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.


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