Markley’s Fevered Brain: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

After many, many years of reading, working with, and collecting comic book, there is very little that surprises me. Thankfully, there are times that a book will come along that will take me by surprise. It may be because how bad the book is (which we will not discuss here), sometimes it is because how good the book is, which we will be discussing here, and sometimes it is for a reason I would not have expected, which we will also discuss here. I read far too many books each week, and a wide variety of titles, from superheroes to crime to alternatives to just about everything in-between. To be honest, I find most books to be predictable, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as there are only so many stories that can be told. I once had a professor make the argument that there are no stories to be told that were not already told by the Greeks. The settings or the characters may change, but the basic story and motivations have all been written. With comic books, I think this is also true, with a few exceptions, and those are welcome surprises.

Popeye Classics Vol. 1

Popeye Classics Vol. 1


The first book I would like to discuss is Popeye Classics Vol. 1 by IDW. This beautiful hardcover is edited by the wonderful Craig Yoe, and it collects the first four issues of the comic of the same name. It is a reprint of the truly entertaining Popeye stories by Bud Sagandorf from the 1940s. I read the comics as they came out and really enjoyed them as they are a fun mix of whimsy, humor and adventure. Not exactly like the fantastic newspaper strip by E.C. Segar (which are collected in beautiful hardcover volumes by Fantagraphics), but they do represent the best of Popeye and all his friends. What I found so surprising about this collection is its size. While the classic Popeye comic were your traditional comic book size, this collection is over-sized, the same size of most of Craig Yoe’s hardcover books. It a very fair price where you not only get classic material in full color, but you also get it in a much larger size than the original comics from the 1940s or the reprints from the past year. This collection was a truly nice surprise.

Life With Archie #31

Life With Archie #31


My next surprise is Life with Archie. I know I have talked about this magazine in the past. It tells an alternative version of Archie than in the past, as it was spun out of Archie: The Married Life series. The early issues of this magazine just followed the story of Archie marrying Betty or Veronica (two separate storylines), but since those original stories wrapped up ,the magazine has carried on and the stories have developed into a number of different directions that I would not have expected. Yet month after month, the stories are creative and entertaining. The magazine continues to have two stories per issue, one with life with Veronica and one with life with Betty and the supporting cast of Moose, Reggie, Big Ethel, Mr. Weatherbee, Mr. Lodge, Kevin Keller, and others. While each of the two stories have the same cast of characters, the lives of all of these characters are as different as Betty and Veronica. Both storylines are filled with drama and are well told with nice art, in the new Archie style, not in the traditional Dan DeCarlo style. Each month I am surprised how much I enjoy this magazine, and how Archie has been able to take a one off idea (marrying Betty and Veronica) and have expanded it into a very entertaining alternative world for Archie and the gang.

EC: 50 Girls 50 and Other Stories HC

EC: 50 Girls 50 and Other Stories HC


My third surprise is Fantagraphics’ reprints of the classic EC material. Now the EC comics have been reprinted numerous times over the years; by Russ Cochrun (in a number of forms), Gemstone and others. In the past, these comics have been reprinted as they were originally published. That is, Tales From the Crypt issues #19-23 were reprinted in their entirety as a collection or Panic in single issues reprinting the original comics as there were first printed in the 1950s. When Fantagraphics first announced that they were going to do reprints of the EC material, they planned something different, with collections by artist instead of by title. That is to say, one volume would be all Wally Wood drawn stories, or all Jack Davis art, or my favorite, 50 Girls 50, which is all Al Williamson. With all of these collections, the art is top notch and the stories are just as good. What this format offers the reader is all of the EC stories by their favorite artist. If you are a fan of Wally Wood or Al Williamson, like me, you can get beautiful black and white hardcover collections of all of stories by these respective artists plus a number of historical and background articles in the back of the books.

Rip Kirby: Complete Comic Strips 1956-1959

Rip Kirby: Complete Comic Strips 1956-1959


My final surprise is IDW’s reprints of Rip Kirby. I was surprised and thrilled when IDW first announced that they were going to reprint the complete Alex Raymond Rip Kirby, which I have praised to the moon in the past. This was the first complete collection I have seen of Rip Kirby in over 25 years (and then the only other collection I know of is a series of Italian hardcovers and I do not believe they are complete). The surprise came when IDW continued the Rip Kirby collections (without any fanfare or publicity I might add); collecting the John Prentice stories that followed Alex Raymond. Prentice assisted Raymond and, in the beginning of his solo work, it is hard to tell where Raymond ended and Prentice began. But as time went on, Prentice showed what a master he was on his own. So far IDW has reprinted the first three years of the post-Raymond Rip Kirby, and they are planning another volume of another three years of John Prentice’s work this summer. By the time you get the next collection of strips, Prentice has come into his own and the art is clearly Prentice while carrying on the tradition that Raymond started. Beautiful women, action, great storytelling, and not a superhero in sight are what make Rip Kirby so great. If you enjoy newspaper strips, and crime, then Rip Kirby is for you, whether it is drawn by Alex Raymond or John Prentice. I would like to say to IDW and Dean Mullaney, thank you for continuing with the John Prentice strips. I do hope they can continue to reprint this classic strip through its end.

Harvest

Harvest


As I like to do from time to time, I would like to point out a recent release I really enjoyed. An over-sized hardcover from image Comics was recently released collecting the complete miniseries called Harvest. Harvest is an excellent crime story about organ harvesting that I discussed when the single comics were coming out. This beautiful over-sized hardcover has extras including sketches and more. I really liked this book because of the story and the art. As a bonus, it was very different from almost anything I have read in comics in a long time. It is well worth your time looking up this collection.

As always, everything I have written in this column in my opinion and only mine thoughts. Neither the Westfield Company nor their employees may agree with what I have written here nor endorse it. I welcome thoughts, comments or disagreements at MFBWAY@aol.com.

Thank you.

 

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