by KC Carlson
This time out, we’re looking at things that (allegedly) ship in the month of August, traditionally a quiet time in the comics world. Most of the big comic events are, by then, up and rolling along. This is also that point in the year where many publishers are starting to hold back some of their bigger book projects for holiday gift-giving (and wish list) season. (Although some may put out information now for books that don’t actually ship until closer to year end. Caveat emptor – and read your solicitations carefully for actual shipping dates!)
So, this month’s list veers a little more toward my personal interests than usual, and it includes more books instead of comics for a more general audience. That kinda seems to be the theme for the month – lots of interesting items from specific genres or aimed at more specific interest groups. Case in point: Image Comics has a bunch of interesting new projects and first issues this month (Guardians of the Globe, Morning Glories, Murderland, Seedless, Sullivan’s Sluggers, etc.), but most of them seem targeted at specific groups of fandom. So check ‘em out to see if they’re your thing. Or if you’re looking for something new to try out, this might be a good first stop.
As always, if you find (like me) that this month is a little light on blockbuster, break-out, jump-up-and-down, exciting things, you still have a couple of great backup options. First, try something new! There are an amazing variety of titles and concepts available these days – many of which may be undiscovered because every month there’s just so much to choose from. (Not even I can read – or afford – everything!) Also, if you find your basket on the light side this month, wouldn’t this be the perfect time to go back and grab something you had to pass up when it came out during that month packed with good stuff? Chances are we still have a copy, or if you don’t see it on the site, you could always ask about it! Sometimes items temporarily slip off the site (Gremlins!), so it just might be a matter of reminding us about something recent that you don’t see.
Enough rambling! Here’s the list:
1. Scary Godmother: Dark Horse is collecting Jill Thompson’s amazing Scary Godmother picture books (now out of print) in a big, fat (192-page), full-color collection. Scary Godmother (actually, she’s not so scary) is an amazing amalgam of format and style, originally designed as children’s books, but reading like comics, and truly entertaining for all ages. The series has won numerous awards, been turned into a successful stage show, and was developed into two fascinating animated specials (also an amalgam of styles as the characters were computer animated against hand-drawn backgrounds). This thick hardcover volume also includes extras, including the earliest concept designs for the utterly charming characters – even though most of them are monsters! So, come over to the Fright Side and meet Hannah, Scary Godmother, and all her “broommates”! It’s a trick and a treat!
2. Two Guys Named Joe: This is a must for all animation fans, a new biography of two largely unsung animation legends by John Canemaker, highly noted animation historian, animator, and educator. The two Joes are Joe Grant and Joe Ranft. They both died in 2005, and both left behind amazing animation legacies. Grant was 97 and worked for the Disney Studios, contributing ideas for Silly Symphonies, Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo. 40 years later, he returned to Disney and contributed to Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan, and The Lion King. Joe Ranft built on the traditions of the past forged by Grant and others to become the top animation storyboard artist of his generation. Some of the films he worked on include The Nightmare Before Christmas, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, before he became one of the creative founders of Pixar, where he worked on Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., and Cars. He was also the voice of Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug’s Life and Wheezy the penguin in Toy Story 2, among other voices. Ranft was 45 when he died in a car accident. This should be an exceptional biography and heavily illustrated. Published by Disney Editions. 192 pages.
3. Polly and Her Pals Volume 1: The first in IDW/The Library of American Comics’ new oversized (12” x 16”) “Champagne Editions” features one of the most underrated – yet influential – comic strips of the 20th century, Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her Pals. Considered one of the essential masterpieces of comic strip art by historians and critics, Polly and Her Pals (the “Pals” being mostly Polly’s parents and cousins) debuted on December 4, 1912, as a daily strip called Positive Polly. It initially revolved around the adventures of Polly Perkins, one of the first comic strip pretty young girls (a precursor to the later Blondie and Fritzi Ritz characters). Polly was a flirtatious proto-flapper of the Jazz Age and Suffragette movements. Eventually, the strip changed focus (like many long-running strips), and Polly’s father Paw became the main character of the strip. The Sunday strip began in 1925, and here’s where Sterrett really cut loose, with crazy cubism-inspired graphics and innovative use of color and design. The strip is considered – along with Krazy Kat – to be the peak of Art Deco-style comics and highly influential on future comic artists. The Sunday strips are the focus of this particular collection, beginning in 1925 and including every Sunday page through 1927. (IDW has plans to collect the dailies at a later date in a different format.) Strip fans will note that the Sunday “toppers” Daman and Pythias and Dot and Dash will also be included. The series is edited by Dean Mullaney, cover designed by Emmy-winner Lorraine Turner, and is highly recommended.
4. Magnus, Robot Fighter #1: It’s Phase Two of Dark Horse’s Shooter-tastic revival of classic Gold Key (and Valiant) comic properties. In this first issue (of 4), the re-imagined Robot Fighter takes on the immensely powerful half-robot, half-man (and all-trouble!) Big Guns! Written by Jim Shooter and illustrated by Bill Reinhold, it could be another classic in the making! Also this month: issue #2 of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom. But the way-cool thing for old comic fans is that DH is reissuing the (out-of-print) Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Archives Volume 1 as a moderately-priced trade paperback! So you can now get the first seven issues of the original Gold Key Solar for under 20 bucks.
5. Comic Book Histories: The biography Fire and Water: Bill Everett, the Submariner, and the Birth of Marvel Comics, written by Blake Bell, covers Sub-Mariner creator Everett (with the cooperation of the Everett family) and also looks at Everett’s work in the horror, romance, and crime genres. This 216-page hardcover includes many full-color illustrations, published by Fantagraphics. Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics looks at Robinson’s long career in comics as a member of the original Batman creative team (with a hand in creating Robin, comics’ first sidekick, and The Joker), through working in most comic book genres, and ultimately into political cartooning and syndicated comic strips. Written by N.C. Christopher Couch, the book also discusses Robinson’s work as a teacher, historian and curator, and tireless advocate for creators’ rights. 224 pages, fully illustrated, and includes an introduction by Pete Hamill and an informative forward by Dennis O’Neil. Published by Abrams.
6. Art of Drew Struzan: You might not know his name, but you’ve been in love with his work for years. I first heard about Struzan back in the late 1980s when I started visiting comic book artists’ houses and hearing them talk about him in reverent tones. When I finally got over being the dumb guy and asked “Who is Drew Struzan?”, all the artists had to do was point at their own walls – where dozens of framed Struzan-painted movie posters hung. (And then I felt even dumber.) If you’ve seen a George Lucas or Steven Spielberg movie poster, you’ve probably seen his work, starting with the 1978 poster of the Star Wars re-release where Struzan painted the human figures. (Another artist –Charles White III – took care of the tech characters and technical details.) Struzan continued with the Star Wars series and the Indiana Jones series of posters, as well as favorites like E.T., Blade Runner, Cannonball Run, Risky Business, The Goonies, Jurassic Park, Hook, Hellboy, and the Harry Potter series. Other popular series that he’s painted include the Back to the Future films, the Don Bluth films (notably, An American Tail), and the Muppet films. This 160-page collection features over 300 pieces of artwork, including preliminary or unused poster art. There’s also an exclusive interview with the artist, revealing the secrets of more than a dozen of his most famous projects.
7. Essential Superman Encyclopedia: Third in the trifecta of insanely detailed reference books about DC’s Big Three (the Batman and Wonder Woman volumes are already available), this 496-page softcover includes all the info you’d ever want to know – and more – about the Man of Steel, all his various incarnations, his friends, his foes, his powers, his Kryptonian heritage, his dog, the cat, the horse, the monkey, his (former) career as a Superbaby, his island full of Amazon women (oh, wait, that’s Wonder Woman. Sorry.), and knowing the authors, probably everthing that Red Kryptonite has ever done to him. (Oh, and maybe the definitive explanation about the Pocket Universe! Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease…) Written by Robert Greenberger (DC’s unofficial living, breathing encyclopedia – and Westfield columnist) and former Superman writer Martin Pasko, this book shows these guys know their stuff! Hundreds of illustrations from the Golden Age to today, by hundreds of artists – many in full color. Plus a new cover by Gary Frank. Don’t forget – it’s Essential! (And look for an interview with Bob Greenberger about this book on the Westfield blog very soon!)
8. Mad’s Greatest Artists: Sergio Aragones: Hopefully the first in a long line of books about Mad artists, this one features Mad’s “marginal” artist in a 272-page collection of his “greatest hits”, hand-picked by Sergio himself and assembled chronologically, starting with his first work in 1963. It’s going to be hard to choose from all the great stuff, since Sergio was also one of Mad’s most prolific artists. He’s only missed providing marginals in one issue since he started, when they were lost by the Post Office. His partner on Groo, Mark Evanier, once estimated that Sergio had written and drawn more than 12,000 gag cartoons for Mad. Editor Al Feldstein once said, “He could have drawn the whole magazine if we’d let him.” A special pull-out poster of marginals is included with the book, as well as a Q&A Introduction by Sergio and long-time Mad editor Nick Meglin and a Foreword by Matt Groening. Sergio also provides a brand new cover. Published by Running Press.
9. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: No, not four of the dwarves from Marvel Comics’ upcoming adaptation of Snow White as written by Mark Millar. (Kidding! Kidding!) Check out the full title: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great. This one’s for those of us who were around during NatLamp’s early, classic years in the 1970s, where this was the place for cutting-edge, topical comedy and satire. Half prose and half comics, National Lampoon was the forerunner to current comedy powerhouses like The Onion, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and The Colbert Report. NatLamp artist Rick Meyerowitz (he created the art for the iconic Animal House poster) has selected the funniest pieces from the magazine’s first decade and has sought out the surviving creators for their revealing and outrageous stories. There’s a couple of dead guys who won’t be appearing – Doug Kenney (screenwriter: Animal House, Caddyshack) and Michael O’Donoghue (writer and Mr. Mike on Saturday Night Live, National Lampoon Radio Hour) – but I hope their work is included anyway. 320 pages of articles, artwork, and commentary. Published by Abrams.
10. Marvel Stuff: The big-ticket item this month is the 1,160-page Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades Omnibus. Which is both brilliant and the biggest, weirdest collection of comics I think I’ve ever seen. Bob Greenberger will be along in a few days right here at the Westfield Blog to drop some details on this Omnibus collection that is so big, it needs its own room. (Speaking of Bob, he’s also going to be briefing you soon on IDW’s way-cool collection, Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein, one of those rare, quirky things that I don’t know much about.) … Meanwhile, back at Marvel, my old pal Stuart Moore is writing what looks to be the most interesting Sub-Mariner book in years, Namor: The First Mutant #1. Tying in closely with what’s currently happening in the Mutant-verse (specifically X-Men #1), this new book will be be pencilled by Ariel Olivetti. (For more Namor, check out that cover for Uncanny X-Men #527! Discuss.) . . . In the big Anything Could Happen (Good or Bad) Dept. are Amazing Spider-Man #640 and 641, the double-sized conclusion to the Joe Queseda-written (and partially drawn) One Moment In Time, where “every question is answered, the past laid to rest, and Spider-Man swings into a new direction for the future.” Okay, my question: “Can Joe Queseda create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it?” Discuss. (Yes, it’s exam month at Marvel this month. This one’s for extra credit!)
What, No DC Recommendations? Nope. I’m giving DC a big time-out this month for bad behavior – the publication of Justice League: Cry For Justice, Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal (especially #3), and Titans: Villains for Hire Special. These are three prime examples of the new DC, where death, maiming, children in peril (and ultimately murdered), queasy sexual undertones, sadistic torture, heroes who cold-bloodedly kill, on-screen use of hard drugs, and the general increase of torture-porn elements in its mainstream superhero titles (none of which have any kind of mature reader warnings) has caused this reviewer to stop pre-recommending DC Universe product before I see what it actually is. (That is, I no longer believe what is being fed to us in the DC solicitations.) The general darkness and hopelessness of most of the ongoing DC Universe books, including publishing a series of relentlessly grim comics under the banner of “Brightest Day” (ever hear of Truth in Advertising laws?) has now made me leery of the entire line. As a former DC editor, I am very familiar with the need for conflict to tell powerful and effective stories. However, this current trend of shock storytelling has finally crossed a line. It’s astounding to me that a company with DC’s rich history has now resorted to publishing the comic book equivalent of snuff films to regain lost market share and internet buzz.
Enough. DC – go stand in the corner until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.
And by the way, this is just me saying this – not anybody else at Westfield. So no retaliation against them. You know where I live. Westfield is still carrying the entire DC line. We’re not telling anybody not to buy their product. I’m still buying some of it. I just can’t recommend any of it in advance given the risk it might be horrible or outrageously offensive.
KC Carlson has been reading comics since 1960. He doesn’t very much enjoy feeling like he has to shower after reading them.