Friday, July 9, 2010

Your Quote of the Day

"I try to find a balance between sophistication and fun, in type, palettes, layout, and materials. Sophistication and fun are opposites in many people’s minds. But I like to respectfully present comics as art, while always keeping in mind that they are – or should be – F-U-N. God save us from dry, academic, pretentious, or even bleak approaches to writing about – and designing books about – comics. Fuck that shit!"

- Craig Yoe, from this imprint interview.

In truth, I greatly enjoy and value many of the "academic, pretentious" books Yoe is probably thinking of, but as I tried to make clear earlier, I really enjoy Yoe's approach, as well, and it was great to get this "statement of purpose" from him in an entertaining interview.

The Smurfs, Vol. 2, No. 1

I'm not really much of a Smurfs fan. Of course I watched the cartoons as a kid and remember liking them, but I haven't really thought about them in years. I was aware that the characters originated in comics, created by Belgian cartoonist, Peyo, but I had no idea if these comics were supposed to be any good or not, nor did I have any real knowledge of their publishing history. I went into this $1 preview comic for the upcoming series of Papercutz graphic novels pretty fresh; optimistically curious.

The twenty page comic book reprints the first appearance of Smurfs nemesis Gargamel, who captures one of the little blue guys with the intention of using him as a key ingredient in the creation of a philosopher's stone. Most of the story takes place after the Smurf is captured, and Papa Smurf leads a group of Smurfs in a rescue operation. The tone is one of light adventure/comedy, smartly written and appealingly drawn, with many pages broken into several small panels which serve to pack in a lot of story even while keeping the pace brisk and the action flowing. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The Smurfs themselves don't really seem to have distinct personalities, or even names, except for Papa Smurf. Just a bunch of funny looking little blue guys bouncing around the page, trying not to get eaten by Gargamel's cat, Azrael, and rescue their friend from the evil alchemist. There's not really enough here for me to make up my mind as to whether or not Peyo's Smurfs is a great comic, but I enjoyed reading this story and now intend to pick up the first of the Smurfs graphic novels. So, for this preview effort, mission accomplished.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ditkoblogging: The Art of Ditko

The Art of Ditko, edited by Craig Yoe, is the first book produced under Yoe's new imprint at IDW, Yoe Books. Like Blake Bell's Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives from Fantagraphics, Yoe's anthology collects work original published by Charlton. Unlike Strange Suspense, this book is more a "best of" sampler than a complete archival project. Most of the stories collected here are from later in Ditko's career than those collected in the Fantagraphics volume, and are closer in style to the Ditko most comics fans are familiar with. There is one story that is reprinted in both books.

There has been some criticism of Yoe's approach to these sorts of reprint projects. It has been argued that in this, the Golden Age of Comics Reprints, Yoe's books don't always measure up to the quality that comics fans have come to expect; that his editorial approach is somewhat slapdash and does not always present his subjects in the most appropriate context. Certainly, a comparison of the two Ditko books shows this to be basically true. If you're looking for an important archival document that provides an accurate context for an important and previously under-represented aspect of an important artist's career, Bell's book is the one you want to have on your bookshelf.

Having said that, I'd hate to think that such an approach is the only way this material can or should be experienced. Personally, I've always been quite fond of Yoe's editorial approach, which I first encountered in his "Arf" anthologies, published a few years ago by Fantagraphics. In tone, presentational style, and choice of subjects, Yoe brings across the feeling of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable friend bursting with enthusiasm to show off his latest collection of way cool and crazy comics. I find that incredibly appealing and, well, fun. If I had to pick one of the two Ditko anthologies to own, I think I would have to choose the Bell-edited volume. But, in a way, I enjoyed reading Yoe's book more. I liked his choice of stories, which showed off many of Ditko's well-known trademarks, such as hallucinatory alien dimensions and a creeping sense of intense paranoia, to great effect. I liked the big pages and short essays by Stan Lee, John Romita, Jerry Robinson, P. Craig Russell, and Craig Yoe himself. I liked the selection of quotes from the notoriously reclusive Ditko, culled from his personal correspondences with Yoe, that closed the volume. It's a fun book.

I don't have much to say about the stories themselves. They're all pretty silly, and like the other book, represent a variety of genres, primarily horror, although most of the ones presented here are "Post-Comics Code," and thus much tamer than what you'll find in Strange Suspense. If you like Ditko, you'll like this book. Yoe and Bell have both promised further volumes in their respective series. I say bring 'em both on, and if anyone else wants to get into the game, they have my full and enthusiastic support.