There are Jungles and There are Jungles

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.

Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book Dedication Page

Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book

Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book

Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book

2 thoughts on “There are Jungles and There are Jungles

  1. Lance Miller

    My 1959 first edition of the Jungle Book is a critical piece of my Kurtzman collection. The Kitchen Sink edition is my reader’s copy.
    I must take exception with you calling the “Organization man…” the introduction of the Goodman Beaver character. The Goodman Beaver that appeared in later issues of HELP! only shared a name with the protagonist in the Jungle Book story. BTW – the “Goodman Goes Playboy” is the best of the Beaver stories and led directly to metamorphsis of Goodman into Little Annie Fannie.

  2. william lanigan

    Mr. Heller: You might want to also mention the early graphic novels of Lynd Ward, Hans Masereel and Otto Nuckel – obviously Harvey Kurtzman, brilliant as he was, didn’t originate the genre. German Expressionist cinema may in fact be the true precurser of essentially what are storyboard narratives. Woodcuts, which were the preferred media for the graphic novel pioneers, provided the high-key cine noir mood and were relatively easy to print (as opposed to engravings, mezzotints or etchings, where line weight becomes an issue). It was an unorthodox appraoch to storytelling, but one not at all unfamiliar to anyone who’d been watching silent cinema for the pervious twenty-odd years.
    Let me also suggest you devote a future post to some of the forgotten book illustrators of the period who were skilled woodcut artists, such as Agnes Miller Parker and John Buckland-Wright. Brilliant people, and sadly forgotten today.