Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yoe Loves Kids' Comics!

Carl Barks' Big Book of Barney Bear
Edited and Designed by Craig Yoe
Introduction by Jeff Smith
Yoe Books and IDW Publishing

In this glorious, golden age of comic book and comic strip reprints, Craig Yoe remains my favorite collections editor. He has such a keen eye for the overlooked gem and the under appreciated artist - and in all of his work, Craig's pure love for kids' comics - true kids' comics - is tangible. Let's look at the record:

In past collections, Craig has collected the works of Bud Sagendorf, Otto Messmer, Milt Gross, and Dan DeCarlo; and in multi-artist collections, he has reprinted stories from such seldom seen masters as George Carlson, Jack Bradbury, Ken Hultgren, Mel Casson, Jim Tyer, and Louis Ferstadt (The Golden Collection of Klassic Krazy Cool Kids Komics); as well as Frank Johnson, Dan Gormley and Al Fago (The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories).

For my tastes, the two perfect Yoe collections have been Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf and Felix The Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails. I love them because it is highly unlikely the stories contained within either book would have ever found their way into a prestige hardback without the devotional efforts of Yoe. This is particularly true of Sagendorf's work on Popeye, which adult critics have always found lacking when inevitably compared to creator Segar's brutal, fascinating sailor. As for Messmer's Felix stories, more than one critic has found them too simple for adult enjoyment.

With all due respect, I think such criticism misses the mark. These comics were done for children, not adults. Trying to bend them into grown-up fare crushes their magic. When Felix slides down a giant ice cream mountain on a magic carpet only to find himself fighting an army of chocolate soldiers, as he does in "Felix in Candy Land" (Felix the Cat #15, 1950, Dell Comics) children loved it because it had nothing to do with adult logic or complexity. Children also responded instinctively, as I do, to the magnificent artwork of masters like Sagendorf and Messmer (the bold, smooth, rubbery line of Otto Messmer particularly thrills me). For the artwork alone, I am grateful that Yoe has reproduced the work of both Sagendorf and Messmer in such handsome collections.

Another one of my favorite Yoe Books is Dan DeCarlo's Jetta. The artist is best remembered for his great work in the Archie comic book titles but, as I've mentioned, Yoe specializes in the under appreciated gems. Jetta, the space-age "Teen-age Sweetheart of The 21st Century," was a DeCarlo creation for Standard Comics in the early 1950s, and the young beauty got the Yoe treatment in a beautifully done hardcover. The results are as good as anything the artist ever drew for Archie.

Speaking of enjoying an artist's lesser known work brings me gracefully to the book and artist under discussion today!

Carl Barks and John Stanley are the twin colossi who stride across the landscape of kids' comics; their stories complex enough (and their artwork wonderful enough) to appeal to both children and adults. Stanley in particular, with his genius scripting, has recently become the critics' darling (and deservedly so). Barks was the "good duck artist," well loved and remembered for his engaging Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories for Western Publishing. Yet Barks drew and scripted many comic book stories with characters other than the Disney ducks - and this is where Mr. Yoe's most recent work comics in.

The Carl Barks' Big Book of Barney Bear collects the great Barney Bear and Benny Burro stories Barks did for Western (Dell) comics in the early 1950s, and like all of Yoe's books, it is beautifully designed and published. For the comic lover, Craig hits all the marks: The paper stock is matte and perfectly non-shiny, the colors look bright and clean, and the binding can be opened fully and set flat without fear of breaking the spine. Included as well is a brief but very insightful introduction from Jeff Smith (Bone) and two great articles from Yoe (in all of Yoe's writing, his enthusiasm for comics shines). As for the stories included? Well, I can show you better than I can tell you. The story below comes straight out of the book - and it is pure, uncut Barks.

I highly recommend this book! You will love it as will any children you know (think Christmas)!

For a complete list of Yoe Books including this keeper of Barney Bear stories, please click HERE!


  1. I'm with you on the Messmer Felix and Sagendorf Popeye stories, Mykal. You just have to put yourself back a few decades to your childhood and regain a bit of the sense of wonder. You can forget adult cynicism for a few minutes when you read these comics.

    When I was reading them as a kid I loved things like Felix flying through space, seeing the Milky Way as a series of milk bottles. I read Popeye, and years later when I first saw Segar's original Popeye strips I thought they were great, but my deepest appreciation was reserved for the Popeye comic books I grew up with.

    The men who wrote and drew these comics understood kids and the sense of wonder. The older and more jaded I get the more I can appreciate how creative they were and how their minds worked.

  2. Pappy: You and I are on the same page, my friend! As you suggest, life is a circle, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the connection these artists had with children.

  3. I really appreciate the Sagendorf book...I had always dismissed him based on his later work on the Popeye daily strip, which I thought was mediocre at best. But his comic books for Dell are quite fun; and to be honest, anyone who tries to take over a beloved feature is going to be fighting an uphill battle. Remember the attempt in the 1990s to do a new POGO comic? Eesh.

    I'd have to say that my current favorite Yoe books are the collections of Milt Gross and Boody Rogers, mainly because they are cover-to-cover books of material I hadn't seen before. But I have been eyeballing the Archie Madhouse and Barney Google collections as well. And now Felix the Cat! Too much good stuff! I better ask Santa for a couple of these.

    Have you seen the new Barks collection from Fantagraphics? It's the best presentation of the material I have seen so far! They are recolored, but done in a way to come as close as possible to the original printed comics. I would recommend it highly as a christmas gift for young readers.


  4. Doug: So nice to hear from you! yeah, the Gross book was really great. I have the new Fantagraphics book of Barks' classic Donald stuff, and it's really good. I thought the recoloring good but just a touch too saturated. Recoloring comics is always a very tricky thing.

    I highly recommend the Archie Madhouse volume and, for the older kids, Craig's recent Bob Powell horror book may be his best yet!

  5. Doug: I've reconsidered. I have been reading that Fantagraphics Donald Duck "Lost in the Adnes" collection; and the coloring stays just this side of OK (it borders on too much, but not quite goes over the edge). I am admittedly a bit fussy about color and feel nearly all reprinted comics try to "restore" colors to a point of over saturation or, far worse, give it Photoshop coloring. So I'm a bit touchy. That is one of the things I appreciate about Craig's work is that his comic book reprints, while restored to original look and brightness, retain a comic book feel (and always on great paper stock).

    Fantagraphics has always been very, very good about this as well, using the correct paper stock, etc. Their recent Barks' release is an absolute must for kids' comic lovers.

  6. Mykal:

    I can understand your criticisms about the coloring. It would be great if they could reproduce exactly the look and feel of the old Dell comics (I love the quality ink and paper they used in the 40s and 50s) but even new comics can't match the old stuff.

    I just appreciate the fact that they didn't make the same bad decision that the European collections did, with their gaudy Photoshop airbrush & gradient fx.

    I still think it is the nicest attempt so far (or maybe I should say, least offensive so far?) and I do appreciate that they are collecting the stories in order, and starting in his best period.

    But back to Yoe: I actually ended up buying the Felix book yesterday; after reading your (and Pappy's) reviews, when I saw it on the shelf I couldn't resist. Thanks for the head's up!


  7. Doug: See my last comments! I completely agree with you! The coloring is so waaaay better than it might have been. It's really a great volume and, as I understand, one of many more coming!

  8. Cool, Carl Barks drew this comic? I love his work, particularly the Donald Duck comics!

    Poor Barney...everything happens to him. LOL! :D (The part where he's trying on the girdle is particularly funny!)


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