by Vicki Palmquist
“No one I knew ever picked up Archie or Lulu or Dennis the Menace because it was Required Reading. We read comics because we wanted to see what was going to happen. We wanted to take that unexpected turn.” — Jon Scieszka
When I was in high school, I went on a hunt to find as many old comics as I could, learning about the history, the controversy, the artists, and the love affair that swooped up so many kids and showed them that good stories exist in many forms.
If you’d like to share classic comics with your kids or your students, you’re in luck. Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, those folks behind Toon Books, sought out the fun, wacky, and adventuresome stories that will have them turning the pages for their next comics encounter. Spiegelman and Mouly aimed for funny and they found it—bullseye—in The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics (Abrams ComicArts, 2009).
You’ll find comics that may be familiar to you such as Little Lulu, Pogo, Dennis the Menace, Heckle and Jeckle, and the Little Archies (not the teenage version, but the young kids). You’ll read stories and find characters that I believe will be new to you as well.
I particularly enjoyed Gerald McBoing Boing in “Boing Boing” by Theodore Seuss Geisel and P.D. Eastman. The graphic line, the colors, the poetry, the story … I won’t ruin the ending but it’s comforting to know that there’s a place for everyone in this world.
In Melvin Monster “Mice Business” by John Stanley, a family of monsters has a mouse problem. This is theater of the absurd. Your children (and you) will howl over the antics of Mummy and Baddy and their son, Melvin.
In Little Lulu “Five Little Babies” by John Stanley and Irving Tripp, the boys trick Lulu into looking foolish but she gets the best of them in a clever and ironic way.
Believe it or not, in Uncle Scrooge “Tralla La” by Carl Barks, this high-energy story lets us in on the secrets of capitalism and utopia.
Did you know that Walt Kelly of Pogo fame also did a series of comics called Fairy Tale Parade? “Prince Robin and the Dwarfs” is fast-paced, exciting, and funny … and also a ripping good yarn. I particularly enjoyed studying his Map of the Fairy Tale Lands.
I don’t know if you can say these are favorites when I’ve listed so many of them, but “Captain Marvel in the Land of Surrealism” by C.C. Beck and Pete Constanza is a true high point of the Treasury. When I started this article I was going to say that there are no superheroes in this collection but they included Captain Marvel in a story that will have you questioning reality. (And there’s a story about Supermouse, too.)
These six stories are just a fraction of what’s available in The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. There’s at least one story that will tickle every reader’s funny bone and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a hard time keeping your own favorites to a list of six.
How lucky kids are today to have such ready access to a book that collects the best of an era when comics were new and experimental and, in the case of this Treasury, appropriate for childhood.
As Mr. Spiegelman and Ms. Mouly write in their introduction, “But as parents we’ve desperately wanted to keep our kids safe on the ever-shrinking island of childhood, protected from the dangers of, say, Internet porn and the horrors of the nightly news, while still preparing them for the Real World. As evidenced in so many of our selected stories, adults can act very childishly, kids can be remarkably clear-eyed, and the battle between the rational and the irrational is more like a dance.”
I’m glad to have been invited to that dance. I’ll pull this tome (it’s 1−1÷4” thick) down from the shelves when I need a book to lighten the mood. Thanks to my good friend Amy who knew this would be a cherished birthday present.