Charles Addams definitely had his own unique view of the world – and it was that unexpected quirkiness in his otherwise mundane-looking comics that gave him fame. While most will know of his Addams Family movies/TV, it is interesting to note that most of those characters didn’t even have names in the original comics until they hit the screens. Rather, they were used as a reaction to the cookie-cutter masses in NYC that Addams frequently saw out his window or when he was out on the town.
The comics are nicely curated and all deal with the Big Apple. So although there are a few appearances by the Addams Family, this is mostly about juxtaposing the expected with the unexpected in that City. In the introduction, we’re given a nice overview of the artist and how these comics were him – his personality and view on life translated into sketches on paper. Especially in mid Century big city America, he must have been a truly amazing person to know. That genial quirkiness is the heart of what makes his work so appealing.
The graphics are nearly full page or two-to-a-page, with similar themes grouped together. E.g., images with a theme of wind up cookie-cutter workers are grouped together, each image making its own statement. This made it easy to make comparisons to how many ways Addams could draw humor from a single situation. Once you start to look closely, you’ll begin to see just how cleverly this book has been put together – whether you have two images on a page that have people in rows on a bus or people in rows on rowing machines, ways that kids subvert Central Park, different takes on the subway, amusing ‘archeology of New York’ takes, even how New Yorkers take trains. These aren’t just random images thrown together.
Most of the cartoons are black and white and with a few color images in between. The nature of Addams’ deceptively simple art is that you really have to look at it for a bit to figure out the punchline; meaning, everything looks like it should be mundane and then there is something extraordinary. E.g., a cartoon will show a students art class with the professor looking on smugly as his students carve a statue from a dramatically posted model – until you look closely and see one student has carved the smug professor instead and was sticking pins in him like a voodoo doll. Or a man at a busy ship terminal looks over his paper in a corner where Uncle Fester is buying trip insurance with his luggage next to him. The catch? If you look closely at Fester’s luggage, it has stickers from the Andrea Doria, Hindenburg, and SS Vestris on it. It’s those little details that turn the mundane into a good laugh.
The introduction is short – only one page long – leaving the rest of the book to explore the cartoons. Because of the excellent layout (and of course the inspiration of Addams’ cartoons themselves) this makes for a book with a lot of reread value. As well, it tells a lot about NYC in the 1940s+: conformity, tight structure, stifling mores, and pursuit of progress. But there are also some very prescient cartoons that tell a lot about how the problems of today were evident even back in the mid century. In all, a great read! Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.