Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reprint This! 2009 Year in Review

This has been a fantastic year for getting great old properties back in print. Between IDW's line of hardcover reprints of classic newspaper comics, at least twenty essential collections of 2000 AD strips, Drawn & Quarterly bringing us the fascinating world of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's experiments in gekiga, Fantagraphics releasing everything I want yet cannot afford in big, beautiful editions and DC bringing back the hotdamned essential Bat Lash to their Showcase line, I have bought way more reprints of old comics than new ones, and I am probably not alone. But, as Graham Chapman once warned us, "this is no time for complacency!" While looking over the last three years of Reprint This! features, I myself noticed no fewer than two dozen things which were not on top of other things, or, I mean, not yet reprinted. So here's a look back at everything that Reprint This! has featured, and whether exciting announcements have been made or we're still, tragically, left crossing our fingers.

The Amazing World of DC Comics,
Ambassador Magma,
Angel and the Ape and
The Angry Planet: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Armitage: Three of Armitage's earliest stories were reprinted by Rebellion in supplements bagged with Judge Dredd Megazine in 2009.

Axa: No news or rumors from any publishers on this feature.

Axel Pressbutton and
Barbarella: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Black Jack: The ninth volume in a planned series of 17 is due for release in February 2010.

Black Orchid,
Cat's Eye and
Cobra: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Steve Ditko: Killjoy / Odd Man: Fantagraphics has started a series reprinting 1950s Ditko work from various publishers, but there have been no announcements regarding his 1970s work for Charlton and DC.

Doctor Who Adventures: An editor for this magazine stated on the Doctor Who Forum in November that they have no plans to collect these comics.

Doonesbury: There have been no rumors about a proper, archival collection of the series, but the latest book, Tee Time in Berzerkistan, reprints a few hundred recent strips and was released in November.

Flex Mentallo and
Grimly Feendish: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Herbie: Has been collected in its entirety in three hardcovers from Dark Horse.

Rian Hughes' 2000 AD work,
The Inferior Five and
Takao Saito's James Bond: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Johnny Red: Volume one of this series is due in the spring from Titan.

Josie & the Pussycats: No news or rumors from Archie Comics on this feature.

Judge Dredd in the Daily Star and
Jungle Emperor: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Major Eazy: Volume one of this series is expected in the summer of 2010 from Titan.

Marvelman: Marvel has obtained the rights to the 1950s series; no announcement has been made about the 1980s version written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.

Missionary Man,
Nero Wolfe and
The New Adventures of Hitler: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Oh Wicked Wanda!,
One Big Happy,
Ponytail and
Pussycat: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Rat Pack: Volume one of this series is expected in the summer of 2010 from Titan.

Robot Archie,
Sapphire & Steel and
Scream!: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Shade the Changing Man: No news or rumors from DC Comics on this feature.

The Stainless Steel Rat: It's strongly rumored that Rebellion is planning a complete reprint in the summer of 2010.

Steed & Mrs. Peel: No news or rumors from any publishers on this feature.

Sugar and Spike: An episode was reprinted in Abrams' recent Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics, but DC has not announced anything more for this feature.

Super-Hip and
Third World War: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Thunderbirds: Ongoing reprints of all the Gerry Anderson properties are continuing in a series of large paperbacks entitled Century 21. The third and fourth volumes are due out in 2010.

Tippy Teen and
UFO Robo Gurendaiza: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Urusei Yatsura and
a restored, black-and-white V for Vendetta: No news or rumors from any publishers on these features.

Gahan Wilson: The complete reprinting of Wilson's Playboy cartoons is due very soon and, I hope, will be reviewed here next month.

The World's Greatest Superheroes: No news or rumors from DC Comics on this feature.

Zenith: No word from the publisher on this feature. Rights issues exist.

We also had a few disappointments from properties that we had hoped to see in 2009 but did not emerge. The worst offender was certainly Fantagraphics' Pogo. The publisher announced in February 2007 that they had the rights and that Jeff Smith would be designing their books. They've since announced their catalog for the first half of next year and Pogo's still nowhere to be seen.

Other publishers, however, have been pretty far behind expectations in getting the work we'd hoped to see to us. Drawn and Quarterly has pushed back the first collection of Thirteen Going on Eighteen into next year. Top Shelf's Marshal Law omnibus is almost a year late. Titan postponed the 1954-55 first volume of Roy of the Rovers indefinitely, choosing to focus on 1980s material, and still hasn't made a formal announcement about Misty.

Still, 2009 must be remembered, overall, as a terrific year for reprints. There was a lot of surprising, fun stuff on shelves this year, including Bat Lash, Bloom County, Humbug, Rip Kirby, Ro-Busters, Sam's Strip and Swallowing the Earth, and 2010 looks to be really great as well. With that in mind, here are ten books, all either formally announced or heavily rumored, that Reprint This! is looking forward to seeing in the next twelve months:

Al's Baby by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, from Rebellion
Ayako by Osamu Tezuka, from Vertical
The Bojeffries Saga by Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse, from Top Shelf
Captain Marvel and the Monster Society of Evil by CC Beck and Otto Binder, from DC
Dial H for Hero by Dave Wood and Jim Mooney, from DC
James Bond: Nightbird by Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak, from Titan
King Aroo by Jack Kent, from Titan
Penny Century by Jaime Hernandez, from Fantagraphics
Secret Agent X-9 by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond, from IDW
The Stainless Steel Rat by Kelvin Gosnell and Carlos Ezquerra, from Rebellion

I've got a couple of dollars under my mattress for each of these, so you publishers get to work now!

Happy Holidays, everybody!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reprint This! Update on The Stainless Steel Rat

Exciting news from the good droids over at Rebellion. Amazon fishing in the UK has brought to light a listing for The Stainless Steel Rat, Kelvin Gosnell and Carlos Ezquerra's adaptation of the Harry Harrison novels. The series - 12-episode retellings of three of the books - originally appeared in the pages of 2000 AD in the early '80s.

The Amazon listings have been very accurate for 2000 AD collections over the years, and while a formal announcement has yet to be made, this sounds pretty solid. The collection should appear in July of next year.

Other 2000 AD collections in the Amazon pipeline include a second big Robo-Hunter omnibus, along with complete collections of Al's Baby and Harlem Heroes. Thumbs up to "Dash Decent" from the 2000 AD message board for the find!

The Stainless Steel Rat entry.

Reprint This! will return on the 15th for a year-in-review recap.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reprint This! Barbarella

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 BARBARELLA by Jean-Claude Forest. You're probably aware of the 1968 film adaptation of this sexy sci-fi comic, but the original comics have hardly ever been seen in English.

A few years back, before I started this feature, I was up in Hiawasee with my buddy, LiveJournal's sprocketship, doing a little junkin' to get over a bad breakup, and we ran across the Crazy Grandma-priced book store to beat 'em all. Sitting on a top shelf, above the $10 recirculated library hardbacks and the $50 records from the '70s kid's show Zoom was a collected edition of one of the four Barbarella adventures, priced to sit there forever at $100. I think that might have been the only copy I've ever seen, anywhere.

Barbarella is, I think, unique among film adaptations of comics in that hardly anybody in this country has ever read the original story. Everybody knows that the movie was based on some French comic book, but nobody's seen it. In America, there were two different collections of her first adventure floating around in the late sixties, one of which had a cover photo of Jane Fonda from the film, and the third adventure was serialized almost a decade later and there might have been a mail-order-type collection of it, but this is an odd example of a comic that everybody has heard of and that nobody has seen.

There were four Barbarella adventures, the first of which was loosely adapted into Roger Vadim's film version. That one apparently appeared in the French anthology V in 1962. After the movie had revived interest in the character, Forest created three more stories in 1974, 1976-77 and 1982, the last one with art by Daniel Billon. Story three, a 48-page adventure called, alternately, "The False Moon" or "The Moon Child," was translated into English and appeared in eight-page installments across six 1978 issues of Heavy Metal.

Interestingly, Barbarella's first American appearance was also as a serial. Her original story was translated in 1965 and appeared across three issues of the controversial old beat & counterculture magazine The Evergreen Review, paving the way for the magazine to commission the infamous and delightful Phoebe Zeit-Geist a couple of years later.

So is it any good? Well, I'm not completely sure. I've certainly read a few nice things about it. There are scans of some of the chapters from the original story floating around, and Pete Doree of The Bronze Age of Blogs was kind enough to post the opening installment of the third story back in the summer, from which I cropped the first three images here. Digging through old boxes full of back issues of Heavy Metal netted me a subsequent chunk of that yarn, and I'm just not sure. For something so notorious as a sex story, it's surprisingly tame. Visually, Barbarella doesn't appear to be even as racy as Oh, Wicked Wanda!, yet it's very easy on the eyes. It's drawn in a full palette of soft colors in a world full of gentle curves and a dreamlike sense of place. The skies are packed full of weird planets and exploding nebulae, and you don't get any of the harsh, ugly, industrial mechanization that I associate with most of the French comics artists of the sixties and seventies that were working in SF environments. It all looks more like a quiet little daydream than a randy funnybook.

If I understand correctly, the four Barbarella stories only come to about 200 pages in total. That's certainly doable for a single edition compiling the whole run. What I've seen certainly makes it look like a worthwhile enterprise, and if they ever get that proposed new film off the ground, it would make a wonderful tie-in. I certainly hope somebody tackles this project soon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on Showcase Presents

By now, I think everybody knows about DC's line of big, black-and-white reprints, Showcase Presents. By taking a warts-and-all approach to archiving the company's Silver- and Bronze-age material, they've made great chunks of their past available in a convenient format for the first time ever. In doing so, they've allowed audiences to reevaluate hidden treasures (both Bat Lash and Enemy Ace turned out to be even better than hoped), while also showing that certain blasts from the past really weren't worth the effort (try the third, overwrought, volume of Justice League of America if you must, or the insanely repetitive War That Time Forgot).

Unfortunately, one of the company's recent releases, Eclipso, falls in the latter category. This collection is only about 300 pages long and I still couldn't finish it. The series, created by Bob Haney and Lee Elias, originally ran in the anthology title House of Secrets from 1963-66. It has some notoriety for a handful of episodes drawn by Alex Toth, but even those can't elevate the material. It concerns a peace-loving friend of humanity, scientist Dr. Bruce Gordon, who got into a fight with a witch doctor in the Pacific and was scratched by a black diamond. Now, whenever there's an eclipse, Gordon dons a ridiculous leotard and funny hat and becomes Mr. Hyde, or, I mean, the Incredible Hulk, that is, Eclipso. It's an unbearably simplistic and repetitive adventure story, with by-the-numbers plots that wouldn't pass muster on a Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon from the period. Toth's episodes at least look the best, but the bulk of the book is drawn by Jack Sparling, and it is some pretty ugly work. These are comics which can very safely be avoided.

Well, even though Eclipso isn't to my taste, DC has done a terrific job in packaging his exploits. While most of the Showcase line brings you about 500 pages of comics for around $17, this is the second in a little sub-line that has been termed "Skinny Showcases." These are ideal for shorter-run characters like Eclipso, who do not have as much material as the A-list stars, but maintain a following nonetheless. These have a smaller page count - around 300 pages - for just ten bucks. Even though I didn't care for the material myself, the package and the price point makes it a great bargain, and I'm pleased that DC will be using it again in the spring with the release of Dial H for Hero, a 1966-68 adventure series by Dave Wood and Jim Mooney.

DC releases about one Showcase Presents volume a month, most recently the second collection of The House of Secrets, focussing on the early 1970s incarnation of the book as a horror anthology. Upcoming in the line are DC Comics Presents: The Superman Team-Ups, a third collection of Wonder Woman, the early 1970s Secrets of Sinister House, a third volume of World's Finest and the Dial H for Hero book mentioned above. The long-overdue Suicide Squad, originally solicited two years ago, has re-emerged on Amazon with a June 2010 release date.

Read more of what I've written about the DC Universe at A Journal of Zarjaz Things.

Read other reviews of Showcase Presents Eclipso:

RKB at Pigs of the Industry
Jon the Crime Spree Guy at Central Comic Zone

These are the only reviews I've seen for this book. If you've reviewed it, let me know and I will link to it here!

In other news from the last month, DC has a pair of interesting projects coming in the spring. They're doing a collected edition of their incredibly fun oversized Wednesday Comics, with the pages shrunk to a little more manageable 11x17, and with the pages arranged so that each storyline will become its own 12-part chapter. They're also repackaging the first twelve issues of the excellent Losers series by Andy Diggle and Jock into a single collection - they had previously been released as two trade paperbacks - in anticipation of the feature film adaptation. That will be in theaters in March, and the new collection on shelves in February.

DC's also been publishing these pretty nice omnibus collections of Jack Kirby's work for the company, work that's probably due one of those nice little updates like I did for the Showcase line above, to be honest. Anyway, if I've counted right, there are eight out there now, and the ninth, reprinting a big chunk of the 1940s Newsboy Legion series, is due out in March.

Speaking of Kirby, of course you know his biographer and friend Mark Evanier is, with Sergio Aragonés, one-half of the team behind the delightful Groo the Wanderer. Back in June, I mentioned a Groo Treasury, which was planned for October from Dark Horse. Well, October came and went without it. Mark confirmed, at the Marvel Masterworks Message Board, that Dark Horse has been sourcing better-quality films of some of the earlier material. The book has been postponed and will be resolicited when it is ready to go.

IDW has tentatively scheduled the first three of their Archie reprint books for next summer. As we've mentioned before, these are not the same as the near-monthly line of hardcover, chronological archives that Dark Horse is starting up. These include a "Best of Dan DeCarlo" collection in May, followed by a look at the 1946-48 period of the newspaper strip in June, and least promisingly, a run of the mid-1960s Pureheart the Powerful superhero material in July.

Fantagraphics has announced that they'll be releasing a series of Golden Age anthologies edited by Greg Sadowski. There are six books in the series, and they'll presumably be scheduled from 2010 through at least 2012. They include collections of Alex Toth, Basil Wolverton, Jack Cole and Dick Briefer, along with anthologies of forgotten horror comics and rare work from the EC Comics regulars.

Over at Down the Tubes, John Freeman has posted details about the third in Reynolds & Hearn's Century 21 collections of classic Gerry Anderson strips. Seems I was mistaken in assuming this book, entitled Escape from Aquatraz, is a Stingray-only collection. Like its predecessors, it collects work from several different series by Ron Embleton, Frank Bellamy, Ron Turner and others. It's due in British stores later this month, and a fourth book, which Steve Holland reports as being titled Above and Beyond, is planned for the spring.

Lastly this time, well, I got my hopes up that Rebellion and Diamond would have stopped butting heads, since the comic shop supplier is, as mentioned last month, planning to distribute both of the British company's December offerings to the American direct market. Unfortunately, fans interested in the two January releases will have to buy them from other sources, because Diamond's skipping them again. They both sound very much worth it: the second in a series of four hardback collections of the massive ABC Warriors "Volgan War" epic (the first of which was reviewed last month over at my review blog) and the most recent set of Strontium Dog stories, "Blood Moon." Wherever you track them down, they're sure to set all your thrill-circuits buzzing!

That's all for this month! See you in December!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reprint This! Scream!

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.

When it comes to British comics, here at Reprint This! we normally talk about individual features, rather than entire anthologies where the material was first seen. However, there are so many missing gems from the entire run of the 1984 comic SCREAM! that, to be blunt, the whole enterprise deserves to be seen again. For fifteen issues, host "Ghastly McNasty" gave kids some genuinely memorable little frights in a horror comic the likes of which Britain never saw again.

Scream!, which warned readers that it was "not for the nervous!," was an anthology comic from IPC that used much of the talent from the publisher's stablemates 2000 AD and Eagle. Each issue presented a new installment of five regular features, along with one-off frighteners and a reprint of Graham Allen's silly comedy "Fiends and Neighbors," which originally appeared in Cor!! in the early seventies.

Many big names from the period were regular contributors. Apart from one-off stories brought to you by the likes of Steve Parkhouse, Barrie Tomlinson, Jim Watson, Cam Kennedy, Simon Furman, Steve Dillon, Look-In veteran Angus Allen and the late Jose Casanovas, every issue started with a really great Dracula serial, where the villain moved to England and carried on a war with vampire hunters. The Dracula File was written by Rogue Trooper's Gerry Finley-Day, and illustrated by Cursitor Doom's Eric Bradbury. The artwork was just gorgeous, and the story was a really entertaining rollercoaster of ancient curses, last-minute escapes and implausible shocks, huge fun from start to finish.

You also had paranormal investigation with The Nightcomers by Tom Tully and John Richardson, in which a brother and sister reunite twenty years after their parents died looking into a haunted house, and Terror of the Cats, written by John Agee and by Simon Furman, in which a small village is under siege by maddened housepets and feral strays. But the ones that everybody remembers are Monster and the gleefully malevolent Thirteenth Floor.

Monster has a little more notoreity, thanks to its odd, footnote appearance in Alan Moore's bibliography. Apparently, he was given the first episode to script, setting up a strange, really creepy tale of suburban horror. The first installment is told in flashback, as a young kid - twelve year-old Ken Corman - buries his cruel father, who was killed by an unseen resident of a locked upstairs room. The artwork, credited to "Heinzl," is a little pedestrian, but it's one heck of a great setup, and one of Moore's unheralded triumphs. The story proper begins in episode two, as John Wagner and Alan Grant take over, with much better artwork by Jesus Redondo. What follows is a little more conventional than what Moore promised, but still darn entertaining. In the attic, Ken finds his hideously deformed, superhumanly strong uncle Terry, locked away from prying eyes. The two of them go on the run, for an extended chase epic that lasted several months after Scream!'s untimely demise.

Wagner and Grant, working with Jose Ortiz, were also responsible for The Thirteenth Floor, in which a malicious supercomputer installed in a tower block "protects" its residents by using a hidden "virtual reality" holodeck thingy on its secret thirteenth floor to "put the frighteners" on anybody from the outside who's bothering them. Unfortunately, Max the computer, whom everybody secretly rooted for no matter how nasty he was, turned out to be really good at his job, and so loan sharks and vandals kept turning up dead from heart attacks. Max's next step was to hypnotize a resident into dumping the bodies somewhere away from the building, but both his programmer and the police guessed that there was something strange going on...

While Max himself, the cold, silky-voiced devilish anti-hero, was clearly inspired by HAL 9000, his strip was very much a product of its time, and hit that cultural milepost where films like Superman III, War Games and Electric Dreams were playing on the era's fears of early PCs taking over the world. In time, Max the computer moved on to other assignments, including watchdogging a department store and working for Her Majesty's Secret Service, and his bodycount dropped sadly, but it was still great fun. In all, the series ran for about four years.

While The Thirteenth Floor was a long-running hit, Scream! itself was not. A combination of low sales, upset mothers and industrial action at IPC saw the weekly comic killed in under four months, one of the shortest lifespans of any of these newspaper anthologies. Sadly, this wasn't a case like Thunder or Tornado, where the lackluster contents explained away the short run; every issue of Scream! just oozed quality. Officially, Scream! was merged with Eagle, but only Monster and The Thirteenth Floor made the transition. Max's adventures lasted into 1987, and Ken and Uncle Terry's continued for a few more months.

In 2007, a small outfit called Hibernia published a little short-run reprint of the first eleven episodes of The Thirteenth Floor, and that seemed to get a little talk about the strip for the first time in a while. What's really needed, however, is a straight reprint of Scream! in its entirety. The whole fifteen issue run could easily fit in one bumper volume. Even with advertisements, the package would be a little slimmer than a Marvel Essential. Do it up on nice paper and keep the original dimensions, and I think this is a worthwhile project. If somebody like Titan gets going with this, why, we could see it on shelves in time for next Halloween! Doesn't that sound wonderful?

Special thanks to Malcolm Kirk for helping out with some credits for this entry. Also, the Scream! fan site, Back from the Depths, is huge fun and includes a few samples of these episodes. Check it out, and tell 'im your old pal the Hipster Dad sent you!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on The John Stanley Library

Drawn & Quarterly have released the first two books in their John Stanley Library, a planned multi-volume series reprinting much of the beloved cartoonist's work for Dell in the 1960s. Drawn & Quarterly have apparently obtained the rights to all of Stanley's Dell work except for Little Lulu (a multi-volume collection of which has been in stores for some years now), and the first two books in the series are available now.

Finances have forced me to leave the first of the Nancy books on the shelf for now, but I did pick up the first collection of Melvin Monster, which was released in the summer. It's a $20 hardcover which collects all the stories from the first three issues of the title. The series is sort of the spiritual antecedent of Akira Toriyama's Cowa, set in a small suburban town populated by monsters and beasties, but just next door to an oblivious middle American city. Melvin is the exasperating son of two gruesome parents, Mummy and Baddy, who wish only the worst for their offspring, but he confounds them by wanting to do insensible things like go to school and not get eaten by his pet crocodile.

The strip would be huge fun in anybody's hands, but Drawn & Quarterly has really made this book shine. It's designed by Hipster Pad fave Seth, who was apparently looking to emulate those half-forgotten books you used to find on odd old relatives' shelves. I think he really tapped into a something neat here. The book looks a little more, shall we say, prestigious than the material might warrant, but it really evokes its time all the same. The plan is to reprint Melvin in three $20 editions, each collecting three issues of the original comic. The slightly larger Nancy book lists for $25 and the 336-page first volume of Thirteen Going On Eighteen, due later this month, retails for $35. Second volumes for each of these titles are expected in 2010.

Normally, I suggest that you read more of what I've written about the creator or character or publisher at A Journal of Zarjaz Things, but in this case I have not.

Read other reviews of the Melvin Monster book:

KC Carlson at Westfield Comics
Rod Lott at Bookgasm
Jason Sacks at Comics Bulletin
Frank M. Young at Stanley Stories

In other news from the last month, following the success of recent hardcover repackagings, DC has added an annual collection of Bill Willingham's Fables to their lineup, with the first edition released earlier this month. The six-issue trade paperbacks have been perennial sellers for Vertigo, so going the deluxe hardcover route has been a foregone conclusion. You can read Willingham's introduction to the new collection at Vertigo's blog. Although, I honestly have to say that DC could easily release two or three a year to get started. With close to 90 issues of this ongoing series, it will be a long, long while before this line of hardcovers gets concluded.

Webcomics! There are far too many out there for me to keep up with what might, or might not, ever get a collected edition, but when something as entertaining as Randall Munroe's xkcd gets a bookshelf treatment, it's a given that I'll be telling you about it. Here you go, eighteen bucks, with a portion of the sale going to charity.

A very strong rumor from last month's Anime Weekend Atlanta: Vertical, who've been publishing all those lovely editions of Osamu Tezuka comics, are planning a 2010 release of Ayako, a dark, if not downright depressingly bleak, postwar family drama which originally ran in 1972-73.

Meanwhile, Dark Horse, who proved with their three Herbie Archives that they know how to manage the repackaging of somebody else's old comic books very well indeed, have struck a nifty-sounding deal with Archie Comics. 2010 will bring you the first in a series of nice leather-bound $50 volumes reprinting every story, chronologically, across four lines, one each for Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica. And here's the wild part: they're planning to release a new book every month. I'm sure that's the best way to get all this old stuff republished quickly, but I also think that I don't have $600 a year to spend on old Archie Comics.

I was either ignorant of or dismissive towards the superhero titles from Marvel UK in the late '80s and early '90s, but with a creative team like Dan Abnett, John Tomlinson and Gary Erskine, I think Knights of Pendragon, the story of a present-day incarnation of the knights of the round table, might turn out to be interesting. The series ran for 33 issues from 1990-93, and John Freeman has reported that Panini's releasing a collected edition of the first nine later this month. It has a new cover by Erskine, and you can read more about his contributions over at Scotch Corner.

Rumor has it that the "Skinny Showcase" line from DC has been successful enough to warrant a third volume. The sixties feature Dial H for Hero is tentatively scheduled for the spring. Fans of the line have probably noticed by now that the cover price for the regular Showcase Presents editions has gone up by a buck. 500-odd pages for $18 is still a pretty good price. Marvel has been a little tight-lipped about their similar Essential line. Surely the third Moon Knight collection, due in December, won't be the last, but the company does not seem to have announced anything definite.

Comics Reporter Tom Spurgeon found this fascinating one: WW Norton is publishing a mammoth collection of Herblock's editorial cartoons. The $35 hardcover will contain 250 images in print, with a more expansive collection of 18,000 on an accompanying DVD. Wowza. Paging Mike Luckovich, get your originals cleaned up...

I discovered Erika Moen's delightful webcomic DAR last month. The artist assembled a collected edition of the work earlier in the year, but it was delayed several times thanks to problems with bluenosed printers who didn't appreciate the sometimes explicit nature of the bawdy, no-holds-barred comic. Joanna Draper Carlson has a full interview with Moen at her website this week; you can order the book direct from Moen at DAR's site.

Lastly this time, Rebellion has had some disappointments this year in actually getting Diamond to solicit their wonderful collected editions of 2000 AD, so we are pleased as punch to see that two have made it into the distributor's latest catalog, and could be in US stores by the end of the year. Continuing their line of popular "phone book" reprints of 300 or more black-and-white pages, these are the first volumes of my all-time favorite comic Robo-Hunter by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson, and Anderson: Psi Division, written by Wagner and Grant, and with several artists including Gibson, Brett Ewins and Barry Kitson. Rebellion has shown with their complete, warts-and-all collections of Ace Trucking and Ro-Busters that they can really do a great job of collecting both the main series along with ephemera and easily-forgotten one-offs, so I'm hoping that the Anderson book contains the remarkably weird and wonderful "Mind of Edward Bottlebum," which previous collections of the character have routinely skipped.

That's all for this month! See you in November!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reprint This! Five Short Suggestions

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!

Normally, I have a full feature on the first of each month, but once a year or so, I put together a cheat-page, because there are plenty of other great comics that deserve to see the light of day as well, but for one reason or another I just don't have quite as much to say about them to fill a long entry. Here, then, are five comics which would be great to see again in collected form... comics which I'd certainly buy if only my local shop could order them from somebody, and so might you!


Together with its more commonly-seen counterpart, Marvel's FOOM, this professionally-assembled "fan"zine brought together interesting news features, interviews and otherwise-unseen production art, giving a fascinating look behind the scenes of the publisher in the 1970s. I only had two issues as a kid, one of them a special issue spotlighting the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman TV show, but I enjoyed the heck out of them. Back issues are both ridiculously scarce and jawdroppingly pricey, particularly the high-demand one looking at the Legion of Super-Heroes.

This is the sort of thing that, if DC doesn't really want to bother repackaging, they could certainly license it out to TwoMorrows or somebody, who have shown, with all of their archiving of classic fanzines, that they could do a great job with it.

NERO WOLFE by John Broome and Mike Roy

For just over a year, from 1956-57, there was a daily Nero Wolfe comic strip. While credited to Wolfe's creator Rex Stout, it was actually drawn by Mike Roy and scripted by Silver Age DC Comics superstar John Broome, best known for his writing the resurrected Flash and Green Lantern adventures in the sixties.

Stout reportedly wasn't very taken with the strip, and while this sample shows that Broome correctly noted Mr. Wolfe's eccentric schedule, he otherwise got much of Wolfe's fussiness wrong. The fan group "The Wolfe Pack" assembled a PDF of many of the strips, which you can view at their website, but several of the strips are unfortunately in very poor quality. One of these days, I may have to trek up to Athens and spend the day in the UGA Library printing pages from fifty year-old papers to read 'em myself. Or somebody like IDW could just put a nice book out for me...

ONE BIG HAPPY by Rick Detorie

Perhaps one of the least likely suggestions I've come up with for this feature. NBM released some collected editions of this popular daily feature in the late 90s, but none of them apparently sold very well, and I think this very overlooked daily has probably missed its chance to be a major breakout.

Readers know that there's a lot to it beyond the silly puns and wordplay; Ruthie and her older brother Joe are just about the most perfect little kid double-act on the modern comics page, every bit as weird and oddball as my own two children. If you're one of the many who lost touch with One Big Happy over the years, I suggest it's absolutely worth another look.

PONYTAIL by Lee Holley

Holley worked as an assistant to Hank Ketcham in the late 1950s before starting this incredibly cute daily panel comic about a freewheeling teen girl. I have not seen very much of this comic, which ran for twenty-eight years and is well-remembered by comic aficionados both for Holley's wonderful, loopy inking style, and for its sweet, nostalgic depiction of small-town teen life, with malt shoppes, pizza joints, hot rods, lettermen's jackets and jalopies. Either IDW or Fantagraphics would do well to look into this classic.

Sherm Cohen has been posting scans from Dell's 1960s Ponytail comic book over at Cartoon SNAP for the last month or so. You can also read one of the backup strips from that comic over at my own Zarjaz Journal from last year.

SUPER-HIP by Arnold Drake and Bob Oskner

Don't say I never gave you anything, Johnny Bacardi, because this one's for you! In 1950, when comic books were downright ridiculously weird, DC (or, more accurately, National, the company that would become DC in time) used to publish comedy titles "starring" movie stars like Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. The Bob Hope comic was among the longest-lasting of these, but by 1965, even it had shown its age. So to keep things all groovy and relevant for the kids, Arnold Drake and Bob Oskner turned the book into a demented melange of superheroes, wacky monster comedies and with-it Carnaby Street Swingin' London cool. Enter, with issue # 95, Bob Hope's nephew Tadwallader Jutefruce, the secret identity of the flying, guitar-playing, shape-changing Sultan of Swingers, Super-Hip!

I only have one of these issues, and it's one of the nuttiest comics I own. They're actually scarce as all get-out, because Silver Age collectors, only interested in superhero continuity, never thought twice about the Bob Hope comic, and often had no idea that DC's most genuinely odd creation was fighting vampires and squares within its pages. DC long ago lost the license to reprint the Bob Hope comic, and I imagine his estate would probably charge a penny or two for reupping the license rights, but it would seem that in the last fifteen issues of The Adventures of Bob Hope, Bob only appeared as a host character.

Actually, I wonder whether the trademark on Super-Hip has lapsed. Normally, a publisher has to use a character somewhere, somehow, every few years to keep the trademark active, but Super-Hip hasn't appeared in any comic book for four decades. If so, any enterprising publisher could tweak the "Bob Hope" image and call him "Ted" or "Bill" or something and otherwise reprint these outright, couldn't they? Well, if anybody does, I hope they just remember to cut Drake's and Oskner's estates a royalty check or two. They were great talents, and their offbeat little creation should, in a just world, be earning a little money from people like me who'd love to snap this up. (Of course, if DC still owns Super-Hip, we're probably in for a long wait. They still haven't said a word about Angel and the Ape, The Inferior Five OR Sugar and Spike, the cads!)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on Thunderbirds

The archivist, everything-in-order side of me doesn't approve of them, but Reynolds & Hearn has released the first two volumes in a series of large-format reprints of Gerry Anderson tie-in comics. These feature the lovely artwork of Ron Embleton, Mike Noble, Frank Bellamy, Eric Eden and others, with adventures from the comic versions of Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and others. These originally ran in 1965-69 in the pages of the anthology TV Century 21 and its sequels and spinoffs. The first volume features an introduction by Chris Bentley, who makes a strong case for including this comic alongside Eagle and 2000 AD as the three most important and influential of British comics.

As a sampler, these are very good books. I finished the first one and enjoyed most of the ten stories in it, though I was disappointed by the reproduction of the Stingray adventure "Haunting of Station 17." I realize that reprinting double-page spreads is a challenge, but it's always a bummer to see artwork and word balloons disappear into a book's gutter. It's made worse when it's such lovely painting by Ron Embleton, and when the pages have an outside margin of about an inch. These could surely have been laid out with a greater inside margin to prevent that happening,

Otherwise, the book is a very good sampler of the comic, with a mix of short stories and the longer epics. It leads with a really interesting Fireball XL5 story which crosses over into both Stingray and Lady Penelope, which instantly disproves the old thought that a similar crossover in Battle Picture Weekly was British comics' first - TV21 beat them by thirteen years! My favorite story in the book was another Lady Penelope serial, drawn by Frank Langford. This, and many of the other stories here, were scripted by regular Gerry Anderson TV scribe Alan Fennell, but there's an interesting Zero X story about a planet of skeleton monsters written by Angus P. Allan, who went on to write the majority of the strips in Look-In during the 1970s and 1980s, which is worth a read. There never was a Zero X TV series; this was the ship that International Rescue and Spectrum had to keep getting out of trouble.

At any rate, Reynolds & Hearn released two volumes of this series in the spring. A third, "Escape from Aquatraz," and apparently focussing just on Stingray episodes, is due before Christmas. I would have preferred straight reprints of everything in their original order - I don't suppose we'll ever get such a thing - but whether you just want to kick back with some nostalgic, escapist fun or would like to reappraise some artwork that was even better than you thought it was, you should certainly check these out.

Read more of what (very little) I've written about Ron Embleton at A Journal of Zarjaz Things.

I have not any real reviews for this book, only previews. If you see a review of it, or post one yourself, let me know and I will list it here.

In other news this month, I do like to make updates when something from the Reprint This! wish list makes it back into print. Rebellion has made this reader at least a little happy by issuing a new, limited edition collection of the first storyline for the grouchy, future detective Armitage by Dave Stone and Sean Phillips. The reprint appears in the freebie "graphic novel" bagged with Judge Dredd Megazine # 287, and it's available in US shops now. If you're going digital, you can purchase PDFs or CBRs of this Megazine and the reprint (130 pages in all) from Clickwheel for just $3.99.

It's been strongly hinted that a follow-up edition, featuring some of the Charlie Adlard-drawn episodes, might appear in another Meg before the end of the year. Hopefully all the time spent adding these episodes to the company's digital archive will count towards a proper bookshelf edition before much longer!

I haven't thought of it in years, but when I was a kid, Dik Browne's Hägar the Horrible was one of my family's favorite strips. There have been dozens of paperbacks over the years, but it's finally getting the archival hardback treatment from Titan. The first collection, featuring all the strips from 1973-74, is due in November. Titan's look back at the British wartime strip Jane is finally back on the schedule as well. It was anticipated some months ago but delayed due to production issues. Still no sign of their long-overdue Best of Battle book, sadly.

A few months ago, I passed along the rumor, originally reported by Chris Duffy at the mostly-defunct "Comic Books Are Interesting" blog, that the obscure King Aroo, a delightful, surreal, pun-filled 1950s strip by Jack Kent, might be due for a collection. Publishers Weekly this month confirmed that IDW does indeed have a collection planned for 2010. It's part of their "Library of American Comics" imprint, and other strips selected for 2010 releases include Blondie and Secret Agent X-9. The latter strip was scripted by Dashiel Hammett, the godfather of American detective fiction, and drawn by Alex Raymond, and I've been curious to see it for many years now. Preceding all of these, however, is a collection of a later Raymond strip, the detective drama Rip Kirby, which began in 1946. IDW plans five volumes compiling all of Raymond's work on the title before his untimely death in 1956; the first of these fifty-dollar hardcovers is due late next month, and a second in March of next year.

I enjoyed the volume of Fred van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey's Action Philosophers that I read. I read at The Comics Reporter just yesterday that Evil Twin Comics is releasing a big collection of all three volumes, along with four bonus stories, later in the year. It's wacky, biographical fun, very well drawn, and a great gift for the know-it-all academic type in your life.

The two "Skinny Showcases" from DC that I have mentioned before are both out. Bat Lash, reviewed the other day at my Bookshelf blog and Eclipso are each about half as thick as a usual Showcase for around half the price. Two other anticipated "Skinny Showcases" are off the table for now: the Ramona Fradon Super Friends was cancelled without explanation at the beginning of the summer, and The Creeper was axed in favor of a hardcover, color collection of all Steve Ditko's episodes, including the late 1970s ones from the World's Finest anthology which were not planned for the Showcase. That's due in 2010.

This month's Marvelman update: Kurt Amacker interviewed writer Alan Moore last week, and he certainly seems to think that a collected edition of his old series is in the works. Even if, Alan being Alan, he'd like Marvel to publish the book without his name on it.

Finally this time, assuming Diamond can be trusted to deliver them, Yen Press's brand-spankin' new editions of Kiyohiko Azuma's oddball, addictive family comedy Yotsuba&! should be in stores today. They've reissued the first five volumes and brought out the first English-language edition of the sixth, with at least two more scheduled for 2010.

That's all for this month! See you in October!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reprint This! Grimly Feendish

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 GRIMLY FEENDISH by Leo Baxendale. This 1960s strip had a huge impact on kids who saw it at the time. Feendish was a super-crook, a master criminal who was usually accompanied by bats and spiders and other creepy-crawlies, and when he wasn't confounding the forces of law and order represented by Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy, he was usually being thwarted by Britain's shopkeepers, who had installed special devices and traps to defend themselves against the ghoulish villain always breaking into their stores...

There's very little that I can add to the imagery which I've found to illustrate this article. One part James Bond villain, one part Dick Dastardly and two parts Uncle Fester, Grimly absolutely delighted kids in the 1960s, because kids know there's a great deal more fun to be had being downright rotten than nice.

Baxendale seemed to really understand the gleeful, subversive side to giving children comics which flat-out contradicted every social lesson they'd been told. You'd expect no less from the creator of The Bash Street Kids, and while I'm no expert on any of this material, I know a classic gag strip when I see it.

The rotten Mr. Feendish first appeared in the kids' anthology Wham! in 1964 and spent the better part of four years confounding Eagle-Eye before that strip ended. He also got his own headlining strip which ran for a good while in the similar Smash!, apparently concluding around 1969. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a proper stripography for Feendish's days in Smash!, or any other appearances in the Odhams / IPC annuals of the day, but it looks like he was around quite regularly for a time. (Wham! itself looks to have been a terrific comic, which also featured Ken Reid's Frankie Stein, a strip that folk-in-the-know speak of with gleeful reverence.)

At any rate, there's clearly a lot of material out there, and I think both today's kids and comic fans would love to see it again. I think some enterprising publisher could certainly compile a 160-page collection of this stuff for the children's market, and if they take the extra step of including the material in its original publication order, noting its original appearance and giving proper credit to Baxendale, then they'll satisfy the archivist geeks among us as well. Kids still like reading about rotten crooks - the millions who were into those Unfortunate Events books were all secretly cheering on Count Olaf, you know - and so I hope some enterprising publisher like Titan looks into bringing back Feendish for a new generation, and soon!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on The Actress and the Bishop

You know what you probably don't have nearly enough of in your comic boxes and shelves? Sequential art by Brian Bolland. It's possible you have a copy of The Killing Joke, and a smattering of Judge Dredd episodes, and you might have decided that his artwork is good enough to overlook the dated and dull script of Camelot 3000, but since Bolland elected to concentrate on cover art so many years ago, actual strip work has been hard to come by.

In the late 1980s, Bolland contributed a pair of three-page strips to the anthology comic A 1. They star a mismatched duo called the Actress and the Bishop and were told in rhyming couplets and they are quite wonderfully silly, and of course the artwork was completely lovely.

About fifteen years later, Bolland finally finished a 17-page followup to the initial episodes. Called "The Thing in the Shed," it is a delightfully loopy little story which bounces from suburban dread to missing pets to Biblical recreations to cowboy adventure. Bolland invented the perfect little format to draw whatever the heck he wants to, as either the frumpy, comical Bishop or his gorgeous, frequently naked housemate Actress remember or imagine, in their rhyming narration, old books or lost loves.

"The Thing in the Shed" first appeared, I believe, in 2005's Bolland Strips!, a wonderful hardback co-published by Knockabout and Palmano Bennett which collects all, or just about all, of the oddball little shorts that Bolland has scripted and drawn over the years, either for himself or for small publishers. But for newer readers, the Georgia-based publisher Desperado has just released a wonderful little 32-page Actress and the Bishop one-shot comic, so for just $3.99, you get all of the duo's appearances, along with a couple of pin-ups. Sure, I normally spotlight bookshelf editions in this blog, but since there's so little of these characters available, a traditional comic book is a perfectly good way to get everything, and cheaply.

Desperado does not currently have this title available in its online store (and if they do, their postage rates are a little high for a single issue), but any good comic shop can order it for you, if they don't have it in stock already. Stop by your local funnybook store on the way home today - and tell 'em Reprint This! sent you!

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

Read other reviews of this book:

James Hunt at Comics Daily
Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool

In other news from the last month, there was a very brief flurry of excitement over Marvel Comics' announcement that they had acquired the rights to the British superhero Marvelman from his creator Mick Anglo, until it became evident that what they had were the rights to tell new stories with the character, and to reprint his original 1950s adventures, which even devotees of old British comics like me find to be pretty dated and dull. Marvel is said to be still working out details to pave the way for the 1980s series written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Certain trademarks created for and exclusive to the 1980s series, owned by Todd McFarlane and by Dez Skinn respectively, still stand in the way for this series to be reprinted. I decided some time ago that I would update this blog on the first with a feature, and on the tenth with a general news roundup, with a "breaking news" update, should any of the features get called up for duty. Suffice it to say that I'm still not anticipating writing a "breaking news" update on Alan Moore's Marvelman any time soon, though I certainly hope that I'm wrong!

Speaking of Marvel and Alan Moore, the publisher has released a giant Captain Britain omnibus edition that massively expands the material in the existing trade paperback collection of material written by Moore and drawn by Alan Davis. The existing book just reprints the Moore material, even though he came on board after several episodes that were scripted by Dave Thorpe which established the "Jasper's Warp" storyline. As a result, that book is a little patchy and hard to follow at first. The collection also carries on, after the end of Moore's tenure, and reprints several episodes from Captain Britain's mid-eighties Marvel UK title that were written by Jamie Delano.

You know, I was expecting more announcements from San Diego, but I really didn't see anything huge as far as reprints go. I suppose the possibility of Marvelman was the biggest one for most folks. On the other hand, Fantagraphics did tell everybody that they're finally planning a spring 2010 launch for their long-delayed Pogo reprint line, and they also announced a forthcoming archival project for Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. Interestingly, the publisher is apparently not planning to delay their Nancy books looking for print-ready copies of the rare strips from the first few years; they'll be starting with volume two and release the first book sometime down the road. Most everything else I heard was hyping new projects and not reprints, however.

As far as actual solicitations go, DC has finally decided to put together a second volume of the 1990s Shade the Changing Man by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo. It's said to contain issues 7-13 and is scheduled for November. Milligan is currently scripting Hellblazer for their Vertigo imprint, and the first collection of his work there is planned for October. The big news, I'd say, is that DC has finally solicited the long overdue collection of the classic 1940s Captain Marvel storyline "The Monster Society of Evil," in time for Christmas.

Also in the latest solicitations, IDW has a pair of highly-anticipated books. The company is rolling out the first in their planned series of five Bloom County archival hardcovers in October, along with the late Dave Stevens' much-loved The Rocketeer, which will come, as speculated, in two different hardcover editions. There's a $30 book which reprints all of the character's adventures, and also an oversized, deluxe $75 version which will contain an additional hundred pages of sketches, pinups and other supplemental material.

That Woody Allen comic strip I was mentioning, with the Buckminster Fuller introduction? It's real. No kiddin'!

Lastly this time, Bear Alley Books has released details of their third and fourth collections: a complete run, across two volumes, of Johnny Future by Alf Wallace and Luis Bermejo. 51 episodes of this superhero strip originally appeared in the British anthology title Fantastic, alongside a host of Marvel superhero exploits, in the late 1960s. The books will feature new covers by Garry Leach.

That's all for this month! See you in September!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reprint This! Flex Mentallo

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 FLEX MENTALLO by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Of course, this is another case where the rights owners know all too well that there is demand, from readers and creators, for a collected edition, but they're a little reluctant to try putting this back into print because of what happened once before...

Flex Mentallo was a supporting player who first appeared in a storyline that Grant Morrison concocted while he was writing the amazing Doom Patrol for DC in the early 1990s. The character was a pastiche of the old Charles Atlas ads, used as a parody of childhood fantasies built around comic books. In 1996, he appeared again in a four-issue series that Morrison and Frank Quitely created for DC's Vertigo imprint. The story is a complete gem, one which really cemented Morrison's reputation as one of comics' finest oddballs.

The miniseries is an overlapping story about a guy named Wally Sage, whose childhood superhero creations have escaped into the "real world," and Flex Mentallo, a circus strongman with a great attitude and an even better physique, who's tracking down evidence that his former colleague "The Fact" is operating in his town. Along the way, he learns that the superheroes who used to inhabit Sage's world never really went away. And Sage, he's dying from a deliberate drug overdose, and wants to spend his final moments on the phone with a suicide hotline talking about comic books.

But of course, it's not really "about" that at all...

The comic is really an extended musing on childhood fantasies and wish-fulfillment, while at the same time looking at the evolution of superhero comics. While telling one story, each issue takes a slightly different viewpoint, looking at the narrative from the eyes of comics' Golden Age, then the Silver Age of the 1960s, the unpleasant "grim-n-gritty" world of the eighties, and finally the bright new dawn that Morrison envisioned for the 21st Century, which has seen the triumphs of his All-Star Superman, New X Men, Seaguy and Seven Soldiers, among others. If you enjoyed any of these later titles, then Flex Mentallo is really required reading. That's assuming you can track down copies of the four funnybooks from your local dealer's back issue bin.

At this point, it's customary to explain to people what the holdup is, already. Well, the Charles Atlas Company was made aware of the comic by a well-meaning fan who wanted a copy of the "insult that made a man out of Mac" pamphlet and told them about the comic, and they promptly sued DC for infringing on their trademark. In Charles Atlas, Ltd. v. DC Comics, Inc, they asked a judge for a summary judgement against DC, and so the judge asked each party for all their statements.

DC included, in their statements, a note that the four issues were out of print, that they had no intention to use the character again, and no plans to reprint the comics. The judge ruled against Atlas, agreeing that this was clearly a protected parody, but it is thought that DC's statement that they would not reprint it might open them up for new litigation should they do so. Acting in bad faith and all that.

Until DC and Atlas sit down and work something out, Flex Mentallo will be a lost property. That's a real shame; Morrison's wild ideas and multi-layered narrative makes for a wonderful, immersive reading experience, and of course Quitely's art is gorgeous. It's a comic that everybody should have the chance to see.

If you would like to read more about Flex Mentallo, Gregory Dickens wrote a fine, detailed review of the series over at PopImage. You might also enjoy Chris Mautner's column at Collect This Now!. Mautner says pretty much everything I had to say about it, prompting me to delay cobbling together this short feature (originally scheduled for April) for a few months.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on Humbug

This week, I finally finished Fantagraphics' quite amazing reconstruction of Humbug, the short-lived (1957-58) humor magazine that several members of the Original Gang of Idiots tried to finance themselves in the wake of Trump's cancellation. Reprints of this material, which ranges from everything from comics to one-act screenplays, has been hard to come by for decades, and fans of the creators, who include Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Arnold Roth, Al Jaffee and others, have been looking forward to a collection like this for simply ages.

Fantagraphics' team of designers spent months reconstructing the original eleven issues of Humbug. Very little of the original artwork was available, meaning that in many cases they had to start with scans of the magazines themselves. These were less than ideal: in order to keep costs low, Humbug was printed on the cheapest, most awful paper available. But all this work was worth it, because the finished product is jawdropping. The package includes a pair of lengthy articles about the restoration, along with a mammoth interview with Jaffee and Roth. Collected as a pair of hardcover books in a slipcase, this is going to really require anybody hoping to knock this off the mountain of "best reprints of the year" to bring one heck of a product to the table.

As for the contents, yes, some of it's dated. I mean, these are fifty year-old satires, and many of its targets have faded into obscurity. A letters page stink after Humbug turned both barrels on Arkansas governor Orval Faubus had me scratching my head until I looked him up. Well, good for Humbug! Otherwise, provided you can recall the days of Sputnik-panic, Humbug's comedy remains pretty timely. Action movies rely on exactly the same cliches that they did a half-century ago, and Consumer Reports is still as anal-retentive as it was back then. You may not bust a lung laughing every tenth page, but it's pretty good for cover-to-cover chuckles, and all of the artwork is terrific.

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

Read other reviews of this book:

Mark Evanier at News from ME
Christopher Hermitage at Blog to Comm
Rick Klaw at San Antonio Current
Rod Lott at Bookgasm
Chris Mautner at Comic Book Resources

In other news from the last month, well, there's not a lot about. Seems like most publishers will be waiting until the San Diego Comic-Con to make announcements this summer, but here's another thing or two that I've spotted. Actually, one thing that will be formally announced at San Diego is Viz's new "Shonen Sunday" imprint, the home of their forthcoming quarterly collections of Rumiko Takahashi's Rin-Ne and several other titles.

Marvel has solicited a mammoth new hardback volume of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' celebrated Criminal. This 400-page book will reprint the first three paperback trades in one collection, and retails for $50. I haven't found the time to try it myself, but Criminal comes strongly recommended by several friends, and I do like Phillips' artwork a lot. This hardback will cost only $8 more than the three books bought individually. Hmmm. I should borrow the first of those trades and see about making the investment!

Speaking of DC, while the first of the publisher's "Skinny Showcases," highlighting Bat Lash, was released this week, it looks like they've changed plans for the mini-line a little. Word has it that the planned volume for the Creeper has been cancelled in favor of a hardback edition, scheduled for later in the year, which will reprint all of Steve Ditko's work on the character, in color.

A couple of days ago, IDW released advance word that they'll be tackling a mammoth archiving of Archie material from the 1940s and 50s, spotlighting early work by Bob Montana, Stan Goldberg and Dan DeCarlo. I was kind of curious why the Archie publishers don't just do this themselves, but they're kind of built around one sort of reprint, and not the archival stuff that IDW has been perfecting for the last couple of years. Go ahead and sign me up for the DeCarlo books, IDW. No word, incidentally, on whether spinoff material like Josie and the Pussycats is part of the deal.

Last month, Titan made my day by announcing that Johnny Red is getting the first of what we hope will be a series of hardcover collections. This month, they've solicited the sixth in their series of Charley's War volumes, featuring another thirty or so never-before-reprinted episodes by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun. It should arrive in September. Also, they surprised me by jumping on the "long-running American comic strip" bandwagon and announcing a Wizard of Id series, also for September. That was one of those strips we used to get in Atlanta years ago and was later dropped, so I concede some nostalgic curiosity. Oh, that little king. He's so tyrannical!

Lastly this time, Rebellion have quietly pushed back the ninth Nikolai Dante collection, "Amerika," from September to November, so that they can include the forthcoming "Lulu's War" storyline from the prog. The story will start in September's prog 1650 and run for about six weeks, and then be reprinted along with the last four Dante stories.

That's all for this month! See you in August!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reprint This! Third World War

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 THIRD WORLD WAR by Pat Mills and a variety of artists, including co-creator Carlos Ezquerra, John Hicklenton and Sean Phillips. Borrowing from the listing I wrote for the Touched by the Hand of Tharg fan site, the series "concerns a near-future where corporations have grown so powerful that they can conscript soldiers to assist them in clearing the native populations of south and central America from regions necessary for their economic stranglehold over Western consumerism. "

Third World War was one of two series chosen to launch the twice-monthly anthology comic Crisis in 1988. The plan was to present a pair of 14-page color episodes in each issue, and these would later be shrunk and compiled in the smaller American comic format. It gave Carlos Ezquerra the opportunity to work in full color for the first time in his career and so, already unsatisfied with the long-term plans to conclude his ongoing series Strontium Dog in 2000 AD and now having the chance to work with Pat Mills, the artist jumped on board.

It's a real shame that it's not a better series, but it's certainly a polarizing and fascinating one. As I said over at Hand of Tharg, "Truly, it's hard to disagree with the points raised in this series, especially as companies like Wal-Mart and Starbucks continue a stranglehold on the marketplace, but it's done with such po-faced pretension that the final product is incredibly disagreeable. Mills depicts Christian characters, not for the last time, as two-dimensional retards, and the 'open-minded' heroes, Eve and an eco-terrorist named Paul, who would later resurface as the titular character in 2000 AD's Finn, are only open-minded insofar as they reject conventional society in favor of paganism and rebellion."

There's a lot more to Third World War than most American readers saw. Ezquerra only stayed with the series through its first phase, set in Central America, and opted for a return to Judge Dredd rather than illustrate the wild adventures awaiting Eve when she returned back to a very ugly, near-future Britain where economic collapse has sent most of the nation's youth to find the only work available, as gunmen for corporations. Without a consistent artist, the strip as a whole suffered, but individual installments by Hicklenton, Phillips, Glyn Dillon and others were fascinating. Joined by co-writer Alan Mitchell, Mills put Eve through the ringer in a long battle of wits against a drunken police inspector obsessed with her.

It's tempting to use my blog as a platform to prop up unavailable comics as really being gems of overlooked brilliance. Third World War is not one of those. It's highly flawed and very dated, but that's actually what makes it so very interesting from a present perspective. Pat Mills has long been an iconoclast of a writer, bucking convention and presenting antiheroes as protagonists. This was the first time, though, that he really threw caution to the wind and really railed against the social injustices that he perceived. It's Mills without restraint, as the editors of Crisis stepped back and let him have his platform. The result is never subtle and it almost every page screams "right on!" like an undergraduate on a free speech platform, but every page is equally fascinating, and the artwork is often just amazing.

Plus, you know, it makes you think.

Third World War originally ran for 49 episodes, each about 14 pages, throughout the first 53 issues of Crisis. With nearly 700 color pages in total, this looks like a good bet for a three-volume paperback collection. I've been crossing my fingers that Rebellion would begin licensing the material from Crisis, and give it the same high-end treatment that they do with 2000 AD's stories. It's long overdue, but what do you say, Rebellion? Why not put this back into print for a new generation to consider it?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reprint This! Update on Sam's Strip

Sam's Strip was the third newspaper comic devised by Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas, the team better known for Hi & Lois and Beetle Bailey. It ran for a little less than two years before the creators, unable to make much headway selling it, pulled the plug. It really is an odd little strip. Sam is a well-meaning grouch who's very much aware of the fourth wall separating his four panels from the rest of the newspaper funnies, and periodically interacts with his peers, with cameos by everybody from Charlie Brown to the character who'd later become Grandmama on The Addams Family.

Naturally, the strip became a fast favorite of comics afficionados, who enjoyed the in-jokes and what we might term as "metatextual commentary" if this blog was any more po-faced than it actually is. With regular asides to the readers, light commentary on current events and trips to a prop closet stocked with a variety of word balloons, Sam's Strip was lost on many comics page editors, and the strip never had more than 60 client papers.

Well, it might have been a failure in its day, but Sam's Strip has grown into a cult classic over time. Fantagraphics recently released a very nice paperback edition which compiles the series in its entirety. It includes annotations to explain some of the topical references of the early 1960s and commentary by Jerry Dumas. This may not be a book worth going too far out of your way to sample, but if you enjoy newspaper funnies, then this might be a very nice addition to your bookshelves. Give it a try!

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

Read other reviews of this book:

Chris Barat at News and Views
KC Carlson at Comics Worth Reading
Allan Holtz at Stripper's Guide
Chad Nevett at Comic Book Resources
Andrew Williams at Den of Geek

The biggest news of the last month comes from the good folks over at Titan, who have finally confirmed the rumors - hardback editions of the terrific Johnny Red are in the works. The long-running series by Tom Tully and, initially, Joe Colquhoun, ran for a decade in the pages of Battle Picture Weekly. This is a big favorite of mine, and one of BPW's best series. I've been rereading the John Cooper-drawn era lately and it's a consistently wonderful strip which you should all check out. The first in what we hope will be an annual collection is due in September.

The second biggest news of the month - and any other month, it'd be the biggest - is that Steve Holland of the wonderful Bear Alley blog has formally announced he's going into the publishing business with Bear Alley Books, looking at doing small print-run, complete editions of classic British comics, done right. Holland has the knowledge and the commitment to make certain his collections are as comprehensive and good-looking as bookshelf editions can be, and I wish him all the success in the world with his new venture. First up from Bear Alley, later this summer: complete collections of the time-travelling war yarn The Phantom Patrol, with art by Gerry Embleton, and the excellent late sixties occult thriller Cursitor Doom, with art by Eric Bradbury and Geoff Campion. Steve's commissioned new covers by Chris Weston and John Ridgway for the titles.

In other news, as if you didn't have enough books to buy this year, the long-rumored Groo Treasury has finally been scheduled by Dark Horse. This 336-page collection of the earliest episodes of the comedy strip by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier is due in October, which is nice, because I was not keen on filling up on those little 80-page collections of the old Epic Comics series. That'd get a little expensive.

DC has announced they're releasing what might be the first-ever collection of Mike Grell's weird 1970s swords-and-lasers fantasy The Warlord, a title I enjoyed for about seven weeks when I was twelve, in their Showcase Presents line. The 528-page book, scheduled for September, reprints the character's debut in the anthology 1st Issue Special and the first 28 issues of his own book. If I was still in touch with a couple of guys I went to middle school with, I'd let them know, but I'm not, so I'm telling you.

So ten days ago, I was talking about how somebody needs to release more old Osamu Tezuka comics in the US. Well, the company Digital Manga Publishing is way ahead of me; there's a complete, done-in-one omnibus collection of Tezuka's 1968-69 serial Swallowing the Earth due in July! Great news, I am looking forward to seeing it. For more Tezuka, the wonderful Helen McCarthy is putting the final touches on a big, image-heavy coffee table biography of Tezuka for Abrams, the company that brought you Mark Evanier's wonderful tribute to Jack Kirby last year. The book is due out in October. And speaking of Abrams...

In another example of what's either a late April Fool's gag or definitive proof that everything that ever appeared in a newspaper is going to end up in a hardcover collected edition before much longer, Abrams is bringing out a collection of Stuart Hample's Woody Allen comic strip. No, I never knew there was a Woody Allen comic strip, either. It ran in the 1970s. The book is entitled Dread and Superficiality: Woody Allen as a Comic Strip and is due out in November. With an introduction by Buckminster Fuller. Oh, now I know this is a gag!

Finally this time, a couple of interesting Judge Dredd collections from Rebellion are in the pipeline for November. The 14th volume in their Complete Case Files series will include all the 2000 AD strips up to prog 700, including the epic "Necropolis" and all of its lead-in stories, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra. The collection won't include the separate serial The Dead Man, which ran for a few months prior to "Necropolis" and dumped readers on their heads with the beautiful revelation that the two strips were intricately connected. Happily, The Dead Man is getting its own trade collection alongside CCF 14, so new readers can enjoy all of its beautiful John Ridgway artwork and read it at the same time as the main Dredd strip.

That's all for this month! See you in July!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Reprint This! Ambassador Magma

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.

Obviously, the Japanese artist Osamu Tezuka is a big favorite here at Reprint This! headquarters, and the good folks over at Vertical have done a lot in the last year or so to increase his presence on English-language bookshelves, adding his classic series Dororo and Black Jack to their lineup. This is really just scratching the surface of all the wild array of comics he worked on over his forty-year career. One missing gem is AMBASSADOR MAGMA, a terrific comic in which humanity gets caught in the middle of a war between a galactic conqueror and his army of dinosaur-like monsters, and a kindly wizard and his trio of super-powered robots.

Ambassador Magma's central characters were the Murakami family, news reporter Atsushi, his wife Tomoko and his son Mamoru. In the first episode of the comic, the villainous Goa transports their home back to prehistoric Earth in a demonstration of his power, demanding that Murakami tell the world to surrender or be destroyed. Young Mamoru snaps pictures of Goa before he returns them to the present day. As he's developing the photo, a rocket lands outside and transforms into a fifty-foot robot called Magma, who takes Mamoru and the camera to a remote volcano. There, the wizard Earth confirms that his old enemy Goa has returned and enlists the Murakamis as his new allies.

The series is remarkably fun wish-fulfillment for kids, particularly when Earth creates a new "boy robot" called Gam in Mamoru's image as a surrogate son for Magma and his wife Mol. Gam is just about the greatest best friend character in all of comics: a super-powered buddy who can turn into a rocket and take you anywhere, and then beat up legions of evil henchmen with his magma-fueled super strength. In each of Ambassador Magma's first two lengthy comic storylines, the heroes confront alien duplicates along with an array of terrifying giant monsters as Goa crafts new plans for his conquest of our planet.

Ambassador Magma first ran in the monthly magazine Shonen Gaho from May of 1965 until February 1967, by which time a well-remembered live-action TV series was running. After Tezuka concluded his work on the comic, his studio continued it for another six months, along with a companion tie-in feature (six-page illustrated episode recaps, apparently) that ran for a year in the pages of Shonen King. The TV show, known in the US as The Space Giants, is a downright terrific program. It beat the better-known Ultraman to the air by about a week, and made the most of its shoestring budget by telling its stories in four-part serial format so that they wouldn't have to build so many sets and monster costumes. This resulted in stories that have aged very well, with believable characters and downright fascinating imagery. If Ultraman was Japan's Thunderbirds, low on plot but high on spectacle and explosions, then the TV Ambassador Magma was its Doctor Who, where intricate storylines and character development made for a far more rewarding experience. When The Space Giants finally got a decent run in American syndication more than a decade after it finished in Japan, it gained a huge audience of kids who would have sold their younger brothers for some merchandising, but practically nothing was available back then, least of all the original comics.

In fact, the program seems to be caught up in one of those interminable trademark disputes between a company which has no visible intention of making any money from it, other than suing anybody else who tries, and people who've made efforts to obtain a license to make comics with the better-known American name on it. This probably shouldn't impact any potential English-language release of the original comics, which should be called by the original title anyway and not get embroiled in the squabble over trademark, but it's a real shame that the characters have faded from the public view since nobody other than us nostalgists have seen the gang except in passing for better than twenty years.

Many, many moons ago, I did some research into the production of the TV series and my job would have been a lot easier had SciFi Japan been around. There's a terrific guide written by Bob Johnson on their site now which focusses more on the program, but also has some background about the comic and the various configurations of the reprints available in Japan. I'm of the opinion that the whole series could easily be collected into a pair of large-format volumes, and they'd make a great companion to Vertical's Black Jack books. So how about it, guys? Then you could get started on Jungle Emperor and Vampire and Cyborg Big X and Princess Knight and Amazing Three and...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on Starman

I finished reading the second of DC's new Starman Omnibus collections, and I have to say that this is emphatically the right way to do a collected edition of a modern book. The fifty-buck hardcover reprints thirteen issues of James Robinson's superhero series, along with the first of the series' annuals and three issues from the anthology Showcase which feature the supporting players, along with considerable background details, commentary and sketches from the artists, who include Tony Harris, Guy Davis and Steve Yeowell.

If you've never had the pleasure of reading Starman, I really believe this is among the two or three best American comics of the '90s. It's the story of Jack Knight, a reluctant second-generation hero and the sixth to use the name, who defends the beautiful art deco metropolis of Opal City from bizarre crime. It's a book more about family and heritage and honor than it is fisticuffs and the usual superhero shenanigans. Robinson occasionally displays a tin ear for dialogue, but his narration is really captivating, and it's easy to get caught up in the grand sweep of Opal and her champions.

A detour to New York City to consult one of the DC Universe's original heroes, the Sandman, is so note-perfect that the publisher should use it to teach new writers how to craft an engaging crossover, and a later story which pits Jack and two unlikely allies against a demon in a poster is surprising at every turn, with a clever conclusion that will have a lasting, fascinating impact on future stories. It's definitely a title worth reading, and thumbs up to DC for creating such a nice package. They plan to publish the complete 81-issue series and all of its side stories and supplements in six of these omnibus volumes.

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

Read other reviews of this series:
Van Jensen at ComicMix
Randy Lander at Inside Joke Theatre
Greg Oleksiuk at PopMatters
Jason Sacks at Comics Bulletin
Paul W. Smith at Den of Geek

In other news, perhaps the month's biggest announcement has come from Alan Moore, confirming the rumors that Top Shelf will be issuing a complete edition of his "published-in-many-places" comedy The Bojeffries Saga. This new collection will include a new 24-page story that artist Steve Parkhouse is said to be tackling now. Moore's announcement came in the second part of the mammoth interview that Pádraig Ó Méalóid conducted for The Forbidden Planet Blog.

Fantagraphics has unveiled a little more about their forthcoming collection of Gahan Wilson Playboy cartoons. It's still on track for an October release. The three-volume slipcased hardcover is going to set you back a tidy $125, which means I'm putting $10 a paycheck in the kitty for this starting now. The book will feature introductions by Neil Gaiman and Hugh Hefner, and not only every cartoon that Wilson's contributed in his fifty-one year tenure with the mag, but his fiction and accompanying illustrations as well. The behemoth will clock in at more than 1000 pages. Can't wait, even if my accountant might want to have a word or two with me about it.

Speaking of Playboy, Dark Horse's collection of the two issues of the Hef-published Trump, mentioned here back in January, has been delayed and is due out in mid-August. This will feature classic work by Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Wally Wood, Mel Brooks, Max Shulman and many others. Incidentally, my son finished the first half of Fantagraphics' Humbug, the magazine that followed Trump, and not only proclaims it to be awesome, but also wants it noted that he's the only modern-day tween to have read it.

In what sounds like it was a late April Fool's Day joke which went a little far, it's been strongly rumored that IDW is preparing a collection of Jack Kent's long-running newspaper strip King Aroo for later in the year. The strip ran for an impressive sixteen years before winding down in 1965, but it's incredibly obscure because only a single paperback collection was ever issued, in 1953, and because it only appeared in a handful of papers for most of its run. Some of the sample strips available online show it to be an incredibly charming and silly strip, reminiscent of Pogo with its puns and quirky characters, and while I'm curious to see more, I think IDW has something of an uphill climb selling this almost unknown character to a modern audience.

Speaking of Pogo, most recent word on the grapevine is that we'll be waiting until sometime in 2010 for the new line of Fantagraphics collections to get going.

And speaking of IDW, whether they are going to do something with King Aroo or not, they are planning a reprint of Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta's 1980s SF serial Starstruck with new coloring.

Over at DC, it looks like Peter Milligan's well-regarded '90s take on Shade the Changing Man is finally getting some long-overdue attention. A collection of the first six issues was released many moons ago, and it's finally getting a second later this year. Personally, I find Shade to have aged very badly, but I'm still looking forward to this earlier stuff from the run. But before that, DC is prepping hardcover collections from some of the other titles in their run, similar to the Starman books, including Fables and Alan Moore's Tom Strong. And they've finally solicited the Eclipso "Skinny Showcase" I've been talking about for August:

Written by Bob Haney
Art by Lee Elias, Alex Toth, Jack Sparling and Bernard Baily
Cover by Bernard Baily
One of the strangest comics villains ever stars in this volume collecting HOUSE OF SECRETS #61-80! On an expedition in the South Pacific, scientist Bruce Gordon’s dark side is unleashed after being exposed to a black diamond. Transformed into the powerful Eclipso, he embarked on an evil rampage as his good side attempted to reassert control.
Advance-solicited; on sale August 26 • 296 pg, B&W, $9.99 US

If you're enjoying Drawn & Quarterly's collections of the Moomin comic strip, and who in their right mind isn't?, then you might want to check out some reissues of the classic Moomin picture books that Tove Jansson did in the 1960s and 1970s. The publisher is starting up a new line of children's books called D+Q Enfant devoted to "lost classics and new soon-to-be classics" which will include the old Moomin series. Fine, give me another reason to want to have another kid before too long.

When I featured a blurb last month about our friends at Titan Books, I didn't have any news about Roy of the Rovers. Well, there's a new set of 1970s strips due in June - 208 pages of "scorching soccer action" from the period that introduced the hotheaded character Paco Diaz and took a hardline stance against hooliganism in the stands. Down the Tubes also points out that Titan's long-delayed Best of Battle is finally scheduled for next month as well. Fingers crossed!

That is all for this month. I would like to thank everybody for reading and all the nice e-mails, and also let everybody know that June's updates will be a little delayed. Look for the feature article on the 5th and the news update on the 15th. Happy reading!