Collect this now! The complete Help magazine

With the release of the new Humbug two-volume set, the upcoming biography by Denis Kitchen and Dark Horse's Trump collection, 2009 is surely the year of Harvey Kurtzman.

I'm going to be reviewing Humbug tomorrow, but for today's purposes, I wanted to talk about one of the few remaining holes in Kurtzman's ouevre, namely Help! magazine.

Spanning 1960-65 -- the time period between the close of Humbug and the creation of Little Annie Fanny for Playboy, Help! is not as well-regarded as the former or as slick and risque as the latter, but it's notable for more than being Kurtzman's longest running stint on a magazine after his departure from EC and Mad.

For one thing, Kurtzman gathered an impressive array of talent around him while editing this thing (which, I should probably note for all you trivia buffs out there, was published by Warren). In addition to longtime stalwarts like Jack Davis and Will Elder, the magazine featured work by Will Eisner, Gahan Wilson, Shel Silverstein, John Severin, Arnold Roth, Ward Kimball and Al Jaffee.

Heavily reliant on fumetti or "photo-funnies," the magazine employed the services of a number of comedians, both established and then-unknowns to grace these spreads, such as Dick Van Dyke, Roger Price,  Henny Youngman, Jean Shepherd, Woody Allen and John Cleese,  I should also note that both Gloria Steinem and Terry Gilliam worked as editorial assistants on the magazine (in fact, it was at Help! that Gilliam first met Cleese).

But more significantly, Help! seems to have been a testing ground for budding cartoonists that would go on to lead the underground comix movement. A surprising number of artists who in a few years would completely reshape and re-energize the medium cut their teeth on Help! To wit: Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Skip Williamson and Jay Lynch. In many ways, Help! can be seen as laying the groundwork for the revolution that was soon to follow.

Even apart from that, however, there's another, equally significant reason to try to republish Help! -- Goodman Beaver.

Goodman Beaver was Kurtzman and Elder's precursor to Little Annie Fanny: a naive boy scout of a fellow whose attempts to prove the inherent goodness of man -- or just get the girl -- inevitably result in disaster. It's some of Kurtzman and Elder's sharpest satire and easily up there with anything produced in the pages of Mad.

Kitchen Sink published a collection of Goodman stories back in 1990, but with one notable exception. The best story in the series by far, "Goodman Goes Playboy" was left out, as its initial publication resulted in a flurry of lawsuits from Archie Comics, who didn't care for seeing barely altered versions of their characters sell out to the Hugh Hefner lifestyle. Kurtzman ended up handing over copyright to the story to Archie and promised never to publish it again. Even though the copyright has since fallen into the public domain, I can't imagine the firm that kicked Dan DeCarlo to the curb would be willing to see this story out in print again. Thus, it will probably take a publisher with the money and willingness to fend off a potential lawsuit to get this material into some sort of complete, collected form.

And while I'd be extremely happy with a complete Goodman Beaver collection, I am exceptionally curious to see what else lay in the pages of those magazines. Apart from the occasional Crumb collection, very little from those days not Kurzman or Elder related has been published. I believe folks when they say it's not as high quality as the Trump and Humbug material, but I'd really like to make that final judgement for myself. Without having to utilize Ebay.

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