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!

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