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!)