Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Starter Kit

By the time you see this, Julie and I will be on our traditional anniversary road trip. Just a little one, a weekend in Bellingham… but we are looking forward to it because we will finally get to meet our honorary grandson, of sorts.

Brianna is the oldest of ‘our kids’ that have become our family; the loose group of former Cartooning students of mine Pol Rua has dubbed “The Hatchlings.” You can see Bri here in this shot from an Emerald City show a few years back.

She started as my student, then became my first TA, and finally my colleague at the Y as an instructor herself. She went to college in Bellingham and ended up moving there permanently. Eventually she met Brandon….and toted him down to Emerald City to meet all his nerds-in-law shortly thereafter.

It was pretty obvious that Brandon was The One, and he took our teasing with remarkable good humor. (As I have often said, scaring the boyfriends isn’t just a perk, it’s a requirement. Julie was hinting very strongly that year that they needed to make it legal– this photo was from his second visit to see us at ECCC, so he’d demonstrated he could go the distance.) To Julie’s great delight, they did eventually marry, making Brianna’s the first Cartooning wedding we attended, and their boy Asher is the first baby to be born to one of ‘our girls.’

That was a while ago. Asher’s slightly more than a toddler now. We have yet to meet Asher in person, but when Brianna happened to mention that he liked Aquaman I knew what I had to do, and got this in the mail to him as quickly as I could.

I am reliably informed that this was a big hit.

Of course it was. I’ve never understood why there aren’t still Big Little Books; they are perfect for beginning readers. Not just because of the every-other-page illustrations, but because their small size makes them feel right to a kid, like it’s for them.

Emboldened by this success, I’ve been setting aside books and comics in a ‘for Asher’ pile. Just stuff I happened across cheap that I thought he might like.

Of course this one was a no-brainer. Tarzan: The Mark of the Red Hyena.

It’s not actually a kid’s-table version of an original Burroughs novel like most of the earlier Tarzan Big Little Books were, but an original by George Elrick. Very much in the Burroughs tradition, though, and it features Jane, Korak, and the Waziri along with Tarzan.

Maddeningly, the illustrator is not credited, but it’s from 1967, which is when Russ Heath was doing the Gold Key comics from more or less the same publisher; so if it’s not actually Russ Heath it’s somebody that was told to work in his style.

Another no-brainer was this one, the “Super DC Giant featuring Aquaman!”

I got this one off the stands when I wasn’t much older than Asher and adored it. The cover is by Dick Giordano but the interiors are all from the spectacular Ramona Fradon, including possibly my favorite page she ever did…

And we can’t overlook his classical education, so I threw in these four DC Specials from back in the day.

These are great old stories from the earliest incarnation of The Brave and the Bold. My hope is that they’ll serve as the same kind of on-ramp as the old Hanna-Barbera Musketeers cartoons did for me.

I found a couple of doubles of the old DC 100-pagers, so of course they went into the pile.

Obviously this is a little DC-heavy, and I happen to know that Brianna is all about Spider-Man, the Lee-Romita stuff in particular. She’d never forgive me if I ignored it. So I dug this old trade out of the library.

This is a lovely sampler of Spidey stuff from the 60s to the 90s, including this one…

And also this one.

So there you go. Christmas in July. Since the pandemic and then the cancer blew a giant hole through my teaching career, Julie and I haven’t had any youngsters to spoil, but Bri assures me Asher is more than happy to step up and assume that responsibility. I know his dad reads them to him, and I will be sure to let him know he has to do the voices. In fact, there may have to be a demo from Cartoon Grampa.

I’ll let you know when I’m back with the trip report. Hopefully soon.


  1. Edo Bosnar

    Man, this whole post makes me so happy. What great gifts! I’m almost jealous…
    And I have to say, you could have just posted the pic of Asher holding the Aquaman book and nothing else, and it still would have been perfect.

    And yes, I also *love* that Aquaman page by Fradon, ever since I saw it in, I think, a digest that reprinted the story.

  2. Tim Rifenburg

    That is a great starter kit for any kid but even more special when you are putting the time and thought into it for a loved one. I would definitely try to find the scholastic Bone volumes which start out comical and get more adventure and quest oriented as the stories progress. I was surprised a Barks Uncle Scrooge did not get added into the pile. Agree about the Big Little books. I am surprised a publisher has not revived them and just altered the size to a more manga or digest size. I had read or had owned a few in the picture you posted. Great memories flooded back when I saw them.

    1. Well, we really haven’t been actively looking so much as randomly encountering stuff at thrift shops and so on, and picking it up for “the pile.” Finding a Barks anything that way would be a miracle.

      Delivered the stack a couple of hours ago and it was quite a hit. Feeling a little smug. We are definitely on the prowl for Big Little Books now, that was the one he lunged at.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    The world lost a great publisher when Western went under. not only did they do the Big Little Books, they also published the Little Golden Books and other books in the Golden Book line, the Whitman line of puzzles and games (both book forms and board games and jigsaw puzzles); and, of course, Gold Key/Whitman comics. The Little Golden Books (some of the classics, plus new ones) still live on; but, the Whitman line and the other Western publications made childhood great.

  4. Bright-Raven


    The main reason there aren’t “Big Little Books” today is because Western Publishing, who did them back in the day simply doesn’t exist anymore – they were broken up as Whitman was bought out from Western Publishing in bankruptcy court and consolidated between DIC Entertainment and Random House in the late 1990s, early 2000s. (Remember when Shooter got the rights from Western to Solar and Magnus for Valiant? That came out of all the financial distress of Western Publishing as well – in fact, if Marvel had been paying ANY attention to what Western was doing, they could have prevented their own bankruptcy – they literally followed in Western’s bad business dealings, beat for beat. Western bought their own printer plants, their own trading card company, their own distributor, had multiple “Showcase Store” locations like Marvel wanted to do “Marvel Marts”, etc. that put them in debt beyond any hope of recovery.)

    Anyway, today all the rights to that brand are currently split between like four or five companies, and nobody wants to transfer rights to any one party to do the brand. Typical nonsensical stuff that goes on in corporate business, I’m sorry to say.

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