The Someday Funnies
Edited by Michael Choquette (Abrams ComicArts, 2011)
I was still in junior high school when I started reading National Lampoon, so of course the comics appealed most. This spectacular volume serves as a long-lost issue of that magazine, for those of us who felt that some of the key contributors never did better work elsewhere. It’s also (and this was its intention) a careful distillation of the central events of the 1960s, written and drawn by those who were clearly changed and liberated by that era. This is not a distanced view of the decade, edited by hindsight. This is not one of those jokey books such as Jon Stewart’s show or The Onion does, or indeed the National Lampoon used to do, satirizing the excesses of the period. This is of its time, with the added sparkle of having been stored in boxes for several decades due to the logistics of getting it published.
I was among those who read Bob Levin’s long Comics Journal article about the project a couple of years ago in amazement. The story had readers salivating for a glimpse of these graphic treasures, but it also had the despairing air of Joseph Mitchell’s “Joe Gould’s Secret” to it—this stuff was probably out of reach, or perhaps really didn’t exist in publishable form. Grails are all too easy to believe in, but they usually remain out of reach.
Yet now here The Someday Funnies is, with only one main element substantially different from what the project’s overseer Michael Choquette intended back in the ‘70s. Each one- or two-page “chapter” of Someday Funnies has a hole deliberately placed in it—the only unifying visual concept of a work whose 129 artists range from C.C. Beck to Neal Adams, from Sergio Aragones to Gahan Wilson, from Red Grooms to Federico Fellini. Those holes were at one point held in hopes that R. Crumb would fill them in with Mr. Natural adventures, but instead they’ve become a post-modern documentation of Choquette’s own adventures in putting the book together. That these drawings are not the most successful artistic statement in the book goes without saying—they are in service to a much grander scheme, of encompassing the whole of the 1960s. The main attraction is the splashy original artwork, but the idea that this book is also a historical artifact of the 1970s is inescapable, with multiple prologues, reams of annotations and translations, and bios of every contributor (some of whom were just starting their careers when asked to lend a page to this project, and the majority of whom continued on as artists and writers of renown). Making Choquette a constant seems only right. The book as it stands is as much about itself as it is about the ‘60s.
If Someday Funnies had come out as planned in the 1970s, it would have smoothed the transitions of countless young comics fanatics into counterculture college students, even faster than did National Lampoon’s own Funny Pages section. For here are the creators of Uderzo & Goscinny of Asterix fame, and top-rung Archie comics artist Stan Goldberg, and Mad magazine icons Aragones and Don Martin using their famous styles and characters in service of satire and subversion. There’s a wondrous psychedelic skepticism running through this book. It challenges, it explores, it goes to extremes.
Above all, it lives up to its hype, which is more than the 1960s did.