by Wayne Markley
I think it is very hard to truly name the world’s greatest comic publisher since there have been so many different publishers over the years and all of the publishers have their own goals and intended markets. But one publisher that has been around for over 35 years now has published arguably one of the most diverse line of books ever and some of the greatest comics of all time. That publisher is a tiny publishing house in the Pacific Northwest called Fantagraphics Books. Fantagraphics was founded by Gary Groth and Mike Catron, with Kim Thompson joining them a year later. Over time, Mike Catron would leave the company and Gary and Kim would move to California and later Washington State. Over the years, they have published everyone from the Brothers Hernandez to Dan Clowes to Joe Sacco to Chris Ware to everyone in between. It would be impossible to discuss everything they have published over the years, but I am going to spotlight a handful of their books to show how diverse their publishing plan is and to offer some suggestions of some of the best books they publish so you can give them a try if you are tired of super-heroes 24/7.
First off is a brand new release (please check www.westfieldcomics.com for ordering information) called Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror of this 50s. This is a collection of over 300 pages of horror stories from the pre-comic code days. These are very hard to find horror comics which were done at the same time as EC Comics brightest moments. While none of these stories match the EC stories, the book does feature art by Bernard Baily, LB Cole, and others. It is interesting to read all of these rarely reprinted stories that clearly come out of the old time radio shows such as Suspense, but are illustrated to add an extra depth of gruesomeness. To see these stories in full color is a rare treat and this book is a true treasure. (If you like classic horror stories, you might also want to check out AC Comics Crypt of Horror series.)
In addition to the books Fantagraphics publishes that cover comic book history, and they have done quite a few of these, some to check out are Steve Ditko Archives, Supermen: First Wave of Heroes, and the Blazing Combat collection. Fantagraphics also publishes some very beautiful collection of classic newspaper strips. One of the most beautiful books they have done, and to be fair almost all of their books are top notch, is Prince Valiant. So far they have done two volumes of Prince Valiant by Hal Foster reprinting the first four years, with the original coloring by Foster restored. They are deluxe hardcover books that will take your breath away. It is storytelling at its best and the art is amazing. In Fosters fine line work you will see a sense of design and color that would influence artists far and wide from Russ Heath to John Bolton. Plus, volume one contains the famous Prince Valiant story that Jack Kirby “borrowed” the Demon from. Fantagraphics also publishes very slick collections of Captain Easy, the classic Popeye strips by EC Segar, Krazy Kat, and next year they plan to publish the complete Pogo and Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. That’s something to look forward to!
Fantagraphics also has a long history of publishing original material and discovering some of the most creative talents around. Over the years they have published the work of Dan Clowes, the creator of Eightball and Ghost World. They have published over 25 years worth of Robert Crumb’s comics and sketchbooks. They also published the early work of Chris Ware and his Acme Novelty Library. One of the longest creative associations they have had is with Los Bros Hernandez. The Brothers Hernandez (Jaime, Mario and Gilbert) epic story, Love and Rockets, has been published on and off for over 20 years. The book tells the moving story of a cast of characters that mixes soap opera, science fiction, lucha libre, and more. Over the years, Love and Rockets has gone from a magazine to a comic books to its current format, an annual trade of all-new material. The third volume just came out recently, please check www.westfieldcomics.com for availability.
I could write for a month about all of the great books Fantagraphics publishes, and this blog barely scratches the surface. I can guarantee you that is you buy a Fantagraphics book ,you will get a book of the highest quality, with whatever the subject matter is – historical, comics strip reprints, all new material. You will get top notch work in a beautiful package.
A further book I would like to recommend is Four Eyes Vol. 1: Forged in Flames. It is written by Joe Kelly and has stunning art by Max Fiumura. It is a perfect book for fans of Harry Potter and the like and it is collected into a very nice trade from Image Comics. As always, all the opinions in this column are mine and do not reflect the opinion of Westfield Comics or its employees. Please feel free to contact me at MFBWAY@aol.com where I welcome comments or review copies for future columns.