PRINT November 2005


Greil Marcus on Harvey Kurtzman

BEGINNING ON NOVEMBER 20, through March of next year, you can go into the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and see the postwar half of the ambitious survey “Masters of American Comics” (the prewar portion is at the UCLA Hammer Museum). Featured are Jack Kirby (The Fantastic Four), R. Crumb (Zap), Art Spiegelman (Maus), Gary Panter (Jimbo), and more—along with Harvey Kurtzman, who in moments can make them all seem square.

In the ’50s Kurtzman’s MAD magazine was Lenny Bruce for kids. As a comic book it was the comics inside out, all id, and going too fast for kids to catch, especially around the edges of the panels. Nine- and twelve-year-olds picking their way through the 1954 Dragnet parody “Dragged Net” weren’t going to connect the question that Sgt. Joe Friday continually asked his partner Ed Saturday—“How’s your mom, Ed?”—with Oedipus, and there was no Oedipus Rex payoff. That

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