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?