Harvey Kurtzman’s comics version of the classic insect fable was originally produced in 1960 for Esquire magazine, and almost 50 years later it’s still a remarkably relevant work. Perhaps that should come as nor surprise; 50 years is awfully recent compared to the original fable’s suspected vintage (Heck, the Bible’s Book of Proverbs includes a version of it).
Of course, it might also come down to the fact that this is a Kurtzman comic we’re talking about, and the late, great cartoonist’s work boasts a vitality and originality that makes it always seem fresh and new. (When I first encountered his work, it was his covers to the earliest issues of Mad that were reprinted in various price catalogs and histories of comics, and I remember being quite shocked to learn that those drawings were done before my parents were born, but looked just as fresh as the previous Saturday’s Saturday morning cartoons).
Kurtzman’s The Grasshopper and The Ant is a 37-page story, with each page consisting of a single large drawing, the edges of the page making each page its own de facto panel, with the lovely hand-lettering in dialogue balloons sometimes breaking the single image into several moments, by virtue of the time it takes to read all the words. (We probably shouldn’t get into this now, but Kurtzman does some pretty amazing stuff in these pages when it comes to manipulating time through the interaction of the words and pictures…it’s particularly amazing given the perfect uniformity of the pages and panels; given the format, each page should “last” as long as every other one, but that’s not the case. Shit, this is a comic not just to read, but to study).
You probably know the basic story. There’s a grasshopper and an ant. The former wants to sing and dance and play all year around, while the latter works gathering food; when winter comes along, the grasshopper has nothing to eat and either starves or is saved by the ant so he can survive to learn his lesson.