(Not merely an excuse for me to put up quick links for you to buy
stuff on Amazon through my site, although that never hurts.)
Mad Archives - Volume 2
I've been waiting for this book literally for five years -- since the first volume of the Mad Archives shipped, way back in 2002. That was hardly the first time I'd bought the material; in some cases it was actually the third or fourth time. The most recent at the time was, as I recall, a series of color newsstand super-specials put out in the mid-90s that reprinted the entirety of the original comic-sized Mad run -- good reading copies, but printed on the same shitty paper as every other issue of Mad Magazine until whenever they went glossy and lost their soul. If ever there was a book ideal for DC's occasionally fatuous Archives format, it's these classic Mads: some of the best, most important comics of all time, in a durable high-quality volume perfect for the reference library of any aficionado.
And then a funny thing happened: they stopped. I think the consensus at the time was that, basically, there were already too many copies of these stories circulating to interest anyone in yet another reprint, even if it promised to be as close to "definitive" as possible. The first volume has sat on my shelf all these years, lonely and cold, waiting for a companion, and finally, finally we see volume two. Given the rather ominous rumors about we've heard these past few months about the Archive program's dubious future, it is possible there may never be a volume three, at least in the series' present incarnation. (I will say that if any series ever cried out for the Absolute treatment, it's the Kurtzman Mads. Although they have yet to do an Absolute volume for anything earlier than the late 80s, it's practically tailor-made for the format -- extra large, just enough issues to fit snugly in one of those monstrous slipcases, easily more than enough reference material to compile some tasty extras, and major-league appeal to the casual non-comics-reading gift-book buyer. But I digress.) Regardless of whether or not we'll ever see another volume, I still intend to buy this volume, and I suggest you do the same. These are some of the most important comics ever made. They're certainly EC's most lasting contribution to the medium and to popular culture at large. The horror, sci-fi and war books may have made a splash and still command a loyal following, but their era-specific transgressive appeal dims with every passing year. Mad is still as necessary as it ever was.
It doesn't even matter that half these issues are devoted to spoofs of pop-culture ephemera which predates 75% of the current population of the United States. I also won't argue with the assessment that the later half of Kurtzman's Mad was better than the earlier issues, which depended far more on straight parody. (Unless I'm mistaken, this volume should include everything up to "Starchie", including the famous Basil Wolverton ugly girl cover.) Even given these facts, the first 23 issues of Mad remain essentially untouchable, and any caveats are strictly relative within that context.
New Young Pony Club - Fantastic Playroom
I hate compiling top ten lists, but I do so anyway in my capacity as a Popmatters writer. (Notice I never do any top ten comics lists? Because I never buy any comics anymore, because I'm poor.) It's usually an odious task involving all sorts of Solomon-like deliberations that don't really matter in any conceivable way whatsoever, but enough people who work for the site take it seriously that I try to do so as well. This year, however, before I even sat down to go over the possibilities for my list, I already knew what number one was going to be. What it had to be. There's no other album I've listened to so much this year, and I haven't been this excited about a new group since . . . well, it's been years. Maybe Bloc Party, but I don't even remember getting as excited about Silent Alarm back in 2005 as I did for Fantastic Playroom. You can read my review here. Anyway: ignore the hype or backlash or whatever you may have heard -- if you like good dance-inflected rock music with a taste of early Talking Heads thrown in for good measure, this is an album you need to own.
(I love how this video looks totally cheap, like the kind of videos you'd see on MTV back in the early 80s when music videos were filmed out of petty cash.)
(I'm glad they made more videos so I wouldn't have to post the clip for "Ice Cream" again. As much as I love NYPC, it's my least favorite track of theirs, probably the weakest on Fantastic Playroom. But if you haven't seen it, you can go here.)