Intellectual Amos

Posted by on April 6th, 2010 at 1:14 PM

I really dig the new Toon Treasury of Children’s Comics from Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman, being human and all, but since this is TCJ I feel obliged to provide a contrarian bitch.  So here goes: as great as it was to get metric tons of Walt Kelly, Carl Barks, and Sheldon Mayer (especially Sheldon Mayer), I was hoping for a few more obscure creators, surprising discoveries, and general weirdness.  There are some good oddballs in there, don’t get me wrong, but I could’ve given up one or two saccharine Walt Kelly Animal Comics pieces in exchange for another comic along the lines of Intellectual Amos.

Intellectual Amos!  The serial adventures of a bald, brainy, loquacious little boy in overalls and his sidekick, Wilbur the Goblin (and occasionally other recurring characters, like the brilliantly named Horrible Horace, The Ghost Who Failed)!  Purveyor of useful facts about ants, malaria, mercury, and other things a boy needs to know!  How simultaneously awesome and nerdy!  Creator André LeBlanc was a lifelong journeyman cartoonist best remembered, if he’s remembered at all, for drawing the still-popular Picture Bible in the 1960s.  His art on Intellectual Amos is clean and illustrative, full of careful detail, more reminiscent of a good children’s picture book than of a comic from the 1950s.  LeBlanc may not have been a creator on the level of Barks and Mayer, but from what I’ve seen he compares favorably to classic workhorses like John Stanley, and his work deserves a closer look.

But I admit I mostly like Intellectual Amos because I have a soft spot for educational comics, and the only things I love more than educational comics are educational comics of dubious accuracy.  One of the Amos stories in the Toon Treasury, for example, finds Amos and Wilbur shrinking down to explore an anthill; they observe ants “herding” aphids, cutting leaves, and forming scout parties of soldiers, without noting that these activities all evolved in different species of ants (and Amos is unlikely to find South American leafcutter ants on his Midwestern farm).  When this kind of thing happens, I’m always torn between pedantic annoyance and dopey comic-book love.  The only thing I ever learned from the Metal Men is that mercury is the only metal that’s liquid at room temperature, but that’s done little to dampen my enthusiasm for the Metal Men.  Speaking of which, the very first Intellectual Amos story is about mercury, and now I’m a little concerned about the plethora of old educational comics portraying mercury as really nifty to play with.  Turns out comic books really could rot your brain.

I like educational comics that are genuinely educational, too.  I adore Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe and his histories of everything else, and entomologist Jay Hosler’s Clan Apis (a much more carefully-researched comic about our friends the eusocial insects) and The Sandwalk Adventures rank among my all-time favorite comic books.  But the half-cocked earnestness of Intellectual Amos has its own charm.  Also, Amos might be the only comic-book hero whose power comes from having read and memorized every book in the library, and that appeals to the eight-year-old Encyclopedia Brown nut within me.

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3 Responses to “Intellectual Amos”

  1. Chris Duffy says:

    Hi, Shaenon! Just a note to say that I love Intellectual Amos too. Before I was drafted to the team of supernerds that helped Art Spiegelman assemble the Toon Treasury, I had seen an image from the strip somewhere and borrowed some old comics from Paul Karasik (who for some reason has an amazing Quality comics collection) to read a bunch. I can say with some confidence that the strips that ran in the treasury really were the best ones. Though it was always drawn beautifully, a lot of the strips you didn’t see were sort of meandering adventures (and not in a good way)…many involving drunks or pirates … or both! There might have been a couple more contenders for reprinting, but just barely. Still, I must admit, I’d buy a “Complete Intellectual Amos”…

  2. chancefiveash says:

    Intellectual Amos also appeared in the Spirit Section for a time as LeBlanc was an assistant of Eisner’s on the Spirit strip…an unpublished comic story of his was recycled as a Spirit section as a matter of fact.

    I’m not always won over by the stories, but he was an excellent cartoonist. The stories are a joy to look at!

  3. Vivienne says:

    Hello!

    I just came across your blog, and I am so happy to read your kind words about my father, Andre Le Blanc.

    Never in his lifetime did Andre ever think people would discover his little comic strip, which in many ways was his alter-ego. If you had known his life story, you would have known that Amos was in many ways Andre…dropped off in the NYC public library by a widowed mother, someone who used his powerful intellect and creative skills to overcome tremendous odds of poverty, bias and disadvantage.

    Thank you for your blog!

    V.