4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I've always been a fan of Gahan Wilson, ever since I first discovered his cartoons in Playboy. I preferred him over the other cartoonists because his drawings didn't look like anyone else. He drew this morbid, crooked characters, and had the most twisted sense of humor I'd ever seen. He is also the only Playboy cartoonist who never had to rely on a naked gal to get his joke across. He also contributed to the National Lampoon, a magazine I discovered after growing out of MAD. The editors at the Nat Lamp were looking for artists to contribute to a comics section they were adding to their magazine, and Gahan Wilson came up with an idea that might have seemed unoriginal at the time, but was in fact, the most original idea of all. A story about a kid, who actually acts like a kid, and goes through all the horror and sorrow that an actual kid has to go through.
Now, most comic strips dealing with children rely on a gimmick of some sort. Either the kid lives in a dream world, or has an imaginary friend only he can see, or is nothing more than an adult transposed as a kid. The hero in Nuts is none of those. This is a kid who must confront the fear of what monster lurks in the shadows of his room or down in the basement, but who nonetheless has to tell his parents he is going to see a Disney nature film, when all he wants to see is another monster flick. If any of you remember what being a child was, you haven't read Nuts yet. Once you read this book, you will really remember what being a child actually was like. Remember building those airplane models that looked so cool on the outside of their boxes, only to find out that you glued certain parts wrong or forgot others, and it always ended up looking totally different from what you thought it would actually look like? Remember going to summer camp where they had you doing worthless things, and your only thought was of getting back home to read your comic books instead? Remember that first time you saw a girl and you didn't feel the same thing for her as you felt for your other friends? This and countless other situations are just some of what's waiting for you inside this book.
I remember reading Nuts for the first time in the National Lampoon. This strip would always open the Funny Pages section, where all the cartoonists drew their strips. Consisting of various panels arranged in three tiers, with an introduction under the logo in the first panel, we would then follow the kid (we never get to know his real name, as he is the kid in all of us) through a series of mishaps he has to go through. Almost two-thirds of each panel is taken over with dialog, and the bottom third is left so that Mr. Wilson can draw his kids, though we mostly only see their heads, as there is hardly any space left for anything else, and what little space is left, is covered with cross-hatching from Mr. Wilson's pen. So we aren't getting any cutie-pie kid frolicking in the playground or playing baseball with his little friends. No, in this strip we follow the kids thoughts as he has to go through the grueling events every kid has to go through; getting sick, going to school afterwards and not understanding a thing of what the teacher says, suffering through summer camp, visiting your grandparents, picking the groceries for your mom and then noticing that you had put the money in a torn pocket of your jacket, etc. Actually, all the stuff we all had to go through. Yet, through Mr. Wilson's pen strokes, all this produces a warm feeling of déjà-vu that will eventually bring a smile or even laughter to the reader, from the apparent, yet so true, ordeal the kid has to go through.
When I saw this book for the first time, it was in a comic shop way back in the early '80's, and I immediately grabbed it in sheer surprise that someone had actually had the good taste and decided to collect all this strips in a single book. When I was about to pay for it, the vendor at the counter asked me whether I knew who the person that drew this book was. And I pretty much told him all I've been telling you, and ended saying that Nuts was the best book ever written about what being a child really was like. The guy just nodded and leafed through the book... But you can't just leaf through this book! Mr. Wilson doesn't do cute drawings. You've got to read the strips to fully appreciate this book, as the combination of dialog and art has never been so perfectly matched. It's almost like a signature, a signature only one person can do and no one else can imitate.
But you know what? I always felt like I was the only person in the world who knew Gahan Wilson (although I've never met him in person). Whenever we talked about our favorite cartoonists among other fellow cartoonists, I always mentioned Gahan Wilson and was always met with blank stares. So I had to explain what he did, and at the time there were no books on his work and no internet, so I had a hard time trying to explain what his work looked like. Let's just say that without Gahan Wilson there would be no Piraro or Gary Larson. Also, there would be no Nuts...
But you know what? I always felt like a had a secret that no one else knew. That I had a book that collected the entire run of the strip Nuts, and that I was the only person that knew about it. And now it's about time you too get acquainted with the strip Nuts and its author, thanks to Fantagraphics, and become part of the elite of fans of Mr. Gahan Wilson and his strip about the kid (as once read, you'll forever be a fan of this book).
The artwork throughout this book is sharp and clear (maybe because it was scanned from the originals?) and the endpages reproduce the original 3D version of one of the strips, though I wonder if anyone can read them, as they overlap onto another page, making it totally unreadable. Also, the strips that appeared in color in the magazine are reproduced only in black and white. Other than that, this book collects the entire run of the strips, features an appreciation by Gary Groth, and is a hardcover. So what more do you want?
You won't regret buying this book, I promise you.
Andrew C Wheeler
- Published on Amazon.com
Even if the cover is a bit overreaching -- it claims that this work is "a graphic novel," when it's not that, at all, by any of the competing definitions -- it is thrilling to see such a vital, and nearly forgotten, work of comics coming back into print, cleaned up and reorganized and ready to surprise a new generation of former kids.
NUTS was a half-page strip Wilson created for the NATIONAL LAMPOON in the 1970s -- running regularly from '72 through '81, and on-and-off for a half-decade after that -- which quickly became one of the brightest spots in an excellent comics section that's been, again, mostly forgotten now. (The other great highlight of the '70s NatLamp comics, to me, was Shary Flenniken's "Trots and Bonnie," which taught many of the first and most important things I learned about girls.) There were occasional short clumps of strips in "Nuts," but very little overall continuity: each strip was a separate event in the life of The Kid. Wilson's protagonist was always nameless -- clearly a version of himself, growing up in a time somewhat earlier than the '70s -- an Every-Kid navigating the daily outrages and horrors of a child's life.
Wilson was asked by the Lampoon to do a horror strip, but he headed in a direction they didn't expect: what's more horrible, he thought, than to be small, nearly helpless, usually confused and always subject to the whims of a race of beings massively larger and stronger? Being a kid is a frightening and uneasy thing, a lot of the time, and the mythologizers of childhood consistently forget and ignore that. So Wilson put that all back in -- the fascination with movies that are too scary, the irrational fears, the first brushes with death, the creepy adults, the other kids that you hardly understand and the parents you can't understand at all. And, even more than that, the way that kids will keep trying new things -- magic tricks and horror movies, in the case of this particular Kid -- to see if that's what clicks, as they feel their ways forward to the adults they will become eventually.
Some of these strips do build -- there's a strong sequence set at the typically appalling summer camp Tall Lone Tree, and The Kid has a best friend (equally nameless, as far as I can tell), the only person he's able to completely communicate with -- but most of them are individual moments, as Wilson points out one particular thing that was infuriating or sad or just puzzling about being a kid.
Wilson's art is always grotesque, in the best sense, but NUTS mostly avoids his trademark monsters and creatures for regular people and their surroundings -- though all drawn in that uneasy Wilson style. He also crammed his panels full -- even when the dialogue didn't threaten to overwhelm the drawing (this was a word-heavy strip, full of talk and of The Kid's thoughts), his figures were a bit larger and dominating than the viewer would expect, as if Wilson's camera-eye was too close and seeing too much.
NUTS is one of the best works, and one of the few single book-length works, by one of our time's best and most idiosyncratic cartoonists -- it may not quite be for "everyone who was ever a child," as the fatuous ad slogan sometimes puts it, but it is for everyone who really remembers how terrible and lonely and infuriating it can be to be a child.