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The Someday Funnies, edited by Michel Choquette

Image from "The Someday Funnies"

The 1960s have a well-earned reputation as a turbulent decade that yielded its share of casualties, whether political, cultural or drug-induced. If there is any room left on this list, you could easily add The Someday Funnies, a star-studded anthology of comics about the Sixties that crashed and burned more than 34 years ago in a fog of frustration and financial ruin.

The Someday Funnies began its journey in 1970 when Michel Choquette, a Montreal comedian and writer, was hired by Rolling Stone magazine to assemble a comic book insert critiquing the Flower Power generation.

Thanks to his creativity and connections, Choquette's planned 16-page comic soon grew into a stand-alone hardcover including an eclectic roster with such marquee names as Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman and out-of-left-field recruits like Frank Zappa, William S. Burroughs and Federico Fellini.

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Choquette spent two years jet-setting across North America and Europe soliciting dozens of contributions, only to have Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner express dissatisfaction with the result and drop the entire project. Choquette found shelter for the book at a couple of big-name publishers, only to have them develop cold feet as well. He then tenaciously pursued private financing from an array of sources (including a young, flush Conrad Black) until the project sputtered to a halt in 1977.

More than $300,000 in debt, Choquette shelved the project, put all the art in storage and pursued a successful career as a filmmaker (he teaches screenwriting at Concordia University). Cue the inspirational music and fast-forward to the summer of 2009. That's when the Comics Journal ran a lengthy article about his long-lost dream project, declaring it "the most stupendous comic in the world." Soon, Choquette had signed a book deal and suddenly the El Dorado of comics was liberated from its four decades in purgatory.

Weighing in at five pounds and boasting more than 200 pages, this doormat-sized anthology is an undeniably impressive sight. Inside, it's packed with 129 never-before-seen comics by 169 contributors including Art Spiegelman, Ralph Steadman, Justin Green, Shary Flenniken and even Pierre Berton (who apes the style of his deceased friend George Feyer). And that's in addition to the all-star gang already mentioned.

And yet, spend some quality time with this tome and you'll likely find yourself getting over your initial crush. The more I explored this book, the more the hype and hyperbole faded, leaving me with a sad, undeniable reality: that The Someday Funnies is an overblown and deeply flawed book that disappoints and confounds in equal measure.

The first confounding thing you'll encounter is the supplementary material. This book is packed with it, including unhelpful (and unnecessary) timelines, multiple indexes (which turns a search for a specific artist's work into a chore) and enough essays to fill four normal books. And yet not a word from any contributor. Considering the book's history and illustrious lineup, this seems like a missed opportunity.

Then there are the strips themselves, which disappoint on a number of levels, including the art direction. The colour reproduction on most pages is so loud it obstructs appreciation of the comics. For example, Steadman's famous schizophrenic line work gets drowned in swaths of flat, slap-dash tones. Perhaps a better approach would have been to reproduce all of the art in its original black-and-white state; at least this would have reduced the amount of squinting I found myself doing.

Then there are the foreign-language comics, one of the book's anticipated treasures. Concerned about altering the original hand lettering, Choquette has instead placed the English translations near the back of the book. As a result, readers unlucky enough not to be fluent in five languages have to flip back and forth to much smaller versions of strips by Moebius, Guido Crepax and René Goscinny.

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Yet, all could be forgiven somewhat if the material were strong. There are some early strips by the likes of Spiegelman and Kim Deitch that are worth a gander, along with the lost Kirby and Eisner pieces and some welcome contributions by National Lampoon regulars Flenniken and Ed Subitzky, but for the most part this reads like a mad circus desperately in need of a ringleader.

Despite its faults, there can be little doubt that the editor's heart was in the right place. Yet in his quest to construct a massive comic about one of the most tumultuous times in modern history, he went spectacularly off the rails. It's almost as if his dream project became a curdled reflection of the very decade it strove to critique.

Brad Mackay co-edited The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist Volume 1. He is also the director of the Doug Wright Awards, a non-profit organization that recognizes the best in Canadian comics and graphic novels.

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