Saturday, December 09, 2006

Nick Mag Presents: The Best of Nickelodeon Magazine

Nick Mag Presents: The Best of Nickelodeon Magazine
display date: until November 28, 2006
various contributors

I have reviewed many anthology or multi-story comic books in the breadth of the A Comic A Day challenge, but after last night’s brief and perplexing experience with Zoot!, I’ve decided to analyze the subject completely once and for all. The issue of Nick Mag Presents in question is a perfect window of opportunity to broach this topic, as it features the best comic strips Nickelodeon Magazine’s notable ten-year run. (An “All-Comics Issue” counts by my A Comic A Day standards, as it contains a single issue’s worth of sequential art.) I purchased this issue a few weeks before Thanksgiving, in an effort to see if a local drug store carried comic books on their magazine racks (they don’t), and because of its length, I’ve waited for an adequate day to read this compilation with the effort and attention it deserves. Consistent readers of this blog know that recent entries have been brief, thanks in part to my hectic work schedule, and admittedly, I’ve deviated from the dedication A Comic A Day deserves. Thankfully, with the exception of escorting a few deserving kids on a shopping spree early this morning, today’s rainy weather offered the time and the inspiration I needed to settle down with Nick Mag Presents. We’re slowly but surely getting back on track.

Flipping through this issue of Nick Mag Presents, my initial impression is awe at the sheer amount of varied artistic talent that brings this package together. Starring characters as well known as Spongebob Squarepants, and other strips as exclusive to Nickelodeon Magazine as Impy & Wormer, featuring respected talents like Scott McCloud, Stuart Immonen, and Kieron Dwyer, this project is a veritable who’s who for fans of children’s comics, and the medium of comics altogether. From the experimental sequentialism of Craig Thompson’s “Tediously Detailed Adventures of Juanita & Clem” and John Accurso’s “Walk This Way” to the minimalist “footer” strips that run along the bottom of several pages throughout the issue, the format is utilized to the height of its potential and is a visual treat for readers of all ages. I wonder if the artistic cleverness of some of these strips would be lost on a younger audience, but at the same time, where else would budding illustrators first experience these experimentations? Even without the words (which we’re getting to soon, I promise), Nick Mag Presents stands on its own as a perfect jam piece of the latest and greatest styles in comics today.

Regarding this issue’s content, I profess an admiration for the subtle educational slant the editors imbued throughout, instilling an appreciation for comics as a vehicle for humor and sophisticated modern pop art. (I mention the editors because I happen to know one. Dave Roman is a fellow small press exhibitor, the writer of Quicken Forbidden and the cartoonist behind Astronaut Elementary, and a very pleasant acquaintance to bump into every year. The guy is a gentleman and a scholar, but I don’t know him well enough that to affect this review, only to recall the Nick Mag panel I attended at SDCC last year, featuring among others the charming James Kochalka.) Look no further than Scott McCloud’s “Drawn to Comics” supplement, one-part education/one-part encouragement to aspiring artists, for proof of an academic intent; additionally, the provoking inclusion of The Terrors of the Tiny Tads, a newspaper strip that ran more than one hundred years ago, is a historical lesson in the founding fathers of modern Sunday comics. The brief but hilarious interviews with regular contributors to the magazine rounds out a comprehensive look at the process, just short of taking pictures of the artists at their drawing desks. And how funny is that anyway?

Now, I work with kids, part of the reason why my schedule is often consumed with extracurricular activities, and I wonder if the length of this issue would be a deterrent for their stereotypically short attention spans. Then again, considering I read parts of this issue at a time throughout today’s rainy afternoon, and that none of the strips exceed four pages in length, children can presumably come and go from the material at their leisure. In fact, the length invites the possibly and explains why this issue is justifiably displayed on the magazine racks for so long. This stuff is timeless. Further, anyone interested in what makes kids laugh need look no further than these artists’ separate but cooperative efforts. (Separate in their individual styles, but cooperative in their attempt and desire to create an entertaining youth-oriented product.) Fart jokes abound, that’s for sure. Also, at least two strips deal with characters losing their noses; if that’s more than a coincidence, I don’t know. Boy/girl relations are addressed gently, more as subplots than catalysts in and of themselves, and bullying, pranking, tattling are all frequent issues that kids can obviously, easily understand. Summarizing these strips would take too long and be counterproductive to their crucial visual interplay, so I won’t bore you and butcher the material any more than necessary. I’ll simply conclude by noting that this was the most entertaining anthology of any I’ve read in recent memory, and the most inspiring. Print cartoons are a long-way from extinction, as some cyber-purists may believe.

As I’ve referenced before, during another panel discussion at last year’s Comic Con, Danny Fingeroth (or one of his peers, I forget now) mentioned old anthology comics, like some of the sci-fi or western works I’ve reviewed in months past, as the proverbial training grounds for that era’s up and coming talent. With just a few pages’ worth of story to worry about, with characters less popular or engrained as mainstream superheroes, young artists need only worry about honing their craft. Although this format has been mostly lost in contemporary comics (even yesterday’s Zott! was only a cooperative brotherly effort), Nick Mag Presents keep the concept alive with jam issues like this, and their monthly “The Comic Book” insert in the regular Nickelodeon Magazine. Further, with material blatantly intended for kids, a fond fanboy can’t help but wonder if this reading experience is what comics were like in their earliest days, when they were stereotypically “for children.” (And corrupting them, right, Dr. Wertham? I know after reading this issue, I farted more!) The seemingly simplest material that the A Comics A Day challenge reviews strikes me as the purest, the most intensive to the overall spirit and potential of the medium as a whole. Coincidence? At the risk of getting slimed, I confess, I don’t know.

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