He done her wrong: the great American novel
First published in 1930, the famously wordless He Done Her Wrong is Milt Gross' graphic masterpiece, the result of his prior collaboration with Charlie Chaplin on the 1928 silent-era film classic The Circus. Sharing the same goofy, over-the-top comic mayhem that was Chaplin's trademark, and preceding the expressive, cartoony art style of MAD magazine legend Harvey Kurtzman, all of He Done Her Wrong's hilarious slapstick, tragic heartbreak, heroism and villainy, character development, high emotions and raucous thrills somehow manages to take place, astonishingly, without a single word of text, or conversation, or even a footnote.
The story follows the convoluted misadventures of a naive frontiersman with superhuman strength exploited by a larcenous robber baron who eventually double crosses our hero and steals his girl. The pursuit leads to New York City where a sordid cast of cantankerous salesmen, officious government bureaucrats, bumbling hospital attendants, a lusty widow with a defensive Chihuahua and one angry barber wreak more havoc in our characters' lives than a hundred Little Rascals in a Marx Brothers film.
Born in the Bronx in 1895, Gross would go on to spend his teenage years working as an office assistant at the Hearst publication The New York Evening Journal. He befriended the paper's renowned comic strip bullpen that included such early 20th century comics legends as Tad Dorgan, Cliff Sterrett, Harry Hershfield and Tom McNamara, who allowed Gross to cut his teeth drawing background and dialogue lettering jobs on their strips. He eventually won space on the paper's sports page for his first large daily strip titled Kinney B. Alive, making its debut in 1916. The strip only lasted for one week, but subsequent efforts such as Frenchie, White Feitlebaums in the South Seas, Count Screwloose of Toulouse and the best-selling books Hiawatta Wit No Udda Pomes and Nize Baby asserted more staying power. Gross' stylized cartooning won the public devotion of such noteworthy fans as President Calvin Coolidge and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. According to The Comics Journal, Gross's skillful work displays a "Fast-action style Furiously tangled line work A freewheeling onslaught of immensely droll squiggles apparently done at top speed Inspired slapdash like nothing else in the cartoon art of his time [Gross] was a master of graphic invention and a one-man comic riot."
He Done Her Wrong is a classic comics work, legendary among aficionados, and arguably the 20th century's first graphic novel. Fantagraphics Books is proud to put this back into print in a facsimile edition, unabridged, with newly designed covers.
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