Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Review: GOOD GIRL ART by Ron Goulart

Prolific author Ron Goulart wrote one of the best books. His history of comic strips in America THE FUNNIES is one of my all-time favorites. When I heard about his latest book, I thought that Goulart was wasting his time.

GOOD GIRL ART is a large, over-sized glossy trade paperback full of good girl art from comic books of the 1930s through today. What's Good Girl Art? From the Hermes Press Web site:
"The term refers not to magazines that contain drawings of virtuous girls but rather to those featuring good drawings of attractive women. These pretty girls are most often scantily, sparsely or provocatively clad."
We're not talking about girls that are "good," we're talking girls that look good --designed to appeal to young men.

One of my favorites is Madame Satan, a woman who hunted men down so she could deliver their souls to her master, the Devil (who else?)! Darn silly stuff. Ironically, she first appeared in Pep Comics, the title that would showcase the squeaky clean Archie.

The art is particularly great fun to look at, of course. From the cover by Frank Cho to Sheena to Vampirella, flipping through this volume will show you the people at Hermes took a lot of time and care with the lush visuals, focusing on published and very rare original art. The art is particularly well photographed -- I love looking at originals and all their blemishes are there to linger over.

Along with the GGA visual sizzle, Mr. Goulart provides plenty of steak. And the themes of the book are with us today.

There are a couple of books out about the government crackdown on torrid comics in the 1950s, but none of them do the scholarly job that Ron Goulart does in linking the cause of the publishers (sales) with the effects of their good girl art (corrupting America's youth).

"Packaging, as with most mass market products, is almost always an important factor in selling. At Standard [a comic book company], it had obviously been decided that Good Girl Art was now selling better than Superhero Art and that was what went on the covers. The idea was that you could trigger an impulse to buy more easily with the image of a young woman in a bikini than with one of a muscleman in mask and cape."
Goulart paints a picture in the chapter "The Wertham Crusade" of an American public ready and eager to accept the assertion that comic books, "the bastard offspring of newspaper comics,*" were the cause of growing juvenile delinquency.

This is, of course, again, darn silly in hindsight.

I was wrong when I said that Mr. Goulart was wasting his time on a frivolous subject. Even now, we have trouble sorting out decency in a free country.

Are there really a dozen Danish cartoons so indecent that they are the direct cause for riots and deaths and cannot be shown in the newspapers or on TV? Do creators have the right to produce what they want? Should the Web be censored?

GOOD GIRL ART has, of course, some great and rarely seen art by Matt Baker, Lee Elias, Bob Lubbers, Nick Cardy and many others. It's the scholarly Goulart who gives this big book some serious historical heft. An excellent addition to your bookshelf.

Paperback: $29.99 ISBN #1-932563-88-1, 224 pages, color, 9" x 12"
Hardcover: $49.99 ISBN #1-932563-87-3, 224 pages, color, 9" x 12"

*Time Magazine, October 4, 1948, as quoted in GOOD GIRL ART.

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