Thursday, January 03, 2013

My Comic Mom Review

I was able to get a decent amount of reading done over the holidays, and one book I stumbled across, almost accidentally, was My Comic Mom!! Golden Age Artist Vee Quintal Pearson!!! by R.D. McHattie. It's a Kindle-only book, but you can still read it using their online reader if you don't actually own a Kindle itself.

You probably haven't heard of Pearson. She didn't work at one of the major New York publishing houses, and her career in comics was relatively short, limited almost exclusively to the 1940s. Instead, she worked out of Minneapolis for the Catholic Publications Company. The stories she drew weren't filled with spandex-clad superheroes or anything from popular genres of the time. Rather, she tended to draw about Vasco da Gama and the Pony Express and Patsy Li; that is, somewhat fictionalized accounts of real people and events that probably aren't commonly known. Nonetheless, she did a lot of work -- possibly more than anyone else in the particular niche of comics produced by a Catholic institution -- and was better at it than a lot of her contemporaries.

As the book's title suggests, McHattie is Pearson's daughter. So it's no surprise that she had a level of access to materials that might be unheard of for just about anyone else. Not only does she have many of Pearson's original sketches and files, but she also has her personal memories to draw upon. And when those falter, she can pretty readily follow up with her siblings or other relatives for clarifications. From that sense, McHattie is probably the best suited to write this book.

The book covers Pearson's entire life, from her humble literally-raised-in-a-garage childhood through her comics career to her her post-comics life as what-was-frequently-seen-as-an-eccentric-homemaker. The book straddles the line between memoir and biography. It's not really objective or concrete enough to read as a biography, but it's more informative than most memoirs. McHattie's presence as the author is felt throughout the book with personal anecdotes and asides (including part of a date with a 22-year-old Penn Jillette!) but she also tries to back up her recollections with research.

Pearson's story was fascinating and there are lots of insights about how this unusual corner of comics publishing worked back in the day. My only real complaint is that the book doesn't feel quite finished yet. Don't get me wrong; it's well written and has been cleanly edited. But McHattie openly acknowledges several of the gaps in the overall story, and notes that she'll need to do more research. She also makes note of trying to put together a reprint collection of her mom's work, and has a message about how "Every sale helps develop the archive for this new eBOOK" both suggesting there's plenty more to come.

Also contributing to an unfinished feel is that there isn't any art in the actual book itself. Rather, McHattie directs readers to an online gallery which does indeed have some good examples, but not having them in the context of the book's narrative is a bit disruptive. The one piece of art in the book is the cover which, unfortunately, commits the cardinal sin of using Comic Sans.

But, like I said, the story was really fascinating and I got a lot out of the book. I'm all for digging up more information on the unsung, or sometimes even unknown, creators of the comic industry and My Comic Mom!! does a more-than-fair job of answering that call.

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