Welcome to this week’s From Friendly Ghosts to Gamma Rays. Glad you’re taking a break from all the glory of the World Cup to join us here, ’cause this week we look at the genius of Milt Gross.
Before Stan Lee or Frank Miller, there was one of the first rock stars of the comic book world, and his name was Milt Gross! For Gross, a normal day was hanging out with his buddy Charlie Chaplin, drawing a few cartoons, and then maybe going to work on an animated short or screen play. Gross also created one of the first graphic novels, He Done Her Wrong, which was praised for its brilliance at the time. The man worked with everyone in the field and was respected and brought in to work on films at Disney Studios and more. His influence is undeniable, and all the giants of the comic and animation field remember him fondly.
Milt Gross was born March 4,1895 in the Bronx in NYC. He started doing several comic strips in the New York Journal and worked on some short animated projects, and then finally had his first hit, Gross Exaggerations. These were collected into a book titled Nize Baby, which then evolved into both a Sunday strip and a hit Hollywood film, putting Gross on the map of fame around the country without ever looking back. From there he worked on a variety of comic strips, movies, animated shorts, radio shows, had his own column, and created what is considered his masterpiece and the first true American graphic novel, He Done Her Wrong, a Perils of Pauline-like tale which totaled almost 300 pages; all without a single word on the page, pure comic art pantomime storytelling. After World War 2, Gross also broke into the comic book medium, working at American Comics. He passed away from a heart attack on November 29, 1953.
Something To Read: The Complete Milt Gross Comic Books and Life Story
Publisher: IDW/Yoe Books!
Story and Art: Milt Gross
IDW and Yoe Books! have once again done a bang up job providing us with a fantastic collection (they also gave us that priceless Jetta collection reviewed here), The Complete Milt Gross Comic Books and Life Story, which gives us both ultra-rare issues of Milt Gross Funnies and collects all his other hard to find comics, packaged in a wonderful 350 page hardbound, with a great write up about his life, authored by his son Herb Gross. The comics that lie in these pages are 100% amazing. They are hysterical and have an incomparable cartoon value that has continued to influence us until this day, clearly seen in modern works like John Kricfalusi’s Ren and Stimpy.
These rare comics are priceless to read and star the array of Milt Gross original characters from several of his early newspaper strips, and include That’s My Pop! (which was also turned into a hit radio show by Gross), Count Screwloose, Moronica, Banana Oil!, and more. The stories are simple and gag-driven like most funnies of their day, and the art work is amazingly cool with pop-sensibilities that have only been imitated since. My favorites are the Pete the Pooch stories; there’s something so ridiculous yet magical about him.
This book is a must read for anyone who loves classic cartoon fun, or who wants to remember Milt Gross by indulging in a piece of forgotten comic book history.
Something To Watch: The Wind In The Willows
Walt Disney, during his reign in Hollywood, attracted the best and brightest artists across the world to come work with him to create magic. Milt Gross, praised by the public, already churning out Hollywood magic with scripts and radio-shows, was not immune to working under the magic of the Mouse House, and was brought in as a consultant when they were developing The Wind In The Willows for cinemas. Released in movie theaters in 1949 as part of a double bill titled The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (but re-released later on in theaters and on TV as The Wind In The Willows by itself without the Ichabod Crane story), it is one of the more fondly remembered Disney shorts, as it should be. Disney Studios really hit the nail on the head with this adaptation, with brilliant voice acting work and animation. It’s a great adaptation of the text and a spot-on shot of fun. Gross, like many at the time, wasn’t issued a screen credit, although it is fully documented he was a consultant on the project and helped develop it behind the scenes as it was being animated. One can see from his comics how Gross’s cartoon slapstick would be perfectly applied to the crazy Mr.Toad character. The film is currently available on DVD from Disney in a Disney Treasured Shorts Collection, packed nicely with a few other shorts. This is my recommendation to check it out this weekend, timeless hilarity and enjoyment for all.
That’s it this time around, and hey, on a side-note, if you’re going to the movies this weekend, give Jonah Hex a chance. Is it low budget with a few editing problems? Yes, but is it a lot of explosions and gun-fighting fun and a fairly decent adaptation of the 70s Weird Western Tales comics and retains their vibe? Yes.