Here at The Pure Mood, our love of movies, comics and cartoons go beyond what we see on the page and watch on the screen. That’s why we’re proud collectors of art books that lavishly explore the creative process, from sketches, design work and the incredible journey of an idea into a finished product. That’s why we’re proud to present ART DE ART, a weekly feature devoted to spreading awareness of various ‘art of’ collections produced by some of the best publishers in the world!
Harry Lucey is, without a doubt, one of my favourite cartoonists to ever grace the comics medium. His characters are so alive and unique, so unstoppably themselves, that reading his work I often find myself completely immersed in an ‘invisible art’. By this I mean, when I’m reading the work of Kirby, Mazzuchelli, or many others, I’m lost in their inventive, stylistic sensibilities. But with Lucey, I’m not really thinking of the style, or the inventive layout, or just how far the comics medium can be pushed – I’m just lost in the lives of characters who feel real and living. And in my books, that’s what cartooning is all about. I don’t want to pidgeon-hole an entire medium, and I’m not trying to detract from the amazing work of the artists mentioned above, I just mean to illustrate what Lucey does so beautifully, an act that seems so simple but is almost impossible to do well.
Lucey mainly worked on the ARCHIE title, and he really understands the character better than almost anyone before or after. It’s hard to completely nail down Archie, because he isn’t dumb, and he isn’t self-obsessed, even though he constantly appears that way. He’s really just extremely naïve and optimistic. I mean, in my interpretation, he’s not pitting Betty and Veronica against each other maliciously. Archie’s just a kid who loves two women for very different reasons, and can’t sort out in his head what to do about it. The humour comes from that indecisive quality, that constant insecurity that he’ll make the wrong choice. That’s what makes him such a relatable lead. He can’t make it through life without making some sort of decision, without facing responsibilities that are often cripplingly intimidating, and everything constantly blows up in his face because of that. The stories presented in this collection, mainly written by Frank Doyle, feature an Archie making it through the world happily, despite all the odds. In ‘HAPPY DAYS’, Archie embraces the endless possibilities the world has to offer. Lucey has Archie skipping down streets, proclaiming love to strangers, patching things up with Reggie…but every time, naturally, things go wrong. But what Lucey portrays so well in Archie’s reactions is that he isn’t frustrated, bemused, surprised, or even in awe of any of this. He accepts the pitfalls in his life with a bizarre sense of detachement, as if saying, ‘In some ways, this is my fault.’ As irresponsible and unaware as Archie often his, I really think he does understand that the problems he faces aren’t appearing from some unknown cosmic unfairness. In ‘TIGER’ and ‘THE REJECT’, we get to see his sense of morals laid out pretty clearly. He doesn’t question right or wrong, as much as he has an instinctive sense of it. That’s what makes him, specifically in Doyle and Lucey’s stories, such a great representation of an ‘average, All-American’ kid. He’s instinctive, indecisive, irresponsible, yes, but he is in a sense clear headed.
Seeing Lucey’s artwork at such a larger size magnifies his genius that much more. Take the panel above. Not only is this a fantastic example of opposing lines of action and wonderful, simplistic composition, this is character work at it’s finest. The juxtaposition of Archie’s outspread arms and legs, head back and eyes to the sky, with Jughead’s wormlike sullenness, slumped posture and line of sight set firmly on the ground…that’s a thing of beauty. It sets the two characters apart in philosophy, in the way they hold themselves, in the way they think the world treats them. IDW and Archie did a fantastic job with the reproduction in this collection – if you’re used to seeing Lucey in the digest size, you’re in for a real treat. And the colouring looks fantastic. Unlike many of the MARVEL MASTERWORKS collections, or other lines of reproduced comics, they’re not nearly as much pumped up, over Photoshopped contrasty values. Everything is bright and colourful and pops, but not in a jarring way. In the fun way that an Archie comic should, and it complements Lucey’s art work magnificiently. There’s a great introduction by Jaime Hernandez, who tells of how he got into comics, and how Lucey’s work was what he kept going back to, again and again, even in his teenage years. Heranandez has a lot of great insights on Lucey’s work, and his quote on the back of the book says it better than my longwinded post ever could. This is a very well produced collection.
Of course, this is a collection of Lucey’s work, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to not talk about his girls. His portrayal of the female form is legendary, and this collection offers many fantastic examples as to why he may be the reinging king of pretty-girl cartoonists. Under Lucey’s hand, Betty and Veronica are strong, impulsive young women. His graceful line captures so well the unique postures of the two characters. Betty is a little more awkard, a little more fit to girlish bouts of skipping and prancing, and isn’t afraid to joke around a bit. She’s a little more rambunctious in these stories than we’re used to seeing, often pouncing on Archie, and looking sarcastically at the audience when things are going bad for the boys. His portrayal of Veronica is my all-time favourite. She expects nothing but the treatment she would give to herself, if she only could. The way she walks down a street, with Archie begging after her…I mean, nobody got Veronica’s sass the way Lucey did.
The only downside to THE BEST OF HARRY LUCEY is that it’s very much that. A lot of wonderful stories, ranging from the wackiest (Archie switches brains with a dog, Mr. Lodge hires Frankenstien as a butler) to the brilliant (look no further than ‘THE DOLL’ one of my all time favourite ARCHIE stories) to the inventive, laugh-out-loud slapstick that Lucey did so well (‘IN THE STRETCH’ is a master-class in comedic timing and cartoon posing). But I would have loved to see so much more. Original pencil drawings, sketches, a bit more of a bio besides the brief paragraphs in the back. Pictures of the man at work, some images of the infamous naked Betty and Veronicas Lucey was so well known for drawing around the office. Now, this isn’t so much criticism as day-dreaming, because this collection never promises to be an ART OF book. It’s certainly an art book, meant for the collector/enthusiast, but the title does implicity say BEST OF. In that sense, one can be forgiven for the lack of prelimnary sketches and behind the scenes photos and drawings.
Overall, THE BEST OF HARRY LUCEY VOLUME 1 is a fantastic collection, reproducing and reintroducing some of the greatest cartoon art work of the last century. Lucey was long lost in obscurity to the stylized talents of Don DeCarlo, and it’s fantastic to see IDW/Archie proud to celebrate the art of an industry legend. Whether you’re a casual Archie fan, a cartoon nut, or a Lucey obsessive like myself, this collection will satisfy and impress you. Wonderful, charming stories, immersive, clear storytelling populated with larger than life characters…what’s not to like? If you want to lose yourself in a world of real youth, of characters stumbling through the dark, interacting with other people that seem like complete odd-ball weirdos, all while laughing out loud and studying some of the greatest cartoon art in history, look no further THE BEST OF HARRY LUCEY.