Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sundays with Sunday Press

Every Sunday morning, I give myself a little treat.  I read a single page from two extraordinary books published by Peter Maresca's Sunday Press Books, Sundays with Walt and Skeezix and Little Nemo in Slumberland: Many More Splendid Sundays.  The Little Nemo book is the second oversized collection of Winsor McCay's comic strip masterpiece.  The first volume (now out of print) justifiably received a lot of attention when it was first published, as it represented the first time since their initial publication in newspapers that the Little Nemo strips were published in their original size, allowing readers to experience the strips as they were meant to be seen.  It is probably fair to say that reading the strips this way is the only way to truly appreciate the artistry of Winsor McCay.  A Selection of extended adventures are reprinted here, many for the first time, wherein Nemo and his pals are enveloped in the fantastic, shifting dreamscape that is Slumberland.  There will never be another strip like Little Nemo, and Maresca has provided a great service in preserving some of it in this handsomely designed book.

As much as I adore the Little Nemo strips, I actually prefer Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, reprinting, in the same oversized format, the best of Frank King's Gasoline Alley Sunday strips.  While the Gasoline Alley daily strips followed a kind of soap opera structure, with the characters famously aging in real time, the Sunday strips were usually one-offs, often depicting dream or fantasy scenarios that showcased King's extraordinary draftsmanship and sense of design.  In these Sunday strips, Skeezix travels to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus, cavorts with witches and black cats on Halloween (in a strip drawn entirely in silhouette), and observes the changing of the seasons with his Uncle Walt, as well as many other adventures.  Wonderfully, Maresca has recruited Chris Ware, who designs Drawn & Quarterly's Walt and Skeezix daily strip collections, to design this volume as well.  Thus, the book design matches that of the daily series and is a perfect companion to it.  Indeed, the Sundays book is necessary if one is to have a full understanding of King's achievement on the Gasoline Alley strip.

There are a handful of other books available from Sunday Press, with more to come.  All look wonderful, but I think at least one volume of the Little Nemo material and the Walt and Skeezix book are essential.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Links! Long Time, No Blog...

Sorry about the lack of posts around here lately.  I had been doing pretty good for a while, though, don't you think?  You may have noticed that I changed the background of the blog from black to white, which I think makes it easier to read.  Also, I spent some time updating the links in the column to the right.  Click around, won't you?

* Hilobrow is doing a series of posts called Kirb Your Enthusiasm, wherein various folks discuss a single panel from a Jack Kirby comic.  Especially noteworthy is an entry by the great Gary Panter!

* Wow, The Comics Journal's R.C. Harvey really didn't like that new Chip Kidd Shazam book.

* Here's a really entertaining interview with Lynda Barry, conducted by Nicole Rudick, which I think is either trimmed or excerpted from a longer piece.  Lynda Barry is always worth paying attention to, of course.

* I'm looking forward to The Comics Journal's return to print in its new format.  Here are some details on that release.

* Finally, feast your eyes on this nifty John Byrne cover gallery.  I like that some of the recent Star Trek work is included. (via Tom Spurgeon)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Links! Happy Valentine's Day!

The following aren't really Valentine's related, but I've got a lot of good stuff for you this week that I hope you'll consider a kind of Valentine, from me to you.  Awww...

* We'll start with your Must Read of the Week: Jog on late period Steve Ditko.

* A massive, two-hour audio interview with Al Columbia at Inkstuds.

* Speaking of interviews, this one with Christopher "C. F." Forgues , conducted by Matt Seneca, is among the best cartoonist interviews I've ever read.

* These have been online for a little while now: Chip Kidd is interviewed by both Vice and Comic Book Resources on the subject of his new Captain Marvel book, which I reviewed last week.  I liked the book more than I think came across in that review.

* The awesome manga blog Same Hat! has posted a terrific profile of cartoonist Go Nagai from an old issue of Epic Illustrated, as well as a Nagai story from that issue.  I love reading about artists like Nagai and being reminded of the depth of manga's publishing history and how relatively little of this sort of material we've seen translated, even with all the manga out there.

* Nothing real new or revelatory in this Erik Larsen interview about the new direction of Savage Dragon and an upcoming anthology comic book by Larsen, but I'll take any opportunity to mention The Greatest Superhero Comic Currently Being Published I can get.

* Roger Ebert's blog is always worth reading, but I found the elegiac tone of this latest entry to be particularly moving.  God, that last paragraph.  That last sentence.

* Finally, I kept forgetting to link to this amazing gallery of VHS horror movie box art at Monster Brains while it was being posted.  Now it's all online for you to go and stare at.  (via Sean Collins)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

SHAZAM: The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal

I've talked before about how much I love Chip Kidd's art books, and I've long considered the Fawcett Captain Marvel comics among the best comics I've never really read (meaning I've enjoyed greatly whatever reprints I've been able to get my hands on as they've trickled out over the years, but to date still haven't read much of it), so you would think this latest of Kidd's books would be pure heaven for me.  Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the book, it nevertheless came as something of a disappointment.

The fault it mine, and not Kidd's.  I was under the impression the book would be an examination of the original comic books and related merchandise of the Golden Age Captain Marvel.  In reality, the book focuses, almost exclusively and by design, on the merchandise.  Kidd is upfront about this in his introduction, and I can't really fault this fine book for not being what I wanted it to be.  I do like looking at all of the toys and things, beautifully photographed by Kidd's constant collaborator Geoff Spear.  In addition to the toys and other merchandise, Kidd publishes a lot of the ancillary material, such as letters from Captain Marvel to members of his fan club, and comic strips developed to sell the license to toy manufacturers.  There's also a section devoted to the 1941 Captain Marvel movie serial starring Tom Tyler, for which Kidd has obvious affection and admiration.  There is room for some discussion and presentation of the comics themselves: An early Captain Marvel story by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby is reprinted in its entirety, and I particularly enjoyed the section of the book which discussed the work of artist Mac Raboy on Captain Marvel Jr.

The book succeeds admirably at being precisely what it set out to be, although it certainly left me wanting a more thorough examination of the comics themselves.  Kidd claims in his introduction that the comics are "very well archived in popular reprint editions," but I'm not so sure that's the case.  DC, who now owns the rights to the characters, has put out four volumes of Captain Marvel comics in their expensive Archives editions, and one volume of Captain Marvel Jr. material in the same format.  As far as I can tell, all of these volumes are now out of print and I've heard of no plans to continue the series, which I'm pretty sure is still a few years away from the "peak" material, anyway.  A plan to publish a famous Captain Marvel storyline has apparently been put on indefinite hiatus.

At the risk of turning this review into another diatribe about the state of archival comics collections from the mainstream comics publishers, I hope someone at DC might be inspired by Kidd's book to bring some more of this material back into print.  It seems the least they could do.  It was DC who effectively ended the golden age of what at the time was the most successful comic book running when they sued rival publisher Fawcett over copyright infringement.  The feeling was that Captain Marvel was too similar to their Superman character.  Kidd reprints some transcripts from the 1948 trial, and it's pretty clear what side of the argument Kidd himself comes down on.  Kidd writes about the end of Captain Marvel's golden age and DC's subsequent purchase of the characters, concluding "The future of the Marvel family was from then on in the hands of DC."  It seems to me that DC is ethically bound to make available again the material they once censored.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Links! Angouleme Follow-Up, More

First up, a couple of links following up on Monday's Angouleme post...

*Here's part three of the Tom Devlin,/Peggy Burns Angouleme photograph series, now with video!

*An interview with Art Spiegelman on winning the Grand Prix.

*Speaking of Spiegelman, Jeet Heer offers a defense of the artist and his career, which I would link to even if the essay didn't have an awesome title.

*In non-Angouleme news, I greatly enjoyed this history of the Smurfs and their creator, Peyo, by R.C. Harvey.

*Finally, an audio interview with Jean Schulz, Kevin Fagan, and Nat Gertler on the legacy of Charles Schulz and Peanuts.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day Rant: A Few Thoughts on Archival Comics Projects

So I just finished reading volume two of the Fantastic Four Omnibus, collecting the second third of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's epic run, and it's got me thinking about the ways in which Marvel handles their archival projects.  My thoughts run something like, "It really frustrates me, the way Marvel handles their archival projects."  Don't get me wrong, the two-volume Fantastic Four Omnibus series is terrific, a great way to read some of the greatest superhero stories of all time, but, I mean, why is it only two volumes?  Or will it eventually be three volumes, completing the run?  I would have assumed a third volume was forthcoming, but volume two was published in 2007, only a couple of years after volume one, and I haven't heard anything yet, so...?

This obscurity of intent is a major problem.  I adore the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four, and I now, finally, own reprints of the entire thing in hardcover, but it's a wonky, mismatched set.  I began purchasing the hardcover Marvel Masterworks years ago, and own the entire run in this format, but, since Marvel changed the design of the book jackets several times during its glacially slow publication, the volumes don't match (I know we're deep into nerd territory here, but if you've come this far I'm assuming you're the sort who maybe gets annoyed by this kind of thing, as well).  Worse yet, the binding on at least one of these volumes has broken, and several of the pages have come loose.  Friends, this is the volume containing "The Galactus Trilogy."  Clearly, this just won't do.  When they began putting out the Omnibus series, I thought, "Okay, this is it...this is the definitive format for the Lee/Kirby run.  It even included the letters pages, which are absent from the Masterworks volumes.  But, again, no third volume, so the run in the Omnibus format remains frustratingly incomplete.  Now I see that Marvel is releasing their Masterworks volumes in softcover.  Perhaps that will be the best way to obtain a complete, matching set, but they've got a ways to go before they reach the end at this point.  Also, surprisingly, the Marvel Masterworks volumes continue beyond the Lee/Kirby issues.  How long is this series going to run?  It's just weird.

Another problem is the pace at which these things go out of print.  I know at least one of the Fantastic Four Omnibus volumes is no longer available, and God help you if you decide to start buying the hardcover Masterworks at this point.  It sometimes seems as though Marvel treats these books in the same way they do monthly comics, with no effort to keep anything in print for any length of time.

I'm sure a lot of these complaints can be leveled at DC, as well.  These companiess have the rights to some of the finest comics art ever produced, but it sadly often goes unprinted or is collected in a haphazard and confusing manner.  WHY is the long anticipated (well, by me and I'm sure at least a couple of other people) Sugar and Spike collection being published in the abysmal "Archives" format?  WHY is their no sustained effort to reprint the Golden Age Captain Marvel?  Or Plastic Man?  What about Jack Kirby's Kamandi, two volumes of which were published in the Archives format, and then nothing?  Will it eventually be republished to match the other Kirby reprints DC has been doing or continue in the Archives series?  Or both?  Or neither??  What in God's name is going on???

Okay, there's a part of me that feels bad complaining about this.  I mean, I've got a whole SHELF of Kirby books that are pretty nice looking, all of Ditko's Spider-Man is contained in a single volume, I really like DC's "Chronicles" books, etc.  I should be grateful.  And I am.  I just think a lot of this work deserves better.  I wish Marvel and DC would take an approach similar to publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, and IDW, who have all done extraordinary work publishing archival editions of classic works, mostly comic strips, with a thoughtful editorial approach that shows the editors and publishers recognize the importance of the work they're publishing and feel a sense of responsibility to keep the work in print in a permanent form.  My fantasy scenario would  be to have Marvel and DC hire one of these smaller publishers to take over some of their reprints.  Imagine a Fantagraphics published Plastic Man designed by Adam Grano or something.  Failing that, I at least wish the Big Two were more up front about their reprint efforts.  It feels like anything could show up in any format at any time (or not at all), which makes it really hard to commit to any one particular series of reprints.

Hopefully the rambling, near-incoherent nature of this post has prepared you for the fact that I have no real conclusion or final thought.  Just wanted to vent a bit on the old comics blog.  Hey, it's a snow day.  I'm taking it easy.