Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on The Freak Brothers

First things first: a welcoming wave to Chris Mautner over at Comic Book Resources, whose new column Collect This Now! has jumped on the Reprint This! bandwagon. It's always nice to have more people shouting at publishers with you. That said, I've got my next six features sketched out, so don't write about anything I'm planning to, would ya?

Anyway, once upon a time, you could buy The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers at Sears. No kidding. The old Sears outlet store at Belmont Hills shopping center in Smyrna, Georgia had a small section of clearout books and magazines. It was there that we found the old collection of the X-Men "Phoenix Saga" for about three bucks, and a handful of these lunatic comics which were certainly not aimed at eleven year-olds. Frankly, I was afraid to have them in the house. I read a friend's copies, and never really warmed to them at the time, on account of drugs, in Reagan's America, being the devil's business.

Well, if your mind is a little more open than mine was in 1982, then you'll be incredibly pleased to know that one of America's funniest comic series has been compiled in a mammoth, 624-page edition by Knockout Press, sporting this lovely Rian Hughes-designed cover. This is said to contain every single appearance by Gilbert Shelton's trio of goofball ne'er-do-wells, who move from one dingy San Francisco apartment to another, when they're not running a bus to New York, starting a commune, being hijacked by terrorists or becoming leaders of the planet's most powerful religion. Shelton has not done nearly enough work in comics; these stories feature some of the funniest plots I've ever followed, with one lunatic right turn after another building situations into a spectacular pyramid of chaos. He and his co-writers (Dave Sheridan and Paul Mavrides are also credited) have a masterful sense of making their stories appear to be stream-of-consciousness silly, but in some of the longer tales, most notably "The Idiots Abroad" and "Grass Roots," every little piece that appears is vital to the overall plot, and the spiralling catastrophe that follows. This is really great stuff.

Knockout's presentation is really impressive. It's a little thicker than a Marvel Essentials, printed on glossy paper with a dust jacket. It contains two color sections and includes all sorts of bonus material, including posters, magazine covers and a series of hilarious cutaway diagrams of the various superstructures and amusement parks said to be part of the Rip Off Press empire. In all, the book is just a jawdroppingly good presentation of some fantastic comics. You should get a copy for yourself today.

Read a little more about this volume:

The Rag Blog has some prerelease hype
Alex Fitch interviews Shelton at Panel Borders
Other than these, I have not seen very much in the way of proper reviews of the book in hand. Most of what I found were copies of the original announcements and notifications of Shelton's British book-signing tour. If you reviewed this book, drop me a line and I will link to it here.

Each month, I like to pass along a little news about reprint projects I find interesting, as I find announcements of them. This month, IDW led into the big, NYCC weekend with this word about a really great new series...

IDW Publishing is pleased to announce the forthcoming release of The Bloom County Library. Beginning in October 2009, each of the five volumes will collect nearly two years worth of daily and Sunday strips, in chronological order. This will be the very first time that many of these comic strips have been collected, and the first time in a beautifully designed, hardcover format. The books will be part of IDW's Library of American Comics imprint, and designed by Eisner Award-winner Dean Mullaney.

"Fans have pestered me for years," said Berkeley Breathed, "for this ultimate Bloom County collection in that polite, respectful badgering way that only fans can manage. Thank God I can now tell them something better than just 'please remove your tent from my lawn.' I can say, 'It's coming!"

Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed newspaper strips of modern times. Premiering on December 8th, 1980 — a month after the election of Ronald Reagan as President — the strip brought to the comics pages a unique amalgam of contemporary politics and fantasy, all told with hilarious humor and wit.

The beloved and quirky denizens of Bloom County include Opus, Steve Dallas, Bill the Cat, Milo Bloom, Michael Binkley, and Cutter John. Breathed was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1987 for his work on Bloom County. The strip was published in an astounding 1200 newspapers.

The phenomenon that was Bloom County spawned a merchandizing bonanza, as well as two spin-off strips, Outland and Opus. The first paperback collection of the strip, Loose Tails, sold over one million copies. Bloom County paperbacks cumulatively sold over six million copies. At the height of the strip's popularity, Breathed walked away on August 6th, 1989.

IDW Publishing Special Projects Editor Scott Dunbier conceived the series. "I'm absolutely thrilled to be editing the Bloom County Library," said Dunbier. "This is a series that I can't wait to hold in my hands."

The Bloom County Library will also contain a series of "Context Pages" sprinkled throughout the volumes. These pages will provide perspective for the reader, presenting a variety of real-life events and personalities that were contemporary at the time of original publication.

At the con, probably the biggest news came from Yen Press, who announced that they'd be picking up the license for Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&!, which ADV has been ignoring for more than a year now. Volume six will be released in the fall.

In other reprinting news, DC's latest solicitations reveal several interesting books coming in the spring. Here are four that caught my eye:

Written by E. Nelson Bridwell and Dennis O'Neil
Art by Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta, Ramona Fradon, Bob Smith and Kurt Schaffenberger
Cover by Alex Toth
The superstars of the 1970s animated adventures star in this new, bargain-priced volume collecting SUPER FRIENDS #1-24!
Advance-solicited; on sale May 27 • 448 pg, B&W, $9.99 US

Written by James Robinson
Art by Tony Harris, Gene Ha, Dusty Abell, Phil Jimenez, J.H. Williams III and others
Cover by Tony Harris
In this third volume Opal City is terrorized by Dr. Pip, an eccentric bomber. Plus, Starman teams up with Batman to save the life of Solomon Grundy. Collecting STARMAN #30-38, STARMAN ANNUAL #2, STARMAN SECRET FILES #1 and THE SHADE #1-4.
Advance-solicited; on sale June 17 • 432 pg, FC, $49.99 US

Written by Jeremy Love
Art and cover by Jeremy Love
"BAYOU, which tackles racism and violence in 1930s Mississippi, is as hypnotic as it is unsettling." — Wired
The first book from the original webcomics imprint of DC Comics is here! South of the Mason-Dixon Line lies a strange land of gods and monsters; a world parallel to our own, born from centuries of slavery, civil war, and hate.
Lee Wagstaff is the daughter of a black sharecropper in the Depression-era town of Charon, Mississippi. When Lily Westmoreland, her white playmate, is snatched by agents of an evil creature known as Bog, Lee's father is accused of kidnapping. Lee's only hope is to follow Lily's trail into this fantastic and frightening alternate world. Along the way she enlists the help of a benevolent, blues-singing swamp monster called Bayou. Together, Lee and Bayou trek across a hauntingly familiar Southern Neverland, confronting creatures both benign and malevolent, in an effort to rescue Lily and save Lee's father from being lynched.
BAYOU VOL. 1 collects the first four chapters of the critically acclaimed webcomic series by Glyph Award nominee Jeremy Love.
Advance-solicited; on sale May 27 • 8.375" x 6", FC, 160 pg, $14.99 US

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Steve Dillon
Cover by Glenn Fabry
"Features more blood and blasphemy than any mainstream comic in memory. Cool." — Entertainment Weekly
Available for the first time in hardcover, preacher Jesse Custer begins his dark journey to find God, in this volume collecting PREACHER #1-12, plus pinups from PREACHER #50 and #66. After merging with a bizarre spiritual force called Genesis, Texan preacher Jesse Custer has become completely disillusioned with the beliefs to which he had dedicated his entire life. Now possessing the power of "the word," an ability to make people do whatever he utters, Custer begins a violent and riotous journey across the country. Joined by his gun-toting girlfriend Tulip and the hard-drinking Irish vampire Cassidy, Custer loses faith in both God and man as he witnesses dark atrocities and improbable calamities during his exploration of America. This new collected edition features an all-new introduction by series writer Garth Ennis.
Advance-solicited; on sale June 24 • FC, 352 pg, $34.99 US • Mature Readers

Super Friends is interesting because of that very nice price point - definitely one to grab for the under-tens in your house, and cheap enough to give to 'em with a package of crayons. Starman is quite probably the best mainstream American comic of the '90s - it's that or Morrison's Doom Patrol anyway - and this complete repackaging is just gorgeous. The Bayou collection is a nice vote of confidence from DC towards its webcomic initiative, and while I still, blasphemously, think Preacher would have been improved by hinting and not showing its excesses, this looks to be an interesting repackage of the title.

Finally this time, MI-6.co.uk reports some good news from Titan:

Fans of the comic-strip James Bond adventures will be thrilled to learn that the final two compendiums from Titan Books are on the way. Once released, Titan will have published all 52 of the classic stories since their original syndication in newspapers from 1958 to 1983, including seven adventures not released in the UK.

The penultimate title and sixteenth in the Titan Books collection will be "The Girl Machine", due for release on 30th June 2009 in the UK and USA. Previously skipped over in earlier releases, "The Girl Machine" will include the titular adventure as well as "Beware Of Butterflies" and "The Nevsky Nude".

All three stories were drawn by Yaroslav Horak and written by Jim Lawrence and were first published in the Daily Express between 1973 and 1974 and have not been seen since their original syndication.

The volume will also contains a brand new introduction by one of the Bond cast and a host of exclusive feature material.

The final and seventeenth collection from Titan will take its title from 1976 strip adventure "Nightbird". Rounding out the series, the volume will also include "Hot-Shot" and "Ape of Diamonds". The reason these stories were skipped over earlier in the series is often rumoured to be connected to rights issues, but this is incorrect. The real reason the strips were passed over in 2007 will become apparent when the volume is released in early 2010. All three adventures were written by Jim Lawrence and drawn by Yaroslav Horak.

More next month!

(Originally posted Feb 10 2009 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reprint This! Pussycat

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 PUSSYCAT, a goofy spy parody helmed by a host of creators over its seven year run, chief among them Bill Ward, Larry Lieber, Jim Mooney and Wally West. Essentially a milder knockoff of Kurtzman and Elder's Little Annie Fanny, the five-page, black and white feature starred a ditzy blonde in the employ of S.C.O.R.E. and appeared sporadically in various "men's adventure" titles published by Marvel Comics' old sister company, Magazine Management.

There's very little information available online about Pussycat beyond what you can find at Wikipedia and the links therein. Basically, Martin Goodman had this line of really embarassing men's mags in the sixties and decided to fill some pages with a regular comic, like Playboy was doing, and grabbed whomever he could find at Marvel to brew up his idea. Fred Hembeck, writing in a 2005 essay about Pussycat, describes the mags as being "the sort that regularly featured paintings of well-endowed babes in torn clothing, equipped with machine guns, facing down evil Nazis on their covers." This goes some way to explain why a complete stripography of Pussycat has yet to emerge; the potential modern fanbase for the pun-filled va-va-voom strip doesn't exactly cross with the potential modern fanbase for those sorts of magazines.

While undeniably dated, derivative and sexist, the few Pussycat strips that made it to a second printing are nevertheless very silly and fun, and the artwork is often quite wonderful. Many of the episodes were drawn by Bill Ward, who is best known among one crowd for his decades of work at Cracked Mazagine and among another for his "good girl" artwork - I've never understood how it got that term - which you probably don't want to look up while you're at work. Pussycat, therefore, is just a dream project for his fans, because it's got a well-endowed cutie running around in her underwear foiling the schemes of the evil agents of L.U.S.T., and the rest of the cast are comedic caricatures in a funny parody of some pop culture trend of the moment, from hippies to astronauts to every point in between, and the stories are packed full of wordplay and groan-inducing puns.

As befits something that came from Spidey's publisher in the swinging sixties, the stories are fairly tame and PG-rated, but were just racy enough to thrill the young Marvelites of that decade when some were republished. It wasn't until the Dracula and Howard the Duck black-and-white mags of the 1970s that Marvel finally broke the nudity barrier; Pussycat's playful sexiness is about as bawdy as the nudist camp scene in Blake Edwards' A Shot in the Dark, and, if we're honest with ourselves, just as much a product of its time.

Eight of the Pussycat adventures were collected in a 1968 Marvel magazine called The Adventures of Pussycat. I don't believe this was complete at the time, and Wikipedia suggests that Jim Mooney-illustrated Pussycat adventures were showing up as late as 1971. Nevertheless, the thirty-five cent magazine was an instant collector's item which changes hands for a pretty penny today, and it's the only opportunity people have to read the stories without scouring around for back issues of magzines with names like Stag.

Without knowing how much material is actually out there, it's not easy to map out a suggested reprint, but it's more likely than not that it could all be compiled in one volume. Marvel has only taken baby steps towards acknowledging all the genres beyond superheroes and horror that they've published over the years. Their old romance and humor titles barely get a look in these days, so Pussycat's probably pretty far down on their list of priorities. There may not be that great a market for it, but I certainly enjoyed the episodes that I've seen, and I think other readers will, as well. So how about it, Marvel?

(Originally posted Feb. 2 2009 at Hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)