BARNABY VOL. 1 by Crockett Johnson | reviewed by Travis DuBose • Cleaver Magazine
BARNABY VOL. 1 by Crockett Johnson introduction by Chris Ware; Art direction by Daniel Clowes Fantagraphics, 336 pages reviewed by Travis DuBose In his foreword to its first collected volume, Chris Ware compares Barnaby, Crockett Johnson's 1940s newspaper strip, to other early influential comics like Little Nemo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts. He goes on to say that Barnaby is “the last great comic strip,” a description that ends up being a little unfair to any first time readers of Barnaby: though there are moments of greatness in it, Volume One mostly points forward to the strip's potential, rather than showcasing Johnson's brilliance firsthand. This difficult start is consistent with the beginnings of other strips, even great ones: the ability to deliver a solid joke, every day, in three or four panels is mastered by very few and even fewer, if any, can do it consistently from the first strip. Barnaby, however, has one of the best rocky starts I've encountered in the medium, and its later greatness is well worth its early fumbles. Crockett Johnson may not have the immediate name recognition of Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson, but his work is a mainstay of American childhoods: he authored Harold and the Purple Crayon and its sequels, and readers of the Harold books will recognize in Barnaby's protagonist, five year old Barnaby Baxter, the prototype of Harold. Additionally, there are several Barnaby strips featuring a half moon seen out the window over Barnaby's bed, the final, iconic image of the first Harold book. Harold readers will also recognize the art style: stark, bold lines over simple backgrounds that nonetheless show an impressive command of perspective and space.
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