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‘Ernie in Kovacsland: Writings, Drawings, and Photographs from Television’s Original Genius’ (review)

Curated by Josh Mills, Ben Model, Pat Thomas 
Inspired by the Career of Ernie Kovacs
Published by Fantagraphics Books

 

I don’t know if they still have them but back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s there were big ol’ coffee table books on various aspects of pop culture that consisted of big bunches of ephemera, a handful of pics you’ve seen a thousand times before, and some almost generic text about the books’ subject. They often looked expensive and sometimes had $29.95 or $19.95 prices on their covers but you were lucky when you found them on a bookstore’s bargain tables for only $4.99!

What you didn’t know, of course, is that $4.99 was actually the ONLY price these books were ever sold at.

Ernie in Kovacsland reminded me greatly of those types of books.

Ernie Kovacs was a comedic genius and well ahead of his time as far as visual humor that took full advantage of the medium of television.

That is a given and I will hear no arguments there. This book, from Fantagraphics, is NOT a biography—although it contains some biographical elements. Nor is it a picture history, as the pictures it has are often interesting but sometimes seem random.

What it is, then, is a collection of ephemera—ticket stubs, postcards, correspondence, network memos, movie posters, a menu, a balloon, some old newspaper clippings, a magazine article or three, excerpts from scripts both finished and unfinished, from Ernie’s novels, both finished and unfinished, and 17 pages from a biographical piece written by his widow, Edie Adams. That last bit is actually the most interesting part of the book.

So who is this for, exactly?

It doesn’t work as an introduction to Ernie Kovacs as that most certainly needs video accompaniment. As a celebration of Kovacs, it feels lacking, as well, with its concentration of minutia that only hardcore Kovacs fans would really want to dig into and, considering I count myself in that number, I still found myself glossing over many a page. Much of the book is impressive layout, but even that tends to get old quickly and at least one section actually seem to be missing portions of pages such as one that starts a joke but then only partially answers it.

The text bits by Ben Model, Ann Magnuson, and Sparks’ Ron Mael were my other favorite parts, even though they were all gushy and a tad repetitive. My least favorite thing is how all the photos and illustrations are identified not on or near where they appear but in the back of the book, so if you even realize that in the first place, the reader has to keep flipping back and forth to find out what’s depicted in any given picture. Even then, one very intriguing photo shows Ernie with a number of people, some of whom I half recognize. In the back, only a few are identified, in spite of several others being celebrities.

All in all, I have to say that any book that keeps Ernie’s name from being forgotten is a worthwhile effort, but overall I felt Ernie in Kovacsland was a disappointment and can’t recommend, I’m afraid.

 

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