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Who knew there was a comic book based on Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals), the long-running series of short films featuring those lovable urban scamps, Mickey, Buckwheat and Spanky? And by Kelly, the man responsible for Pogo, no less. This is a sweet, idiosyncratic collection of comics dating from 1942–1943. Kelly, then a young animator and fledgling comic book artist, was given the job of bringing these icons to life on the comic book page; while it took him a few issues to find his groove, he eventually rendered the gang in his own eloquent visual style. As in all of his work, Kelly's characters are gently nuanced, his lively brush strokes giving them an unvarnished realism that jibes perfectly with their cartoonish surroundings. Kelly makes the characters his own—these comics never feel like adaptations. In these issues, the gang embark on their usual adventures, including making a circus, foiling a crime caper or two and even visiting a movie set. These comics are suitable for nostalgic adults and adventurous kids alike, though Buckwheat's unfortunate but contemporary racist rendering might require some explanation. But all in all, it's an exuberant and transportive collection. (June)
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Although the Our Gang film series was on its last legs in 1942, Dell Comics launched a comic-book version of it that is more than a footnote to the films because it was written and drawn by Walt Kelly, seven years before he brought Pogo to the newspapers. Ironically, while the films were by then slick and mannered, having lost their low-budget modesty after MGM took over producing them, in Kelly's comics they regained much of their earlier, unaffected charm, thanks to his winsome story lines, homey characterizations, and engaging cartooning. The simple, unassuming tales evince little of the wit that would distinguish Pogo, yet they exert nostalgic appeal as they depict the little-kid cast publishing a neighborhood newspaper, putting on a backyard circus, tussling with the rival Gashouse Gang, and, in these World War II-era creations, holding air-raid drills, planting a victory garden, and collecting scrap for the war effort. Movie maven Leonard Maltin and Kelly biographer Steve Thompson contribute informative introductions, and Bone creator Jeff Smith supplies the Kellyesque cover. Gordon Flagg
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