The Toon Treasury Of Classic Children’s Comics – hard to pick up and even harder to put down.
Selected & Edited by Art Spiegelman & Francoise Mouly
The Toon Treasury is a huge (really huge – 350+ pages) hardcover of seemingly every wonderful comic for children from the 30s to the 60s, all lovingly compiled by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman. Okay, not every wonderful comic – Mouly and Spiegelman have spent a long time trawling through the archives to find the very best examples of 4 decades of children’s comics to make The Toon Treasury something rather wonderful indeed.
The comics here haven’t necessarily been chosen for their historical context or their ability to turn grown ups to nostalgic mush as these things are often intended to do. Instead Mouly and Spiegelman have picked the comics to actually appeal to children, designed to be accessible and entertaining and every bit as magical and bewitching as these comics were the first time around. But in doing so have also picked comics that work like the best children’s literature always does – as a child’s eye view into the outside world. The strips are full of engaging and interesting stories, they’re warm, funny and fun. No matter how old or young you are.
And when it does fall into the little hands it’s intended for it is a wonderful thing to behold: I left it on the coffee table last weekend and come back half an hour later to find Molly lying on the floor face buried in the adventures of Scrooge McDuck and absolutely engrossed. After that she went on to discover Sugar & Spike, Little Lulu, Pogo and countless other wonders. They may be old, but these are classics for a reason and the joy they bring is a delightful thing to witness.
(Walt Kelly’s Pogo, one a quartet of artists heavily featured in Toon Treasury, from The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. Used by permission of the Walt Kelly estate)
This is an American list of classic children’s comics but there’s a lot here that you might recognise if you’re of a certain age; Scrooge McDuck, Dennis The Menace, Melvin Monster, Gerald McBoing Boing (the Dr Seuss character), Pogo, Little Lulu and many, many more. At the core of Toon Treasury is a quartet of giants who take up a good quarter of the book: Carl Barks (THE duck artist), Walt Kelly (best known for Pogo), Sheldon Mayer (Sugar & Spike) and John Stanley (Little Lulu). Each of these masters of the form gets multiple entries and some of their best strips featuring their signature characters are included – wonderful, breathtakingly simple tales full of everything a children’s strip needs to make it great.
But there’s much, much more here. The book’s organised into sections, all pretty self explanatory: Hey Kids, Funny Animals, Fantsyland, Storytime and Weird & Wacky. The strips vary in length from single pagers to 22 page comics, but they all share something in common – a simple, wonderful, child-like joy of comics gone by, comics so wonderfully well written and drawn that they really are timeless things. And they’re funny. Just like funnybooks should be.
Where else could you find the adventures of Scrooge McDuck sharing pages with something as wonderful as Nutsy Squirrel pretending he’s an aeroplane? Or the beauty of Kelly’s Pogo alongside the simplicity of Little Lulu or Sugar & Spike? Or tales featuring Intellectual Amos shrinking into an ant’s nest, Captain Marvel in the land of Surrealism, Harvey Kutzman’s incredibly inventive Hey Look, Little Archie, Prince Robin and the Dwarfs, Supermouse and so much more. I could simply go on and on about the contents here but that’s mere detail. The important thing here is the collection and the emotions it evokes on reading it. Grown up readers will adore it for memories of childhood, real or idealised and children will simply love it because it’s full of fantastic, timeless, classic comics.
(The very first strip in Toon Treasury probably sums it up best – laughs and enjoyment all the way. Clifford by Jules Feiffer. Used by permission of Jules Feiffer)
I’ve got a christening to go to later this month as Godfather. I was looking for the perfect present for my new Godson (something as non-religious as I could get – I’m one of those atheist Godparents after all) and in The Toon Treasury Of Classic Children’s Comics I think I’ve found what I was looking for – a perfect gift for children, however old they (or you) might be.