Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of MAD, HELP and TRUMP magazines, and one of the most influential artists on alternative, acerbic and hilarious comic strips, authored in 1959 a prototype of today’s graphic “novel,” a term that applies to more than conventional fiction. Jungle Book, which begins with the phrase “There are jungles and there are jungles,” is a classic. Here’s what Kurtzman biographer Denis Kitchen wrote:
We won’t mince words. This is simply one of the most influential comic creations of all time…. Jungle Book was created for paperback book pioneer Ian Ballantine. It was the very first paperback of all original comics and arguably was the first graphic novel as well. There are four stories, each parodying an element of popular culture: “Theolonius Violence” is a take-off on the then-popular TV detective show Peter Gunn, complete with blaring jazz riffs in the background and —what else is new?— heavy doses of violence. “Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite” is a jaundiced look at the publishing industry. It’s partially autobiographical—based on Kurtzman’s stint at publisher Martin Goodman’s Atlas/Marvel/men’s magazine sweat shop in the ’40s.
This story also introduces Goodman Beaver, whose later adventures (in collaboration with Will Elder) appeared in Help! magazine and who later morphed, oddly enough, into Playboy’s Little Annie Fanny. “Compulsion on the Range” parodies TV’s long-running Gunsmoke in particular and westerns in general. The final story, “Decadence Degenerated,” is a dark but hilarious look both into the minds of men and into the deep south of the ’50s.
I found a first edition rarity that is so fragile I am reluctant to open it up. The 3rd edition, published by Kitchen Sink Press is out of print, but copies are advertised here. If you can find a copy, it is worth the expense.