Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Tall Tales by Jaffee

Recently bought at a fair price from a reputable auction: original art for the Feb. 12, 1962 syndicated comic strip "Tall Tales" by the great Al Jaffee.

Jaffee's idea for "Tall Tales" was to turn comics convention on its side--literally 90 degrees. Each strip was tall and skinny, with gags composed to suit the space. Jaffee is much better known for his work for MAD Magazine than a short-lived newspaper comic, so why was I eager to have this? 

First, because I doubt I could afford a Jaffee MAD piece. But also: anyone who's heard me talk or write about my small collection of original comic art knows that I have one rule: everything has to come with a story. I don't just collect to collect. Every piece is by a friend, or acquired from the artist directly, or was drawn by a cartooning hero whose influence I can effuse about for longer than you can bear to hear it.

As I mentioned when Al Jaffee died in April, I met him at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, when I was scheduled to sign books at the Abrams booth immediately after him. We had a half hour to chat, and Mr. Jaffee was as interesting, charming, and twinkly as you'd want him to be. The book he'd come to sign was a "Tall Tales" collection by Abrams. Ah ha! There's the connection! I treasured my signed copy until it and my house disappeared. 

When I won the auction, I emailed Editor Charlie, friend and editor to both Jaffee and me, and asked if my strip happened to be in the book. Charlie said "No" and gave me an interesting explanation for it. I had forgotten that "Tall Tales" began as a pantomime strip--no words--which made it popular internationally. A syndicate executive insisted that Jaffee add captions because, he said, "Americans don't like wordless cartoons." In the preface to his book, Jaffee wrote, "I reluctantly acquiesced and, as a result, the words went in and my foreign clients went away," as did the strip shortly after.

I think that background gives the piece some interesting history and texture. Mr. Jaffee would have preferred his strip to remain wordless but it's still a great gag, beautifully drawn. And it comes preloaded with a story.

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