Royal Nonesuch reviews the reprinting of the Harvey Kurtzman classic, published by Boom! Town.
Credits & Solicit Info:
THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT HC
Written & Drawn by Harvey Kurtzman
HC, 80 pgs, FC, SRP: $25.00
Diamond Code: APR100832
Forty years ago, the late comics genius Harvey Kurtzman created a marvelous beatnik take on the ancient Esop fable that appeared in Esquire magazine, where the panels were reproduced small and blurry. The story remained forgotten and unknown, even to most Kurtzman fans, until Denis Kitchen Publishing released this rediscovered gem in a Smythe-sewn hardcover in 2000. Now BOOM! Town, in association with DKP, offers readers a second chance to own this Kurtzman classic. Selected as ‘One of the Best 100 Graphic Novels’ in Steve Weiner’s book of the same name, this 10′ square hardcover is shrink-wrapped to assure mint condition. Introduction by Denis Kitchen.
Three months ago, this space ran a review of a new artbook that showcased the work of comix legend Denis Kitchen. Nowadays, amongst other duties, Kitched serves as the art agent for the estate of fellow legend Harvey Kurtzman, probably best known as the founder of MAD Magazine. Ten years ago, Kitchen was responsible for the reprinting of a long-forgotten Kurtzman work, and now, in conjunction with the Boom! Town imprint of Boom! Studios, Denis Kitchen Press is once again bringing back THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT.
THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT is vintage Kurtzman. His monochromatic ink and watercolor art is vibrant and expressive. Each brushstroke is perfect, and the way the warm color gradually cools with each successive page is a subtle yet brilliant way to depict the passage of time. With a single panel per page format, Kurtzman tells the story of a grasshopper who wants the world to slow down and converse, while the other insects in the field, particularly the ant, have their work to do. Grasshopper wants to take the time to groove and communicate, to live life and to see all it offers. The ant just wants to work, be secure in life, and gather all the grain he can. It's all about ideas with the grasshopper, and work for the ant.
It's a dichotomy that reflects Kurtzman's own struggles. While once a hipster (back when that word really meant something) artist associating with the New York Beat writers, Kurtzman in 1960 was in a place where he was moving from a place of free expression to paying off a mortgage and raising a family. As Kitchen writes in his introduction, "THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT jabs a sharp pin into the self-satisfied beat culture as well as the 9-to-5 drones, but skimming below the surface of this story is Harvey Kurtzman struggling with fate's forces." He was nearly penniless when the story was published in Esquire. Kitchen holds that Kurtzman is both the grasshopper and the ant.
THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT, with all its twists and turns, is a playful but ultimately rather dark tale that's as enjoyable as it is subversive. It is a master work by a master artist.