Friday, November 21, 2008

Reprint This! Update on Herbie

I finally finished the first of Dark Horse's Herbie Archives. It was released earlier in the fall, and while the price point is a little steep at $50, a near-mint condition copy of any of the ten issues reprinted in it will set you back at least $20, so it works out pretty well in the end. Herbie was a very weird kid's comedy book, starring "a little fat nothing" of a son who drives his father to screaming distraction with his apparently sedentary lifestyle. His dad doesn't realize that Herbie is in fact the most powerful person on the planet, who can talk to animals, travel in time and clobber the Loch Ness Monster, and who hobnobs with Winston Churchill, Mao Zedong, the Beatles and U Thant.

Herbie Popnecker was created by Richard E. Hughes and Ogden Whitney. Hughes was the editor of ACG, a small comics company that didn't make it through the sixties. Herbie appeared sporadically in some of their sci-fi anthology books before getting his own title, which ran for three years. Hughes and Whitney died many years ago, but their bizarre little fat nothing of a character has been winning over new fans ever since.

I'm very pleased with the quality of the collection. Dark Horse is planning to reprint the full run in three hardbacks, the second of which is due next month and the third in the spring. They don't include some of the other gag strips which originally appeared in the books, but they do include many of the cute house ads for the next issue of the comic. They shot from really nice copies of the comics, with minimal restoration of the color, but it looks far better than certain scans which can be found at torrent sites. It is certainly worth your time, and I strongly encourage readers to give it a try!

Read more of what I've written about Herbie at A Journal of Zarjaz Things.

Read other reviews of Herbie:
Hilary Brown and Garrett Martin at Shazhmmm
Adam at Rack Raids
Mike Sterling at Progressive Ruin
Kristy Valenti at comiXology

In related reprinting news, DC has apparently made some neat plans for next summer. While they haven't formally announced anything, a look at Amazon shows that they are planning at least three volumes in a slightly rejigged Showcase Presents series.

You're probably aware that the Showcase Presents books reprint around 500 pages of classic comics for $16.99. But DC has offered many well-remembered characters who never made it to that many pages in their original iteration. So next summer, DC will release three thinner Showcase books - each around 300 pages for $9.99. These will reprint The Creeper by Steve Ditko, Bat Lash by Sergio Aragones and Nick Cardy, and Eclipso by Bob Haney and Jack Sparling, apparently with some rare fill-in work by Alex Toth. Each will come out the same month as the traditional 500-page book. Good show, DC - I will buy all three!

(Originally posted November 21, 2008, 08:35 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reprint This! Update on Black Jack

I finally had a chance to read the first of Vertical's new collections of Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka, and I am really pleased with the work they've done. If you've not been paying attention, this is one of Tezuka's best known series, an over-the-top but nevertheless very effective melodrama featuring a surgeon-for-hire called in to assist with the most bizarre medical cases on the planet. It originally appeared in the pages of Shonen Champion in an eleven-year run from 1973-1983.

In 1987, Tezuka's Japanese publisher compiled Black Jack in an incomplete series of seventeen oversized volumes. (This replaced an earlier, 20-odd volume collection; that's kind of standard operating procedure over there, but it makes tracking down books awful confusing. Mercifully I don't often indulge in that habit!) A handful of the episodes, I am not certain how many, were excised at Tezuka's request for various reasons. Well, the first of the new English-language editions was released in September. In paperback, as I understand it, this is a straight adaptation of the seventeen Japanese editions from Akita Shonen. But there's a bonus treat for people who'd like to support their local comic shops. The first three volumes will also be available in very limited edition hardcovers available to the direct market (1500 of the first book and 1200 of the next two) which each contain one of those otherwise unavailable episodes. So this isn't just their first English language appearance; it's their first reprint appearance ever.

At any rate, the publishing plan is for one new volume of Black Jack every other month from now until the summer of 2011. You can advance-order the first six from Amazon or stop by your local comic shop, who'd appreciate your bizness.

I'm very pleased with the quality of the collection. Vertical's run features the pages in the original orientation, with translator's footnotes to explain Tezuka's use of wordplay and puns in character names. Vertical's books simply look better than the comparatively cheap production of digests from other publishers, with better paper and cover stock. It looks like a quality production, and it certainly suits the classic material. Black Jack is really a great comic, full of inventive situations, wildly imagined diseases and bizarre, grisly accidents, and I strongly encourage readers to give it a try!

Read more of what I've written about Tezuka at A Journal of Zarjaz Things.

Read other reviews of Black Jack:
David P. Welsh at Flipped
Jog the Blog
Dave Merrill at Let's Anime
Deb Aoki at
Tangognat, Agent of L.I.B.R.A.R.Y.

Enter a contest to win the first two volumes of Black Jack at Precious Curmudgeon.

(Originally posted November 17, 2008, 15:02 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reprint This! Cobra

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is COBRA by Buichi Terizawa. It's true that the series is more than a little dated, but for crazy outer-space shoot-em-up action from a post-Star Wars mindset, this punchy seventies space opera perfectly blends escapist action with that decade's macho swagger and an eye for the ladies.

Cobra had been an infamous space pirate and fugitive, one of the galaxy's most wanted. In order to get out of everybody's sights and let the heat die down for a few years, he had face-changing surgery and bought a new set of memory implants. Some time later, the implants fail and he remembers his old life, and the powerful psycho-gun he wears on his right arm. As soon as he begins regaining his memories, he immediately gets into trouble, meeting, in short order, one of three sisters who has one-third of a treasure map tattooed on her back, and the criminal kingpin Crystal Bowie, a cyborg immune to Cobra's psycho-gun.

Sorry, inside joke.

Cobra first appeared in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump in 1978, perfectly times to catch the attention of every ten year-old in Japan who was buying Star Wars toys. The original series ran until 1984 and was collected in a series of twenty digests. There was the requisite animated adaptation, which ran for one season in 1982-83, and a feature film, and then the character was retired for two decades, emerging in 2005 for a new series in the twice-monthly Super Jump. This serial ran for about two years and was compiled in eleven digest editions. Between the two, Terizawa apparently worked on several other series of limited interest, including Goku Midnight Eye and Gundragon, focusing on tough guys, technology and half-dressed women.

Cobra was briefly published in the US by Viz under their old strategy of releasing Japanese stories in the American comic format. Resized, the artwork flipped and relettered by somebody who didn't need to be in the business of lettering, the pricy books ($3.99 when the rest of the market was under $2) limped to a ninth issue before being cancelled. As far as I can tell, Cobra was not among those titles which made their way into the old, oddly-shaped $15 graphic novels that Viz used to publish, and certainly not in the proper-sized digests with which they've since found success.

But I honestly think Viz is missing out on not looking back at Cobra. The overwhelming bulk of the stuff they successfully publish in the US is, let's face it, disposable pop fun for younger readers. It's true that "space adventure" is currently not the most popular genre among kids - martial arts and "Twilight" are this year's models - but it's bound to be resurgent sooner rather than later, and a nice library of wild action, spaceships and silly science will certainly find its audience quickly. So how about it, Viz?

(Originally posted November 03, 2008, 08:05 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)