Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sugar & Spike: DC Comes to its Senses, Then Remembers That it is DC and Screws Up Again

For about ten seconds, all was right in the universe. Next summer, DC Comics is going to reprint the first ten issues of Sheldon Mayer's amazingly funny and cute Sugar & Spike.

Unfortunately, reality soon set in. They're doing it as a pricy, sixty dollar hardcover in their Archives line. Amazon listing.

I think somebody at DC missed the bit about these being kid's comics. The really crazy thing is that they have recently started up a line of 100-page $8 books reprinting recent superhero comics, and that's a line that makes sense for the material, even more than those big, thick Showcase Presents books. Look, Sugar & Spike is wonderful and silly, but it is for children. Sixty-dollar hardcovers are not. Get your heads together, DC!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fantagraphics Announces Barnaby for 2012

Here's some nice news from Fantagraphics. Just the other day, I was selling a customer on how she needed to buy a copy of The Carrot Seed on account of the nice cover artwork by Crockett Johnson, and now one of our favorite US-based publishers announces a complete run of the artist's celebrated Barnaby, which ran in newspapers from 1942-1952. Says Eric Reynolds over at Fantagraphics:

"This is a dream come true for us at Fantagraphics; Barnaby has literally been at the top of our wish list (or mine, personally, at least) for over a decade. The series will collect the strip's original run of dailies (, from April 1942 through February 1952, including the Ted Ferro and Jack Morley run from January 1946 to September 1947, for which Johnson consulted on before coming back to the strip for good until it's end in 1952."

Of course, we have to temper our enthusiasm just a hair when the announcement goes on to include a request of collectors for best-possible-quality copies of the first nineteen months of the strip. I think that's the same damn issue that's delayed their projected Pogo reprints for more than three years. Here's hoping the first book of Barnaby will indeed be on the shelves in April '12, in time for the strip's seventieth anniversary!

Additional, superior reporting available from Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter, who broke the story and Heidi McDonald at The Beat.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Crash and Burn: What the heck is happening with British reprints?

Downright depressing news from lots of places, but what has spurred me into action is a new report from the otherwise always-a-pleasure-to-read Steve Holland at Bear Alley. Looks like we're coming up on a winter of discontent, and many hoped-for projects have been postponed, delayed or canceled outright.

Doctor Who: "The Crimson Hand": I've been watching this develop for several months now, and the news gets worse all the time. After twelve collected editions of the Doctor Who comic, a license dispute between the BBC and Panini has scuttled the third and final edition of Tenth Doctor episodes and left the whole line up in the air.

Panini collected all of the terrific Fourth and Fifth Doctor stories, all the weird Sixth Doctor ones and all the amazingly good Eighth Doctor ones. There weren't quite enough Ninth Doctor stories, but they did release a 100-page magazine with all those, and they released one in a proposed series of Seventh Doctor books, some of which at least were drawn well. (The late 80s and early 90s were a... troubled time for the comic.)

The Tenth Doctor's adventures were compiled in a pair of books called "The Bride of Sontar" and "The Widow's Curse." The storylines were meant to be wrapped up in "The Crimson Hand," but DWM's editor Tom Spilsbury confirmed on the Gallifrey Base Forum that the book never went to print. Spilsbury has, understandly, been tight-lipped about the rumors that have been spreading about why it was canceled and whether we might see it in the future, but there's a wide gap between "understandable" and "preferable" when you're a fan.

For my money, the strip has been weaker since the property returned to TV, but that's not to say it's at all bad, and that last Donna Noble comic, "Time of My Life," was so terrific that there wasn't a hat size to fit it. I don't buy Doctor Who Magazine, but the consensus among fans is that this last chunk of Tenth Doctor stories really was fun and special. I was really looking forward to Panini's collection of them.

Century 21: I reviewed the fourth volume of these reprints over at my Bookshelf blog last month, concluding that their production was going to keep me from preordering any more of them. An anonymous commenter suggested that Reynolds & Hearn was having some business trouble.

In a post earlier today, Steve (who, unlike me, enjoyed the reprints, which included wonderful artwork by the likes of Ron Embleton and Frank Bellamy) confirmed that Reynolds & Hearn has liquidated and resolved to close the company, leaving the proposed fifth volume up in the air. Whether another company which has acquired their publishing list does put "They Walk Among Us" back on the schedule has yet to be determined.

Titan Books: Charley's War, James Bond, Battle Picture Weekly, Action, Misty: But the real personal heartbreak comes from learning that internal business at Titan has left a whole pile of long-anticipated classic comics in limbo. There have been problems here for some time; Diamond did not ship the most recent volumes of Charley's War (from last year, vol. 6) and James Bond (from the spring, vol. 17) to my comic shop, and has no additional stock to meet my store's request, so I'm waiting for Titan to make an "offered again" opportunity for Bizarro Wuxtry to reorder them.

In the meantime, Titan has been soliciting one Battle collection after another, without actually producing any of them. Every few months, Previews will list another title and it will get ordered and everybody will wonder what the heck has happened to all the previous titles that they've offered. For those without long memories, these include:

Johnny Red Vol. 1: Falcon's First Flight
Darkie's Mob
The Best of Land Battle
Rat Pack Vol. 1
Major Eazy Vol. 1
The Best of Action Vol. 1
The Best of Misty Vol. 1

None of these have been formally canceled, although Holland does believe that the company's Roy of the Rovers line is dead. Darkie's Mob, by John Wagner and the late Mike Western, hasn't been officially kicked to 2011 yet, but nobody's optimistic enough to suggest that it will actually arrive before Christmas. And the seventh volume of Charley's War, which I believe deals with the infamous "monocled mutineer" Percy Toplis, is still scheduled for next month. Shame I can't read volume six first.

Oh yeah, and Fantagraphics pushed the first Pogo book back again, to December. That's not British, but it's intended as a Christmas gift, so I'm steamed about it.

Hopefully the next time I find some reason to update this blog, it'll be with good news...!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reprint This! Update on Major Eazy

The great war series Major Eazy by Alan Hebden and Carlos Ezquerra has been my personal favorite strip from the pages of Battle Picture Weekly, and was among the original features listed here hoping for a reprint. (See the original article.) A handful of episodes showed up in Titan's Best of Battle trade paperback last year, and we've been waiting for more.

The current (August 2010) issue of previews at last includes a solicitation for a hardcover collection of the series. It reads as follows:

From the pages of Battle, Britain's best-loved war comic! Major Eazy is a maverick soldier in a dirty war, caught up in the Allies' invasion of Italy in 1944 and determined to see justice done. Even when that means taking on villains on his own side, he doesn't pull any punches! More movie star than military, Eazy was the most laconic British officer ever to grace the pages of a comic.

The book, hopefully first in a series, is scheduled for release October 27 with a $19.95 retail price.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Announcements and things in the wake of Comic-Con

I've been setting aside a few announcements over the last couple of months that I thought were interesting. In the wake of some new good news, I'm putting these in one place to reference. Honestly, things have been pretty slow on this front lately, with no new licenses announced from among the few dozen I've mentioned in this blog previously. That said...

Drawn and Quarterly announced a series of annual collections of Doug Wright's Nipper. Obviously, Seth thinks more of this guy's stuff than I do, but I'm curious to sit down with some of it at some point.

Dark Horse has a mammoth 496-page collection of Dave McKean's Cages as well as a new edition of Jill Thompson's Scary Godmother.

Fantagraphics finally - boy, this is overdue - has a September 2010 release date for the first in their long-anticipated collections of Walt Kelly's Pogo. Also, they've got a second hardcover collection of Linda Medley's Castle Waiting, which my wife enjoys more than me, in December. They've also got a series of collections of the classic Mickey Mouse adventure strip coming in 2011.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reprint This! Update on Rian Hughes

In April of last year, I proposed that what we really needed on bookshelves was a nice set of Rian Hughes' work for 2000 AD. It turns out that the good folk at Rebellion have met me halfway on the project and, this month, released all of Hughes' splendid episodes of Robo-Hunter.

To give a little background, Robo-Hunter, as told by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson, concluded in 1985. Seven years later, the property was revived by Mark Millar and a rotating team of artists. Two one-off episodes were also contributed by writer John Smith. These episodes proved to be very unpopular with readers, and when Peter Hogan took over as writer, most people didn't notice, despite the fact that Rian Hughes illustrated all but one of the fourteen episodes. I've written extensively about the underrated magic of Peter Hogan's tenure and it won't take you long to find a Thrillpowered Thursday or a dozen or so message board threads where I've raved about them.

Last year, Rebellion issued a big phonebook omnibus of Robo-Hunter tales. This was solicited by Diamond to American comic shops but the distributor later canceled the orders, leaving those of us who wanted it to buy it from England. The second volume was not even solicited here, but the first reports on the book came out last week. Frankly, I was expecting a slightly thinner volume than the first, just concluding the Wagner/Grant/Gibson canon of stories, but Rebellion has pulled a nice surprise on us.

Nobody was expecting the Mark Millar run to be included, and of course it is not. Despite some occasionally nice art by Anthony Williams and Simon Jacob, his run is universally derided as a point-missing waste of paper. However, they did include one of the two Smith-written episodes, with art by Chris Weston, and all fourteen Peter Hogan episodes - that's thirteen episodes drawn by Hughes and one drawn by Jacob. The stories are silly, whimsical detective adventures and Hughes draws the hell out of them, designing a strange, timelost world of atomic-age architecture and zap guns. Their inclusion is just about the greatest news we've ever had, and it's downright criminal that Diamond didn't want to carry this book. (And that it has completely snuck up on buyers without a word of hype!!)

That's something like seventy pages of Rian Hughes awesomeness that many people have never seen, just waiting for you in a book that's also got something like 250 pages of Ian Gibson at his greatest. Here, I even found it on Amazon UK for you. Run, don't walk!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reprint This! Update on Doonesbury

It isn't quite the news that we're looking for, but the publisher Andrews McMeel has announced an October 26 release date for 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective. Here's the press release for the book:

Andrews McMeel will publish 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, a massive anniversary collection packaged by the same team that did The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and The Complete Far Side. The book will street on October 26th, the 40th anniversary of the appearance of the first Doonesbury strip. To give some idea of the scale of cartoonist G.B. Trudeau’s body of work, the 1800 strips reprinted in this massive hardcover volume are only around 13% of the over 14,000 strips Trudeau has penned since that first strip in 1970.

The strips and accompanying features in 40 examine the characters of the strip in depth. Trudeau contributes 18 original essays, including an introductory piece and contemplations of individual characters and groups of characters. A four-page fold-out centerfold charts the character’s connections in a “family tree.”

The 664-page, 9-3/4” x 13-1/2” hardback will retail for $100. First printing is 100,000 copies.

Doonesbury is currently syndicated in over 1,400 Sundays and daily newspapers.

It's certainly not as ideal as a full collection would be, but it's a good start, and the eighteen essays sounds like good reading. Maybe Santa Claus will be nice to me.

For more reading, see this blog's original feature on Doonesbury, from back in 2007, and also Walden College Library, my blog about the reprint collections already released.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reprint This! Update on Missionary Man and more

See, I was just saying I wasn't going to abandon this blog and here, five days later, I'm back with a very important update.

2000 AD's graphic novels editor Keith Richardson was the special guest on the latest edition of the Everything Comes Back to 2000 AD podcast, and he went into more detail about the forthcoming year's worth of books in the US and the UK. Of prime importance to this blog's mission statement, the fantastic Missionary Man, written by Gordon Rennie with artists including Frank Quitely, Simon Davis, Alex Ronald and many others, is due for a reprint in the forthcoming Simon & Schuster line of books in April of next year in the US, with a British collection coming some time afterward. My original post about Missionary Man can be read here.

You can listen to the 70-minute conversation by saving this link:


Richardson has clarified many points about the forthcoming line. As mentioned last time, Simon & Schuster is planning to release their books towards the US mass market, meaning, if they can overpower the buyers of big chains with their thrill-packed offerings, you'll be able to see these books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and other big stores, and not languishing in some Diamond warehouse or other, ignoring the requests of comic shop owners who've ordered them. In the meantime, the established, terrific, line in Britain will continue as before.

So here's the lineup for American stores:

June 2010:
Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 1, reprint of the British edition with a new cover
D.R. & Quinch: Not quite a reprint of the British edition. This time around, the 1987 Agony Pages by Jamie Delano and Alan Davis will be in color, plus it will include a couple of pages of Alan Moore’s scripts as a supplement.

July 2010:
Death Lives: A mammoth collection of various Judge Death outings, including episodes drawn by Brian Bolland which have been reprinted many times previously, and by Greg Staples, whose 1996 story "Dead Reckoning" has only been reprinted in magazine form once.
The ABC Warriors: "The Meknificent Seven" – Apparently a substantial upgrade from the last American edition. This one should include a bonus story, in color, by Alan Moore, Steve Dillon and John Higgins which has never been reprinted, and hopefully include the prologue and epilogue from Titan's early 1980s collection.

August 2010:
Harry Twenty on the High Rock: As mentioned last time, this is the first book collection of the highly-regarded classic by Gerry Finley-Day, Alan Grant and Alan Davis.
Judge Dredd: "The Mega-City Masters" volume one - This is an artist-led compilation with work by Brian Bolland, Cam Kennedy, Kevin O’Neill and others.

September 2010:
The Ballad of Halo Jones
Nemesis the Warlock volume one - These are reprints of the existing Rebellion collections, with new covers.

October 2010:
Judge Dredd: "The Mega-City Masters" volume one - This is a writer-led collection with work by John Wagner, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar.
Zombo: "Can I Eat You Please?" - Simultaneous release in the US and UK for this, the first collection of Al Ewing and Henry Flint's wild death planet adventure, the second series of which is running in 2000 AD right this minute.

November 2010:
Slaine: "Warriors’ Dawn," probably a straight reprint of the most recent Rebellion collection.
Hewligan’s Haircut: This hasn't actually been available in quite some time, but this new edition is being released, amazingly enough, to tie in to the Gorillaz' American tour this month!

December 2010:
The first year of the line wraps up with Judge Dredd Complete Case Files 2, again a reprint of the existing Rebellion book with a new cover.

Continuing the existing line, the next several months of releases in the UK and to American comic shops, where applicable, look like this:

April 2010:
Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 15
Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Volume 2

May 2010:
Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth Vol. 2

June 2010:
Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files 02
Leviathan (paperback)

July 2010:
Al’s Baby
The Stainless Steel Rat

August 2010
Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 16, including the epic "Judgement Day"
Harlem Heroes

September 2010
The ABC Warriors: "The Volgan War" volume 3
Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty volume 1 - The Backlash

October 2010
Fiends of Eastern Front – both the original serial by Gerry Finley-Day and Carlos Ezquerra and the sequel by David Bishop and Colin MacNeil
Zombo, published simultaneous to the American edition

November 2010
Meltdown Man - the complete cult classic by Alan Hebden and the late Massimo Belardinelli
Durham Red: "Island of the Damned" by Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra. So this month will see one really thick book (50 episodes) and one skinny one (12 episodes).

December 2010
Chopper: "Surf’s Up" is the title of a collection of what could be all of Chopper's solo adventures following the "Oz" epic from Judge Dredd Case Files 11, with stories by John Wagner, Garth Ennis and Alan McKenzie.
Mega-City Undercover volume two, incorporating stories from the Dreddworld series Low Life and DeMarco P.I.

January 2011
Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty volume two: Under New Management

February 2011
Judge Dredd Complete Case Files 17

March 2011
The Taxidermist - Three Dreddworld stories by John Wagner, with art by Cam Kennedy, Ian Gibson and Trevor Hairsine. One episode in the Gibson-drawn story introduces a minor character named Agnes "Lazer Gaze" Boulton and is, in fact, the funniest thing ever drawn.

It is indeed a terrific lineup of fantastic books. Rather than turning Reprint This! into another outlet for constant 2000 AD information, I hope curious readers will keep an eye on my other blogs, Thrillpowered Thursday and The Hipster Dad's Bookshelf, for more information on them. And thanks to Rich and Flint for running such a fun podcast, to Radiator for keeping the forum updated with the forthcoming thrills thread, and to Rebellion's Keith Richardson for answering fans' questions and keeping us all up to date with what's to come. Florix grabundae!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reprint This! Update on Battle Picture Weekly

Battle Picture Weekly was, of course, one of the best and most important comics ever published. It wasn't just a simply entertaining, well-written and drawn collection of great war stories, it was a critical building block in the development of modern comics. Since without it, you'd never have had a 2000 AD, I've always been interested in it, and any chance to see these terrific stories is one worth taking.

The series and serials in BPW were drawn by some of the best artists working in Britain at the time, including Eric Bradbury, Joe Colquhoun, Carlos Ezquerra, Cam Kennedy and Mike Western. Many of the stories were devised by Pat Mills and John Wagner, and while they only scripted a few themselves, they assigned others to the likes of Gerry Finley-Day and Alan Hebden. They all developed storylines, sometimes sharply different from each other in tone, with vulnerable anti-heroes, radically different from the indestructible leads in American war comics. Reading just one issue of BPW after an identikit Robert Kanigher DC adventure is the greatest breath of fresh air in the medium.

Titan Books, which has been collecting Battle's most lauded strip, Charley's War, for several years now, landed the reprint rights to several old IPC properties what seemed like an eternity ago, and late last year finally released the first of their new Battle collections. The Best of Battle is similar in feel to their two Roy of the Rovers samplers, three hundred pages of reprints in a slightly oversized format with a paperback cover. The book contains the first 3-5 episodes of eighteen different series. Each comes with an introductory page and a short blurb written by either Mills or BPW's one-time editor, Dave Hunt.

I think the format is a good one, as far as samplers go, but it looks to me like Titan was a draft or two shy of assembling something really special. The most aggravating example is Hold Hill 109, a six-part serial by Steve MacManus and Jim Watson. Four of the six episodes are included in this book, which is nice, but what are the odds that Hold Hill 109 will ever be reprinted anywhere else? Between Charley's War, Johnny Red and Darkie's Mob, there are 12-13 episodes which are either already available in Titan collections or are due for release within a few months. Couldn't eight of those pages be given up to see all of Hold Hill 109?

I'm also a little surprised that Battle Action Force isn't even mentioned in the book. Admittedly, even with the nice artwork by John Cooper, the toy line tie-in, sort of a parallel antecedent to Hasbro's G.I. Joe line of the 1980s, was the sign that the comic's brightest moments had passed, but it still has a huge number of fans. Evidently there's some rights issues at work, as Palitoy still owns those characters like Baron Buckethead or whoever it was they were fighting prior to Cobra Commander, but considering just how important the Action Force was to Battle's later days - Johnny Red and Charley's War wouldn't have made it to their ends without Action Force sales propping up the comic - I think it should have been mentioned.

If readers would forgive the regular quibbling of a Monday morning quarterback, the book is truly a fine introduction to Battle, and one which will certainly get new readers excited about the other material Titan has planned. Six volumes of Charley's War are already out, the first collection of Johnny Red should be with us by the end of the month, and a complete Darkie's Mob - all 44 episodes - is solicited in the current Previews for later in the spring. The book also promises that collections of two of my favorite Battle series, Major Eazy and Rat Pack, are on the horizon.

The only other quibble that I have is that getting accurate shipping dates and advance plans from Titan is really like pulling teeth. Most of their books seem subject to interminable delays - where the devil is the third volume of Jeff Hawke, guys?! - and so it's impossible to guess exactly when we'll get the follow-up volumes that I've been craving. It's simply bad business to serve up an appetizer as tasty as this and shy away from the main course!

Read more of what I've written about Battle Picture Weekly at A Journal of Zarjaz Things.

Read other reviews of The Best of Battle:

Steve Holland at Bear Alley
Bart Croonenborghs at Broken Frontier
John Freeman at Down the Tubes

In other news, artist Steve Lieber was nice enough to drop me a line about his Image Comics series Underground, written by Jeff Parker. It's a five-part series about a park ranger in Kentucky trying to save a fragile cave system from developers in a town which badly needs the tourist business, leading to an ugly cat-and-mouse game. Underground doesn't seem to have shown up on many bloggers' radars, but it's a fine adventure with sympathetic characters and some really nice artwork. Image is releasing a collected edition of the miniseries on April 21.

Over at Dark Horse, underground pioneer Denis Kitchen is the subject of a forthcoming retrospective. The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen is a 200-page hardcover collection with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. Apparently, Kitchen was planning a similar project back when he was running the late, lamented Kitchen Sink Press in the early nineties, but it never came to fruition. The book's sure to be anticipated by fans of underground comix and goes on sale June 23rd.

There is some big news, equally confusing and wonderful, from Rebellion, publishers of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, 2000 AD. Seems they have signed a new deal with Simon & Schuster to distribute their line of graphic novels in the US. This deal looks like it's meant to target American mass market retailers - and not the direct market - with two collections every month, starting in the summer.

To be honest, there's little in the line to excite longtime 2000 AD fans like me, who've bought this material in multiple editions already, but putting the material out there for new readers to finally sample at every bookstore in America sounds like a very good thing indeed. The exception to that sentence is Harry Twenty on the High Rock, a 1983 serial written by Gerry Finley-Day (and an uncredited Alan Grant) with art by Alan Davis, who's contributing a new cover to the book. While it's been dusted off for magazine reprints, this serial has never been collected in book form before, and should be out in August.

Rebellion is also continuing their long-running line of collections which are available to British booksellers and, occasionally, to the American direct market via Diamond. August will see the release of the classic Harlem Heroes by Tom Tully, Dave Gibbons and Massimo Belardinelli, perhaps also including the sequel series, Inferno, along with the sixteenth in the series of Judge Dredd Case Files.

On that note, I would like to thank readers for reading Reprint This!, and hope you'll understand that I've decided against continuing in the present format. I really seem to have exhausted the supply of good feature ideas for reprints that I would be genuinely excited to see and purchase at this time, and I've kind of been noticing that the "reprint news" summary like this one has been feeling more like work. I will continue using this blog to spotlight news and announcements that appeal to me, and have no intention of abandoning it, but I am removing the "deadline" element of it, so that I can continue sharing exciting news when it's fresh, rather than having a chore. Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Reprint This! Nobody Wants Me to Talk About Nuts

Exciting news, friends!

Back in September, I was forced to postpone my in-progress feature suggestion for a new edition of Gahan Wilson's Nuts because my fellow collected-editions-advocate, Chris Mautner at Robot 6, beat me to it. So I decided to reschedule it for the month after I did a writeup for the big Playboy book, not knowing specifically when that would come, which I published two days ago.

Today, I was reading this very good interview with Wilson over at the Stranger, "Seattle's Only Newspaper," and found this exciting announcement from the artist:

"And then there is another thing coming up from [Fantagraphics], which I'm very happy about, which is a National Lampoon... They had a little section in the rear of the magazine, which was called The Funny Pages, and they had the more regular artists do little comic strips. And so I had this full-page thing, which was called Nuts. ... It dawned on me that one of the most really challenging, horrific adventures we go through is very early childhood. ... If you watch kids, they're humans. So they're really trying the best they can to understand and cope with this fantastic, mysterious thing—being alive. And they don't know anything about it. It's all a mystery to them—it's a mystery to all of us—but it's a total mystery to them. I mean, starting from how do you keep upright, things like that, to all kinds of complicated things happening in their presence and they can't figure out what is going on. But they have to somehow or other, they want to appear that they're functioning right and so on. So that's what my National Lampoon strip was about. There was a collection of it, oh, I don't know, 20 years ago. But the magazine closed—I wish some magazine like that still existed; we could use it—and so this will be The Complete Nuts. And so Fantagraphics will do their usual beautiful job. And I'm absolutely delighted. That'll be coming up next year."

So there, Reprint This! will take off the March feature because clearly nobody wants me to write up a feature on Nuts. They will either beat me to it or preempt me entirely. No complaints here! I'll resume March 10 for the monthly news-n-review column.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reprint This! Update on Gahan Wilson

Be careful what you wish for department: I've loved Gahan Wilson's work for many years. He's an amazing talent, and while you may never find a consensus as to precisely when Playboy was no longer really worth the effort, it's clear that the cartoons have been the best thing about the magazine for many years, and Wilson's the best of those.

Fantagraphics has pleased me greatly by releasing this fantastic collection of all of Wilson's gleefully surreal and macabre work for Playboy. It is one hell of a presentation. It's three hardback collections in a slipcase with a plexiglass backing. The back cover of each volume features a different hilarious photo of the 79 year-old artist's face and hands pressed up against glass; boxed in the slipcase, it looks like he's been crammed into the box and is praying for release. Each book has a die-cut cover and, while arranged chronologically, is divided into sections by inserted pages repeating the die-cut of the cover.

This can't have been a cheap book to produce, and the price tag confirms it: $125 is a lot to pay at retail. It's worth every penny, as, apart from the bells-n-whistles of the presentation, it does contain every single drawing that Wilson did for Playboy, along with short stories, appreciations by Hugh Hefner and Neil Gaiman, and an interview with the artist by Gary Groth. It's nearly 1000 pages long, the cartoons are printed at their original publication size (that is, mostly one to a page), and it's all done on just about the nicest paper available. It's a book that just oozes quality.

And yet... there's a part of me that wishes there was a little less to it. Don't misunderstand me; Fantagraphics has created an amazing tribute, and I'll treasure my copy, but $125 is a really tall order. The presentation and the supplements are wonderful, but I can't help but wish that Fanta made this material available in a series of inexpensive softcover volumes as well. I feel at least a little strongly that great comics should be available to as wide a range of buyers as possible. Then again, I thought that about the thematically similar complete hardcover editions of Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Don Martin's work for Mad and nobody's put out anything resembling mass market editions of those, so I'm not holding my breath. Thanks for realizing one Reprint This! request, Fantagraphics, but could you make sure the next one you fill is just a little more affordable?

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

Read other reviews of Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons:

Jeet Heer at Comics Comics
John Hogan at Graphic Novel Reporter
Laurel Maury for the San Francisco Chronicle
The Comics Panel at the Onion AV Club

Every month, I pick out a few upcoming collected editions that sound a little neat, and pass those along to readers in what surely must be the least objective "collected editions" news around. For example, you'd do well to talk to your local comic shop about Dark Horse's April offerings. For one, they've got a hardcover collection of all of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden stories. I've read a couple of these and they are really quite good. The series is about a menagerie of dogs and cats who defend a small community against weird supernatural grotesqueries, and I guarantee you that the last page of the second issue will send the meanest chill up your spine you've ever felt. They're also issuing a paperback edition of Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons' complete, 600-page Martha Washington series. Actually, I don't much care for this title at all, but 600 pages of Gibbons drawing anything sounds good for only thirty bucks.

But the really, really cool thing is this: A long time ago in a market far, far away, Dark Horse had issued full reprints of Marvel's old Star Wars series, the one by Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Carmine Infantino and Walt Simonson, among others, but it was at a disagreeable price point and I never bought them. But in June, Dark Horse is doing them in their successful omnibus line of reprints, and you'll be able to get the first 26 issues of the series in one volume for only $25. Good job; I will probably buy that!

I will also be passing on IDW's forthcoming Li'l Abner series, but I'm glad to hear about it. The comic strip by Al Capp ran for forty years, leaving behind a downright odd film adaptation that featured both Julie Newmar and Billie Hayes, a tie-in soda called Kickapoo Joy Juice which, as Ski / Mountain Dew clones go, was just fine by me, and an amusement park called Dogpatch USA which still sits abandoned in the middle of nowhere, Arkansas, attracting explorers and Airsoft players. Some years ago, Kitchen Sink embarked on a complete reprint of the series that never finished, and, to hear my dad tell it, didn't get to the strip's really good years that started in the late 1950s. My dad probably likes Li'l Abner more than you, mind. Anyway, it's another addition to IDW's "Library of American Comics" imprint, a big line which nobody can afford but which we're glad to see available anyway.

I don't know whether you've tried to read Marvel or DC's forthcoming solicitations, but it's been getting harder and harder to separate the gems from the dross, in part because, as an eyeball-bludgeoning glance at the graphic novel shelves at Borders will confirm, the companies are hell-bent on rereleasing everything that they publish in these flimsy, 144-page things which retail for $14.99 and which get battered all to heck on the shelves. Nevertheless, somewhere in those fields of crap, if you look through DC's summer notes - they will be offering eight separate hardcovers detailing the thousands of pages of their current "Blackest Night" storyline - you'll see that the publisher is releasing a second Showcase collection of classic Doom Patrol episodes by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani. The first volume was easily one of the highlights of the line, and if you enjoy high-concept adventure stories, you'll probably get a kick out of these crazy sixties comics.

Lastly this time (yeah, it's a short one), we're still waiting on confirmation about what the forthcoming two volumes of Judge Dredd Restricted Case Files will contain, but the big news from Rebellion is the formal announcement of two July books: The Stainless Steel Rat and Al's Baby, two titles drawn by Carlos Ezquerra which I have wanted to see reprinted for such a long time. Place your orders now, friends, and tell everybody you know. The Stainless Steel Rat, based on three novels by Harry Harrison, is 36 episodes of twist-filled, high-concept, con-artist sci-fi from the early eighties, and Al's Baby is 33 episodes of hilarious mob-comedy about a hitman who cannot convince his wife, the godfadda's dotta, to have a baby, so he's got to carry one himself to avoid a pair of concrete boots. Cross-dressing, getaway cars, first trimester cravings, high explosives, labor pains and sleeping with the fishes, it's all here and it's very funny. Spread the word!

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

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reprint This! Moonchild

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 MOONCHILD, a 1978 horror serial by Pat Mills and John Armstrong. This 13-part serial originally ran in the pages of Misty and is fondly remembered for its wonderful, slow burn of a buildup to a a great little conclusion. It's a great story which gets around the horrific things that a kids' comic probably couldn't get away with at the time by presenting excellent characters that rise above the usual girls' comics archetypes.

For several decades, Britain had a thriving industry of comics aimed at girls. These were enormously successful, and each of them sold better than 100,000 copies a week. Most of them were launched in the 1950s and ably tackled most of the expected tropes of girls' fiction, including rotten schoolmasters, wannabe ballerinas with broken ankles, evil uncles crushing your plans to join the school swim team, horses, girls who wanted to own horses, girls who dreamed of horses, and evil uncles cheating girls out of the inheritance they were going to use to buy horses. There were a lot of evil uncles in the pages of Judy, Tammy, Jinty and the like. And horses.

Misty was among the later girls' titles and there were all kinds of evil uncles in it, although comparatively few horses. There were also Bast-worshipping cults who wanted to turn plucky young heroines into cats, and abandoned tower blocks which sent plucky young heroines to a parallel universe where the Nazis won, and haunted paintbrushes which contained the emotional echoes of a 19th Century nanny who tried to communicate with a plucky young heroine who suddenly found herself painting in the style of the unfortunate ancestor of a local MP, evil garden gnomes and butterfly collectors, and a whole hell of a lot of horror and death and gruesome twist endings. Misty wasn't your typical girls' comic at all; it was the one you didn't want your parents to know you were reading.

Most of the boys' comics of the day featured character-led stories which, if successful, carried on for several months or years. While there were exceptions in the girls' comics, like the famous Four Marys which ran in Bunty for more than 40 years, most of the strips you'd find in them were shorter serials. A typical issue of Misty would usually have three one-offs and four installments of serials that ran from about six to eighteen weeks.

Moonchild is probably the most celebrated and best-remembered of the Misty stories. It's a fairly obvious cash-in on Stephen King's Carrie, but it's great fun. Pat Mills was launching lots of comics in the '70s with an obvious starting point; Hook Jaw was Jaws, both Dredger and Judge Dredd have Dirty Harry as ancestors, and so on. Moonchild loses almost all of Carrie's puberty-as-trauma subtext in favor of a gentler depiction of ESP as a natural family gift, but the story's construction is very clever, with a slow and deliberate buildup to our heroine's explosive smackdown of the school bullies who have betrayed her.

The serials in Misty don't really lend themselves to single-story collections the way that the much longer, character-driven stories from boys and sports comics did. Moonchild, even with all its twists and bully-driven plotting, is not even 60 pages long, far too short for a good collected hardback.

I fear that the art is another strike against it. John Armstrong was an extremely successful artist whose young ballerina strip, Bella, had run for almost a decade in the pages of Tammy, but I think that this charming art really looks very dated, and isn't likely to find too many fans today. There's a little more to it than these samples can provide, a real sense of movement and balance across the pages, and great characterization in the faces. Yet it's so far removed from what passes for good art in girls' horror comics these days - I mean, have you seen that godawful Twilight comic?! - that I doubt today's young fangirls would give it a second glance.

Titan Books has the reprint rights to Misty, but a proposed hardcover "best-of" collection has barely made it out of the rumor stage. I'm sure assembling the book must be a chore, with its unusual mix of short serials and one-offs, without a single well-known artist to hang promotion around. Whatever Titan comes up with, I think that Moonchild could certainly form the backbone of a nice 200-page "best-of" teamed with two other serials and nine or ten one-offs. I hope they've got something like that in mind!

There are some more details about Misty at Mistycomic.co.uk, a pretty good fan site which contains complete details of the comic's long publication history through multiple mergers and closures. Give 'em a visit!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reprint This! Update on Bloom County

I listen through my CD collection in an obsessive-compulsive manner that nobody would understand, and one morning this week, an ABC compilation called Absolutely came up in the rotation. You remember ABC, right? British new-wavers led by Martin Fry, best known for their top 5 hit "When Smokey Sings," remember? Well, they had another song, which just dented the Billboard chart at # 89, called "That was Then But This is Now," and it's the most Reaganesque song you ever heard. I recalled that there was a lot of British pop music that explored life in the ugly end of the Cold War, with thousands of nuclear missiles ready to scream overhead as Reagan stared down Brezhnev / Andropov / Chernenko / Gorbachev, the best of it done by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. And it is all so incredibly dated. Yet a sequence in this first nice collection of Berke Breathed's Bloom County has Milo and Binkley wandering into the Oval Office on a 1981 school tour of the White House, prank calling the USSR and nearly starting the Third World War, and it's positively timeless. How the heck did that happen?

Fans of Bloom County - they are legion, and Breathed jokes that they camp on his lawn - have been clamoring for a complete collection of the Reagan-era strip ever since it ended. And it was a very Reagan-era strip. John Lennon was murdered on the night that Bloom County debuted, and it ended about seven months after George Bush was inaugurated. Prince Charles and Diana were regular characters for a time, as was a caricature of Ted Turner, under the name Ashley Dashley, who was then making waves with his ahead-of-the-curve Superstation TBS. The Moral Majority, endlessly tiresome even to me as a middle schooler, is represented by Otis Oracle, who yearns for the days of Ozzie and Harriet, and if the belicose antics of the modern Tea Party movement sound familiar, it's because Major Bloom was spewing all that vitriol at his grandson Milo on the funny pages about thirty years ago. Yet it all seems incredibly fresh and exciting, and, more often than not, completely hilarious.

Bloom County has been collected before, of course, but never properly. Perhaps a quarter of these strips made it into a book called Loose Tails which sold by the truckload in 1983; a later book called Babylon found space for another hundred or so from this era. This scattershot approach gave readers glances about the odd, unfocussed early days of the strip, but hardly a chance to see it develop, as we now can.

It's really fascinating to see so many now-forgotten characters thrown into the mix in the hopes that some of them might stick. Breathed, who contributes several dozen footnotes throughout the book, is quite honest that he had no clue what his strip was actually going to be about. Until the cast that became the regulars coalesced, it went off into wild directions and dozens of characters drifted through, including a basset hound named Rabies and a pretty shameless ripoff of Doonesbury's Uncle Duke called Limekiller.

In fact, there's quite a lot that's pretty shamelessly ripped off from Doonesbury, enough to earn Breathed some long-lasting enmity from that strip's creator, Garry Trudeau. The most egregious is a recurring gag with Milo's bathroom mirror talking back to him about his self-doubts, which came straight from Mike's dorm room in 1970-72, but it's more than that; the pacing, the timing and the tone itself come from Doonesbury. Happily, Breathed has never made a secret of his admiration for Trudeau's strip, and has apologized, quite charitably and humbly, for his excesses. I can name a half-dozen people who work in the arts who could learn a good deal from Breathed's behavior.

Anyway, as imitations of Doonesbury go, Bloom County was by far the best of them even before Breathed found his own voice, by which time it was essential reading. Even though that time is towards the end of this book, around the point where Ashley Dashley is phased out and Opus phased in, it's still a very nice collection, which IDW has done a fantastic job producing. It's an oversized hardcover, the first of a planned five, which reprints every single daily and Sunday strip in order, along with annotations, footnotes and supplementary features. The retail price is a little high at $40, but it's a terrific book, on very nice paper, and everybody involved did a standup job. It's definitely one of the highlights of recent collected editions, and anybody who likes comics should find a place for it in their library.

Hmmm. I wonder how well Spitting Image holds up...

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 Bloom County volume one:

Greg McElhatton at Read About Comics
Chris Mautner at Robot 6
Scott Cederlund at Pop Syndicate
K.C. Carlson at Westfield Comics
Mike Russell at Ain't it Cool News, also including an illuminating interview with the book's editor, Scott Dunbier.

Friends and folks, I'll be blunt and honest with you: I have not been paying attention the last few weeks to the news and rumors about reprints that I should have. Guess I've been too busy watching Rockford Files or something. Anyway, one very important thing that did come out since the last news roundup in November was the release of Fantagraphics' spring and early summer catalog, which has all sorts of interesting news in it. This news is all more than a month old, but just in case you're relying on me and my opinions for this sort of thing, here are some highlights:

The eighth volume of the collected Love & Rockets in its 2008 trade dress style, Penny Century, collects a whole pile of Jaime Hernandez's Penny-centered episodes, carrying the story on through the older Whoa Nellie! and Locas in Love volumes and expanding on them somewhat. Gilbert Hernandez's The High Soft Lisp is in the older style dress and collects all the previously uncompiled Fritzi episodes. These are apparently both due in April.

If you're looking for a good entry point to Robert Crumb, they've got a new Book of Mr. Natural compiling twenty years' worth of material for twenty bucks in April.

There should be two Complete Peanuts this year: 1975-76, with Freida and her naturally curly hair on the cover, and 1977-78 with Peppermint Patty on the cover.

Willie and Joe: Back Home: Late '40s-early '50s work by Bill Mauldin in another lovely hardcover, definitely worth considering.

Four years of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. Yeah, all of us still waiting for Fanta to start up Pogo will have to wait until at least September at the earliest; in the meantime, the first volume of Nancy is due out, and so is a volume of Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer. I'll probably be passing on both, but I am certainly glad to see so many interesting archival projects going on.

While those two rank as "probably not, but thanks for doing 'em"s, I really am glad to hear about a print version of Drew Weing's webcomic Set to Sea. $17 for the hardcover and worth every darn penny, this is definitely one you'll hear more about from me in the summer!

IDW's King Aroo collection should be out any day now. Man, I hope this is as good as I've been hearing! IDW is also reprinting Al Capp's Li'l Abner among other classic American comic strips, and the first volume of that is due in March.

DC, meanwhile, announced something genuinely odd for the summer: a pair of books reprinting the 1978 special Superman vs Muhammad Ali, in which the Man of Steel and the Sting-Like-a-Bee Guy team up to whup some alien ass. The 72-page story, by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, has long been a favorite with lovers of '70s kitsch, although the seven year-old me who took everything too seriously thought it was stupid when it was first released. Anyway, long out of print, the book's coming back in two editions, one with a big Neal Adams sketchbook and one which duplicates the original, ovesized tabloid dimensions.

Speaking of DC, it looks like they've pushed back that Steve Ditko Creeper collection yet again, and we might see it towards the end of June.

In May, Top Shelf is releasing a 144-page collection of Kathryn & Stuart Immonen's Moving Pictures, a strip set during World War Two, and the ugly relationship that develops between a German officer and a museum curator as the Nazis plunder Europe's art treasures. It sounds really interesting, and you can read more and see some sample pages over at Robot 6.

Dark Horse is bringing out a third volume of Chris Onstad's Achewood in those really lovely books they've been doing. I'm not a fan of the strip, if you believe such people as me exist, but I betcha that A Home for Scared People will be one of the best-looking books of the year.

I've got into the habit of writing up Rebellion's planned releases as my last blurb, and that's probably because I just like saving my favorites for last, I suppose. The company has four releases planned for February and March. These include a phone book-sized collection of Rogue Trooper (400 pages by Gerry Finley-Day, Dave Gibbons, Colin Wilson, Cam Kennedy and Brett Ewins), the first in at least two volumes of Judge Dredd Restricted Files, reprinting several one-off adventures from the pages of old 2000 AD Annuals and Specials, and the fifth volume of Slaine. Entitled "Demon Killer," this one should collect a pile of stories by Pat Mills with art by the likes of Nick Percival, Glenn Fabry and Dermot Power.

While these three books are available to American comic shops via Diamond, the distributor is not offering the fourth Button Man volume by John Wagner and Frazer Irving. Fans who'd like to read this collection will need to order it from a British bookseller or Amazon.

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

Friday, January 1, 2010

Reprint This! Jack Ziegler

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.

I discovered Jack Ziegler when I was in high school. The Campbell High library really was a pretty good one, with some nifty collections of old comics, and it was there that I discovered Hamburger Madness, which I believe was the first of several books which reprint Ziegler's work from the pages of The New Yorker and other magazines. I flipped through the pages, hit a gag about the amenities available at the "Apex Motel" and collapsed into a fit of librarian-infuriating guffaws the likes of which that library had never seen before, or since. I closed the book, checked it out and didn't dare open the covers again until I got to the lunchroom.

Ziegler joined the regulars of the New Yorker in 1975, but he had a few exciting years of work under his belt before then. He was one of the first regulars for National Lampoon in 1969 or so, and also spent some time submitting to Esquire. Ziegler credits the great Harvey Kurtzman, then working as Esquire's cartoon editor, as being very important to his development and growth as a cartoonist.

Over the course of the seventies, Ziegler became the poet laureate of surreal observations of suburbia. I believe that he inherited Charles Addams' old crown as the New Yorker's best cartoonist, and proved an obvious inspiration to The Far Side's Gary Larson. Ziegler's is a world of puns and silly wordplay and skewed technology, where toasters and backyard grills become subversively fetishized. From his looks at intown barflies to dial-a-joke lines, Ziegler is rarely mean-spirited, but skewers his targets with a loving, twinkling wit that nobody else in comics manages quite as well. He's absolutely a treasure, and it's long past time he found broader recognition and praise.

Many of Ziegler's cartoons have been collected over the years in a variety of books, some of which are out of print. Apart from Hamburger Madness, you can find many of his cartoons in the collections Marital Blitz, Olive or Twist?, How's the Squid? and the aptly-named The Essential Jack Ziegler. This was one of a Lee Lorenz-edited series that was released in 2000 and features a very informative interview along with several dozen cartoons.

Thanks to the wonderful Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker collection, with its accompanying DVD, I do have copies of plenty of Ziegler cartoons which have not appeared in book form. However, I sure would like a nice, oversized hardcover putting lots of material together in one place. I think such a book is long overdue; Ziegler's so long been underrated by our hobby that a really nice package would go a long way towards getting him the notice and the praise that he's certainly due outside of New Yorker afficionados. So how about it, somebody?