Long before the term “graphic novel” was coined to explain long-form comic strips, the artist Milt Gross was making precursors to the format. Gross, a 20th-century artist, animator, and screenwriter who was best-known for manic characters that mixed English with Yiddish-sounding malapropisms, was behind several newspaper strips including including “Dave’s Delicatessen” and “Phool Phan Phables.” He was also behind the wordless novel He Done Her Wrong: The Great American Novel and Not a Word in It—No Music, Too (1930), which is considered an early masterpiece of graphic storytelling.
All of Gross’s work has been republished and anthologized to date with one exception. But for the first time since its original publication in 1939, Milt Gross’ New York: A Lost Graphic Novel is being published this month by comics historian Craig Yoe under his imprint Yoe Books. The edition is edited and introduced by Yoe—who previously published The Complete Milt Gross Comic Books and Life Story (IDW Publishing)—with a foreword by comics legend Jim Steranko.
The graphic novel follows the adventures of the sausage-nosed, conniving, yet amiable con man Pop from Gross’s syndicated strip “That’s My Pop!” Compared to other great strip artists of the day, the drawings therein might seem less refined—but Yoe argues the contrary. He emphasizes that most early comics were stiff with formality that belied their humor. “What Jack Kirby [creator of Captain America] did for the Superhero school of comics, Milt Gross equally did for the class clowns,” he said.