creators over the course of comic history. Some of posthumous like a story by Jack Kirby and an essay by C.C. Beck but most were commissioned for the book and it is clear that the most of the creators decided to have a bit of fun with the topic and they told the kind of amusing stories that typically only come out after a few drinks.

There's thirty-two stories in this 160-page anthology which means they tend to be short. Most creators go the short and pithy route and confine themselves to just three to five pages. I found those where the creator kept it tight were generally much better than the few who rambled for an extended period. In particular there were two extended "insider stories" about working for the big comic publishers that I felt dragged because they didn't have the room to explore the situation and weren't focused enough to be compelling. On the other hand as low points those stories were okay. Almost all of the rest were extremely entertaining.

If you're not familiar with the name Sergio Aragonés he'd be best known to the public as they guy who drew all those tiny one panel cartoons in the margins of Mad Magazine. He's a brilliant humorist and in Streetwise tells of his time as a clown in a diving show and what happened when he decided to use a gorilla suit in the act. Aragonés goes all out with this story and the facial expressions alone are enough to make me giggle. It's funny enough on it's own that I now desperately want him to create a full autobiography in this style; or at least a few hundred pages of anecdotes like this.

Other high points in the anthology are Don Simpson's adventures in the low end of higher education, Michael Gilbert's dinner party with a 60's burn out, and Bill Alger's story of a demonic voodoo cult running a hospital. Besides the new stories there's also a few special reprints like an unfinished Jack Kirby story about growing up in New York in the 1920's. Joe Sinnott contributed a piece so it would have been nice to see his inks on Kirby's pencils but the raw art still looks good (especially a two page spread of a street scene). Streetwise also has the original three page story for Art Spiegelman's Maus which would be eventually grow the seminal work that more people are familiar with.

Streetwise is a charming anthology and while I wasn't enthralled with every single story in it I found about three-quarters of them to fantastic. As far as I can tell almost all of these stories have never appeared anywhere else which means that this is the only place where you'll find some masterpieces by legends in the field. There's just too many good stories here to ignore it and I highly recommend the anthology.