Earlier this month we wrapped up what has been my favorite project I've ever worked on. I've been pretty lucky to work on some amazing books by many of my favorite cartoonists, but this… this is something else. This is Crockett Johnson's BARNABY . This has been my #1 dream project for well over a decade, and it's now real.
Which is all to say, I'm genuinely thrilled to be the first one to present this sneak peek at Vol. 1.
If you're unfamiliar with BARNABY, let me allow Chris Ware to set the stage. This is from his introduction to Vol. 1:
"I never thought I'd see this day, but the book you hold is, well… the last great comic strip. Yes, there are dozens of other strips worth rereading, but none are this Great; this is great like Beethoven, or Steinbeck, or Picasso. This is so great it lives in its own timeless bubble of oddness and truth…" — Chris Ware
BARNABY is the long-lost comic strip masterpiece by Crockett Johnson, legendary children's book author (Harold and the Purple Crayon) and illustrator (Ruth Krauss' The Carrot Seed).
Featuring the misadventures of five-year-old Barnaby Baxter and his cigar-chomping, bumbling con-artist of a Fairy Godfather, J.J. O'Malley, BARNABY deftly balanced fantasy, humor, politics and elegant cartooning in a strip that captured the imaginations of kids and intelligent adults alike, including Dorothy Parker, Charles Schulz, W.C. Fields, Gardner Rea and Milton Caniff. We will be collecting in five volumes the entire, original ten-year run from 1942-1952.
Speaking of BARNABY superfans, our books are being designed by Daniel Clowes, which would sound more inspired if he weren't really the only man ever considered for the job. Dan is the person who first introduced me to the work of Johnson over 15 years ago, and I know this series means as much to him as anyone. I couldn't be happier with his designs. You've seen Dan's final cover for Vol. 1 above. Here's Dan's initial thumbnail rough from his sketchboook earlier this year; as you can see, he pretty much nailed it on the first take:
Here's a similar peek at one of Dan's initial "storyboards" for the book, this time for the opening spread of Jeet Heer's introductory essay:
… and here's the final, more-or-less identical final version, executed by our own esteemed Tony Ong and Clowes:
Dan makes things easy.
Here's a teaser of the entire jacket:
I can't end this post without mentioning my series co-editor, Philip Nel. Phil knows more about Crockett Johnson than anyone. Period. If you like Barnaby, please read Nel's definitive bio: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature from the University Press of Mississippi.
In addition to his invaluable help behind-the-scenes, Phil has provided two indispensible resources for our first volume: a comprehensive biographical essay on Johnson focusing on the creation of Barnaby, as well as "The Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men's Chowder and Marching Society: A Handy Pocket Guide," a stunningly comprehensive glossary to everything referenced in BARNABY. He'll even explicate formulas like this:
Anyway, there's much more to be had in this first volume, but I'm honestly reluctant to tip our hand too much. I can't wait for people to see this book. Featuring the first two calendar years of the strip, 1942-1943, you're in for a dense, rewarding treat. Look for it in stores by late-March or early-April (we'll update you as we go).
And once you finish Vol. 1, look for Vol. 2* in Spring 2014:
* This one's just a mockup and by no means final.