It's a testament to the rich body of comics-related product coming out right now that these two latest reads of mine end up in the same post. One's a great graphic novel, telling an amazing true-to-life history story, the other a beautiful art book celebrating the art and genius of one of comics' most wonderful cartoonists.
T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, written by Jim Ottaviani and drawn by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon is the story of the space race that dominated headlines from the late 1950s until America landed the first men on the moon in 1969. It's ostensibly a kids' graphic novel, but there's nothing wrong with that especially with the mature, sophisticated storytelling present here. The Cannons (no relation, by the way) smooth, graphic cartooning propels the story forward, and Ottaviani's script never talks down to his intended audience, offering a fascinating look at an amazing time in history. Truth be told, the Russians kicked our butts in the beginning, and while some of it seems quaint these days (the Russians room full of "computers" is, in reality, a bunch of smart people at desks making computations), it's a story full of built-in suspense, something Ottaviani capitalizes on. While we all know how it ends, it's still a great read. I love stuff like this, and Ottaviani regularly goes to the history mine and digs out these great nuggets, not unlike Rick Geary (who's next book in his "Treasury of XX Century Murder," Famous Players, is due out today in comic shops from NBM).
There are only a few names in comic books who deserve the extra-special gift word of "genius" next to their name. I'd limit that to Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Carl Barks, perhaps Wally Wood, and definitely Harvey Kurtzman. The man who created MAD never really rivaled that great creation after he walked away from it with anything else he did for the rest of his life. But those 25 or so issues, coupled with his remarkable work on EC's war titles, Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales, are enough for anyone's career. The new book, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman, the MAD Genius of Comics, written by Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle, and edited by our buddy Charlie Kochman for his imprint at Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, is a beautiful 240-page tome, featuring a wealth of art, many of it unpublished. It follows Kurtzman from his formative years through his early cartooning days with "Hey, Look!" at Timely/Marvel through his salad days at EC and beyond--through Trump, Humbug, Help, and the latter part of his career. Kurtzman had an incredible influence on pop culture, as the book testifies. Everything and everyone from Gloria Steinem to Terry Gilliam, from R. Crumb to the rest of the underground comix people, were touched by Kurtzman and MAD. His own loose-limbed, vibrant, expressive cartooning style is still a constant revelation to me. This book celebrates all that in one of the most handsome packages I've seen in a long time.