by Wayne Markley
With Spring here, I thought it would be a good time to look at some of the recent releases that might make good Summertime reading. Now a few things before I begin. Some of these books are brand new and may not be available for ordering yet (most of them are – Roger), but please check back at www.westfieldcomics.com for availability. Secondly, these are books I personally enjoyed and they may not be for everyone. I have tried to pick a wide range of titles so hopefully, no matter what your tastes, there is something that might appeal to you. And finally, Spring is here but being Wisconsin, this means that Winter may return tomorrow or Summer will be here in two days as Spring is traditionally five days here is the Midwest. Now onto some great books.
First off is Paying For It, the newest release from one of my favorite creators, Chester Brown. I have found Chester Brown’s work over the years to be some of the most creative (Ed the Happy Clown) to the most personal biographical material ever done (The Playboy) to Canadian history (Luis Riel) and a bunch thrown in the middle of these genres. While Chester does not put out a lot of comics, what he does put out is always top notch in terms of storytelling and creativity. Chester’s art is not for everyone, and is a unique style, but his ability to weave a story is second to none. I would rate his creativity up there with Tezuka in his ability to tell a story where you have no idea what is going on but, by the time you reach the end it all makes sense and it was a hell of a ride. Another thing I greatly respect about Chester Brown’s storytelling is his matter of fact honesty. This is biographical material. He tells everything with brutal honesty. Like his book The Playboy, which told the story of his youth and fascination with Playboy magazine, this new book is a very honest account of his choice to visit prostitutes. It is for mature readers due to content, but the honesty and storytelling are without par. This is not a recommendation of his choices, but it is a stunning read and very insightful look into why men make this choice. Also, there is an introduction by Robert Crumb (how appropriate) and it is published by Drawn and Quarterly Books.
And now for something completely different. Bond, James Bond. No, not the classic Ian Fleming novels, which are very good by the way, but the first two James Bond Omnibuses published by Titan Books. While it is not well known in America, there was a James Bond newspaper strip published for over 20 years in England and Europe. Over the last ten years or so Titan Books has been publishing collections of the newspaper strip in very nice oversized collections. But these were not done in the sequence they were published. Now Titan has gone back and re-collected the strips and is putting them out in the order they originally ran in the newspapers. While these new printings are smaller than the original Titan collections, and the paper is less white (the oversized books have a very bright paper which makes the black and white strips look great) these new collection are a better read in that the stories follow up and build on each other and they maintain the continuity of the artists on the strips, which did change over time. There strips are a great look into the 1960s and the cold war. These are a rough and tumble world of spies and gangsters. And these comic adaptations follow Mr. Fleming’s original novels, not the movies that were based on the name of the books. There are 11 stories starting with the first one from 1958. There are two volumes so far from Titan and there is at least one more planned. If you are looking for great entertainment and enjoy Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books or Ed Brubacker’s Criminal, you should give these a try.
Also from Titan Books is Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Fighting American trade. The Fighting American was Simon & Kirby’s redo of sorts of Captain America, but this time it was the 1950s. It is pure superhero fun with very nice reproduction. It is interesting from both a historical viewpoint and because it is old fashioned superhero storytelling. Titan is attempting to collect all of the Simon and Kirby material that DC Comics (Newsboy Legion, Boy Commandos, and Sandman) and Marvel (Golden Age Captain America) have not collected. In addition to this Fighting American collection, Titan has also published the Best of Simon and Kirby and the Simon and Kirby Superheroes, both deluxe color hardcovers that are highly recommended.
DC recently released the first volume of what I am assuming will be two volumes of Neal Adams’ Deadman. While a lot readers will only know Deadman from the Blackest Night and Brightest Day storylines, these are the original stories from Strange Adventures in the 1960s which were more of a crime comic than a superhero story. It was loosely based on TVs The Fugitive, but the stories are very good and the art is spectacular. The second story where Neal Adams went back and re-did the inks is not all that great. This material is a reprint from the Deadman Hardcover DC did a number of years ago and in that collection Adams insisted on redoing the inks so I guess that is all DC had for this reprint collection. It still holds up as an example of DC experimentation with characters and storytelling in the late 60s/early 70s and is worth reading. I only wish someone (IDW?) would collect Neal Adams Ben Casey newspaper strip, without Neal re-inking it of course.
DC has also recently reprinted three hardcovers that Joe Kubert has done over the last ten years telling stories that are not traditional Kubert material. Like Will Eisner, in his later years Joe Kubert has chosen to tell stories about his life, or aspects of it. It is told in a format very similar to Eisner’s autobiographical graphic novels he did at the end of his career. Here, Kubert tells stores of his own life, Yossel (about the Holocaust); Jew Gangster, a fictional story based on real events he saw in his youth; and Dong Xoai: Vietnam 1965. This is the true story of the battle of Dong Xoai that was at one time syndicated to newspapers in the 1960s. All three of these books are very well done, and like Eisner, show an elder statesman of the industry trying new things and building his legacy beyond traditional comic books.
Finally there’s Genius, Isolated, the first volume of three planned volumes devoted to the life of Alex Toth. It is no secret that I think Alex Toth was a highly underrated genius when it comes to storytelling and his work outside of comics is largely unknown by many (he was essential in the creation of Space Ghost after all), his life and output in the field of comics is just amazing to behold. This first volume is an amazing collection of stories, sketches, biography and background. While reading this book is it obvious that the authors Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell love Toth’s storytelling as much as anyone, and they have pieced together his life and made it a vibrant story filled with art and quotes from Toth himself. Since his passing I am so happy to see Toth’s legacy documented in this way. He was not always the nicest person, but he was truly one of the most underrated creators ever to work in comics. Plus this book is a beautiful oversized hardcover from those historians at IDW.
Hopefully, you will find something above to catch your fancy. While not all of these books are for everybody, they are all excellent examples that show that comics can be more than men running around in costumes. I have personally bought all of these books and I would recommend you do the same. One final note, if you like the traditional superhero fair, then I highly recommend the Walter Simonson Thor Omnibus Marvel recently put out. It is over 1000 pages of some of the best Thor (if not the best) ever done. It is completely re-colored and the art is newly scanned from Simonson’s original art. It is an amazing collection. And it is largely what inspired the new Thor movie. A tip of the hat to our own Roger Ash for sharing his copy of this book with me so I could see how spectacular it is. As always, comments, opinions and review copies are welcome at MFBWAY@AOL.COM. Everything written here is my opinion and does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics.