Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Puzzling Period

 Sunday Surprise Day.

Four years ago I shared scans of a rare Harvey Kurtzman book. Kurtzman is best known for being the creator of Mad and doing Little Annie Fanny for PLayboy with Bill Elder. Fans will also know he did a remarkable line of war comics for EC and had a funny filler page in all of the Timely titles in the post war years called Hey Look!. In between Hey Look! and Mad he struggled. He had a partnership with Bill Elder and Carles Stern, did some work for Varsity, but mostly was looking around for new accounts. 

One of those included a company called Kunen, which produced children's puzzle books. Not vooks with puzzles, but books that were puzzled themselves. All of these books had thick double carton pakes and pieces your could take out (and sometimes switch for a nem effect). I don't know who originated this gimicky concept. It sounds like something Kurtzman would think of and he may have. I really should reread that part of Bill Schelly's excellent Kurtzman biography, But as far as I remember even Bill did not find out anything about that period I ddn't already know and Kurtzman himself was always quite tightlipped about it.

All in all Kurtzman did several of these books. Some he did with René Goscinny, a French/Argentinian jewish cartoonist who was staying in New York at that time and even shared or rented a desk at the socalled CharlesWlliamHarvey Agency. That is also where he met another French artist called Morris and started writing his already succesful comic strip Lucky Luke for the French-Belgian magazine Spirou. After a year or so he went back to France, started working with Albert Uderzo and evenually became famous as the writer and co-creator of Asterix and the editor and co-originator of the magazine Pilote.

Another artist who did some books for Kunen was Fred Ottenheimer. Not much is known about thos silly artist, except that he went to the same school als Kurtzman, Bill Elder and later Mad artist Al Jaffee. After doing a couple of books for Kunen, he did filler pages for various Fawcett comics (most of them unsigned and unidentified, although I am keeping a list) and became a publisher when he inherited his family's company. I don't know if he was part of the coterie of Kurtzman in the late forties (Al Jaffee wasn't), but he did become friends with Morris and shared an appartment or a studio with him for a short time (as well as publishing his one and only childrens book).

The one puzzle book I shared here (linked below) was done by Goscinny on his own. In my accompanying text I said I welcomed scans of the others. This week, I saw that a comment was added by Sue (I threw away the mail before noting her last name) offering just that. We exchanged information and she sent me the scans for one of Kurtzman's own books. I kindly let it go out to the world. Two down, four more to go.


blog van michel said...

Zelfs hier is Kurtzman een bijzondere tekenaar! Bedankt voor het delen.

Alex Jay said...

The girl on the cover reminds me of Adele, Kurtzman's wife. Ottenheimer didn't attend school with Kurtzman. Ottenheimer immigrated to the U.S. in 1941, the same year Kurtzman graduated from high school. Bill Schelly didn't say Kurtzman and Ottenheimer went to the same school. The first time Ottenheimer is mentioned in Schelly's book is when he rented table space to Kurtzman. I believe Ottenheimer was responsible for Kurtzman doing three puzzle books for Kunen. Rene Goscinny got Kurtzman to do the covers on four other Kunen books. Anyway, you can read more about Kunen, Ottenheimer and other artists on my blog at this link:

Alex Jay said...

I updated my post on Kunen Books. Teenagers Kurtzman and Ottenheimer collaborated on a comic book cover when they worked for Lou Ferstadt. Here's the link again,