Monday, April 11, 2016

Harvey Kurtzman, Playboy

Harvey Kurtzman was just 68 when he died in 1993. It seems impossible he has been gone for over 20 years because he created so much, and made such an impression on me that I am still reveling in the work he did in the second half of the twentieth century.

Kurtzman created Mad(1) in 1952, after working in the comic book industry for a few years. During his Mad years he created a lasting legacy of satire. Mad is still with us. Unfortunately, he was not always financially well-rewarded for that gift of laughter. He worked hard, going from magazines to an original paperback book, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book, to more magazines, including Playboy. Harvey had created and done a very slick satire magazine called Trump in 1956 for Playboy publisher, Hugh Hefner. It lasted two issues.(2) Harvey also did Humbug magazine, which was printed on the cheap pulp paper by the comic book company, Charlton, and lasted 11 issues in 1957-58. The presentation was cheap, but the contents are priceless. It has been collected into a deluxe slip-cased two-volume set by Fantagraphics.(3) In 1960 he began editing magazines for publisher James Warren, including the first issue of Wildest Westerns, and then 25 issues of Help!(4)

In the early sixties Harvey, with his friend Will Elder, went to work for Playboy doing a lavishly illustrated comic satire, “Little Annie Fanny,” which featured funny stories of current events, but mainly SEX.(5) After all, this is Playboy we are talking about.

Here is one by Harvey and Will (with an assist from artist Russ Heath). It is from December, 1964, and Annie Fanny is a very sexy astronaut.

While editing Help! Kurtzman started using a form of comics with photographs. He called it fumetti, after the term used in Italy for comics. While at Playboy he was able to make at least a couple of fumetto, including this funny satire of Antonioni’s Blow-Up. It features a young Michael J. Pollard (“C.W. Moss” in Bonnie and Clyde from the year before), and a whole stable of statuesque, booby Playmates. Kurtzman is listed as Director, but knowing how Harvey worked, I think he probably did it all out with his meticulous storyboards and layouts. Kurtzman put a lot of sweat into his work, but what he did always came out polished and never looks labored over.

I got these two stories from issues of Playboy available at the Internet Archive. 

Copyright © 1964, 1968 HMH Publishing Co., Inc

(1) Atlantic Monthly article on Kurtzman.

(2) Trump; The Complete Collection will be published in June in hardcover. It is available from

(3) Also available from Amazon, the slip-cover, hardbound volumes of Humbug.

(4) Here is Help! #3, posted by Hairy Green Eyeball.

(5) And never forget, the complete Little Annie Fanny archives are available in Fantagraphics editions sold by Amazon. Out of print and pricy, alas. I hope someone will reprint them at some point.

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