Nice Art: When Anarchy Ruled the Funny Pages

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Designer Steven Heller profiles the latest in Pete Maresca’s oversized collections of turn of the century comic strips Society Is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of The American Comic Strip 1895-1915. Maresca’s Sunday Press Books measure 14″x17″ and predate similarly sized efforts from Kramers Ergot and IDW. His first two book reprinted Little Nemo in a life sized version but his last two collections have covered the glory of the newspaper strip at its insane zenith, a time when opening the Sunday funnies page was the equivalent of mainlining Adult Swim while snorting The Society of Illustrators. It was a broad, insane frontier that couldn’t last. (It was also a time of insanely prevalent racism, as I had to struggle to find two strips from the piece that didn’t include the horrid stereotypes of the time.)

The books, which retail for over $100, have found an audience: The two Nemo books have sold more than 12,000 copies, while his other print runs go from1,500 to 3,000 copies.

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His latest, Society Is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of The American Comic Strip 1895-1915, a surprising reprise of the earliest years of the art, which Maresca says has had little written about it. The histories commonly focus on classics like The Yellow Kid, Little Nemo, and Krazy Kat, and the Golden Age of comic strips. But there were hundreds of different titles created in the first two decades of comics and many are both influential and relevant, though they remain unknown to all but a handful of aficionados.


 

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