After being cheated for many years at Marvel (where he created and/or wrote and drew Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, The Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, Dr. Doom, and many other iconic characters) Jack Kirby went to DC in the early 1970s with more creative control and some of the wildest ideas in the history of comics. This Jack Kirby Fourth World Omnibus, coming out in December, has the complete run of his Fourth World series: Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, The New Gods, The Forever People, Mister Miracle, and the graphic novel, The Hunger Dogs.
It is 1,536 pages long!
In 2008, John Hodgman reviewed an earlier edition of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus for the New York Times. Excerpt:
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“KIRBY’S HERE!” shouted bold sunbursts on the cover of early Kirby issues. The Fourth World was to be his liberation — the place where he would at last get to do his own thing.
The results were startling. Kirby fans already knew that his art was muscular and kinetic, and in this collection, he’s at the height of his powers. His characters are always in motion, leaping and punching at impossible angles, straining at the panels that try to contain them. Kirby’s writing was the same way. His stories were linear — even primitive. But there is something powerful and melancholy and personal that weeps in Orion’s epic, city-smashing rages.
At other times, though, the pages cannot seem to keep up with Kirby’s astonishing imagination.
I love the Dell comics section, particularly the Four Color series. This is a series that was published several times a month, featuring mostly licensed one-shot comics. The quality of the art and writing is surprisingly high, and the comic book versions of obscure sitcoms (Car 54, Where Are You?), cartoons (King Leonardo and His Short Subjects), adventure shows (Sea Hunt), and tons of other material are fascinating and hilarious (intentionally and otherwise).
Where else would I have discovered King of Diamonds, a comic book based on a short-lived TV show about detective John King (Broderick Crawford) who ONLY takes cases involving the recovery of stolen diamonds? The guy is weirdly obsessed. And he's a comic book hero who looks like this: (art by Mike Sekowsky, Frank Giacoia)
I have no comment on the site's claim that all the comic books on the site are in the Public Domain, except to say that it's so obviously in everyone's interest that these comics are made available for people to see, and no one's economic interests are harmed in the least. Read the rest
Originally published in 1978, Will Eisner’s A Contract With God “existed in its own continuum, patiently waiting for the rest of its kind to quietly arrive…” says Scott McCloud in his introduction to the hardcover edition, released in celebration of what would have been Eisner’s centennial year. McCloud’s intro, the publisher’s following “Brief History,” and Eisner’s own preface firmly contextualize the work and its creator within its time and the larger comics scene to which Eisner was so integral. With or without the history, it is nearly impossible to imagine a reader not being blown away by this collection.
A Contract With God explores the everyday extremes of human experience through the tenement building at 55 Dropsie Avenue. Residents strive, struggle, and schlep through the graphic short stories. Eisner explores the themes therein on multiple levels, with text and illustration that are cuttingly resonant. His characters fall in and out of faith in God, man, and love. Some are blindly optimistic and others rawly matter-of-fact in their realism. Some are both.
The stories are a fictional fleshing-out of Eisner’s life. The title story stems from his own experience of losing a child, The Street Singer and The Super from imagined realities of the characters in and around his own tenement, and my favorite, Cookalein, in some ways the most complex story in its interconnected and contrasting experiences of class, romance, and sex across its cast of characters, is what Eisner calls “a combination of invention and recall.” All the stories, in all the ways they are told, are violent, sad, intense, and beautiful. Read the rest
Someone has already bid $80,000 on a near-mint copy of Suspense Comics #3 from 1944, with a cover by Alex Schomburg. This is the type of comic book that led to the moral panic resulting in a senate hearing on the rampant sexual perversion and violence in comics and the collapse of the comic book publishing industry, as chronicled in David Hadju's excellent book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America.
In 2015, a copy of Suspense #3 in similar condition sold for $173,275.
Here's a complete scan of the issue, in case you are interested. There's nothing lurid inside, other than some light homoerotic bondage.
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Suspense Comics #3 Mile High Pedigree (Continental Magazines, 1944) CBCS NM- 9.2 White pages. This white-hot Golden Age issue, driven by the "classic" Nazi bondage/torture cover by Alex Schomburg, has been climbing the list of Overstreet's Top 100 Golden Age Books for years. It's currently at #26, up from #38 in 2012, and #63 in 2007. It's no surprise that the Mile High Copy is the finest known, but that there is a Mile High Copy at all will be a surprise to some. Until recently the common opinion was that a Mile High Copy of the iconic issue didn't exist! Overstreet rates it "scarce", and Gerber goes even further, assigning it a "9" or "very rare"! CGC hasn't certified a higher grade than VF 8.0 for the book, although we have been fortunate enough to have offered the impressive Pennsylvania Copy in 2015, a CBCS VF/NM 9.0, which realized a record-setting $173,275!
The great illustrator Drew Friedman will be exhibiting the portraits he painted for Heroes of the Comics and More Heroes of the Comics at the Museum of Illustration in NYC May 2 to June 3, 2017. (Read my reviews here and here).
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Drew Friedman’s two recent books Heroes of the Comics and More Heroes of the Comics, published by Fantagraphics books, depicted the great early comic book creators who entered into the dawn of the business between 1935–1955, a milestone in the early history of comic books. The Museum of Illustration at the Society of Illustrators is proud to present 100 original, meticulous color illustrations from Friedman’s two books.
Among the colorful subjects are comics pioneer Max (M.C.) Gaines, the creators of Superman Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, and Superman publishers Harry Donenfled and Jack Liebowitz, and comic book legends including Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Will Eisner, (the subject of a large concurrent exhibition also at SI celebrating his 100th birthday), Jack Kirby, Martin Goodman, Harvey Kurtzman, Stan Lee, Wally Wood, William M. Gaines, C.C. Beck, Joe Kubert, Jack Cole, Steve Ditko, Al Jaffee, Carl Barks, Jules Feiffer, James Warren, and many more. Also included in the gallery will be several early female creators including Marie Severin and author Patricia Highsmith who began her career writing for comics, and several African American creators, among them Matt Baker, Alvin Hollingsworth and Orrin C. Evans. The greats and the near greats, many long forgotten with the passage of time but who deserve recognition for their work, now revived in Friedman’s two books and this exhibition.
“Is becoming a successful manga artist an achievable dream or just one big gamble?” The back cover of every Bakuman. poses this question, the central question to a series about the highs and lows of professional art, and the troubles an artist has to endure for their work. In Bakuman., two high school students named Mashiro and Takagi team up to create manga, taking on the roles of artist and writer, respectively. They have different and unique motivations for pursuing this path, Takagi doing it to avoid falling into the trap of a boring life, while Mashiro endeavors to impress the girl he loves. They’re both incredibly well developed characters that struggle, win, lose, and never accept defeat. Over the course of the 20 volumes in this set, we’re offered an in depth chronicle of their attempts at success.
Manga fans may recognize creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata as the team behind the popular Death Note. While Death Note was a high concept mystery, Bakuman. is a much more accessible “everyday life” kind of story that blends comedy and drama with ease. Now excuse me while I gush a little, because I think Bakuman. may be my favorite manga series. Any manga/comics fan should read it, but I cannot recommend it enough to anybody working in an artistic medium. Ohba & Obata use the simple plot to develop a complex reflection on the nature of creation. In their journey, Mashiro and Takagi have to confront the reality of achieving their dreams, struggling to discover if it was worth the struggle. Read the rest
Superman always left me cold. Virtually omnipotent, unerringly virtuous, and slightly boring, Superman is capable of rescuing kittens from trees, leaping over buildings with a single bound, and routinely saving the entire planet from certain cataclysm. He always wins. Sure, he was sort of killed once, he's been naughty on occasion (usually due to some form of Kryptonite or an alternate reality), and he certainly has a fascist streak in the current movies, but his most recent controversy is whether he's wearing the red trunks or not. Yawn.
I was always fascinated by the C-squad heroes, the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time group just below Aquaman and Elongated Man in name recognition. Red Tornado, the 1940's heroine who fought crime while wearing a bucket on her head, utilizing only her fists and wit. Mr. Terrific, the Golden Age 'Man of 1000 Talents', who rarely used any of them. Phantom Stranger, a mage with omnipotent powers who was merely a narrator in his own book, generally only appearing in the first and last panels. And then there's The Legion Of Superheroes, whose members included Bouncing Boy, who had the ability to inflate himself and bounce around, Ferro Lad, who could turn himself to solid iron, and Matter Eater Lad, who could eat anything, which inspired the indie rock group Guided By Voices to write a song about him. Don't even get me started on the League Of Substitute Heroes, the minor leaguers with questionable abilities not quite up to snuff to join the Legion.
The League Of Regrettable Superheroes examines the careers of a few of the comic book history's least likely heroes. Read the rest
If you were one of the lucky Del Toro fans who got to see the At Home With Monsters show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this year I hope you found the photo-mural of his house on the way out and took a selfie there — it looks like YOU are right there inside Bleak House, Del Toro’s home of monsters! (see my pic above). Seeing that show was about as close as any of us will ever be to getting inside to see his collection. If you missed the show, then this book is the next best thing.
Any fan of horror, sci-fi, and Del Toro films like Hellboy, will love this handsome book designed to go along with the museum show. The legendary film director’s collection of original art, movie props and extraordinarily realistic life-size figures is truly amazing. His appetite is omnivorous and wide-ranging from low- to high-brow and everything in between: William Blake etchings, pulp novels and comic books, Japanese woodblock prints, Simpsons vinyl collectibles, Phillip Guston paintings to Todd Browning Freaks stills, and much, much, MUCH, more. Also included, are pages directly from Del Toro’s own notebook with sketches and notes for his films, including Pan’s Labyrinth and Blade.
Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections by Guillermo del Toro (Author), Guy Davis (Illustrator), & 3 more Insight Editions 2016, 152 pages, 8.0 x 0.8 x 10.0 inches, Hardcover $20 Buy one on Amazon Read the rest
Like Sushi? Like hyper violent yakuza movies? Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi is a comic that could only have come from the sick, twisted, and food-obsessed mind of Anthony Bourdain. And I’m pretty sure he’d take the whole sick and twisted mind thing as the compliment it was intended to be. The latest book, Blood and Sushi is a prequel to 2013’s Get Jiro!, this time we learn the backstory of how Jiro went from Yakuza enforcer to renowned LA sushi chef.
By day, Jiro helps run his father’s crime empire along with his maniacal half-brother, but by night Jiro trains to become a master sushi chef. His two sides are on a collision course that plays out across Japan and leaves a bloody wake. The artwork is incredible. Each frame balances the futuristic Japan, the beauty of the cuisine, and the grizzly katana-induced carnage.
This comic is full bore, unhinged, Bourdain madness. If you’re familiar with his travel shows, then you’ve probably gotten a taste of his dark humor, disdain for vegetarians, and obscure cinematic references — but the Jiro series takes it to a new level. It’s violent. It’s weird. I can’t get enough.
Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi by Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose Vertigo 2015, 160 pages, 7 x 0.5 x 10.5 inches, Hardcover $15 Buy one on Amazon
Comic book historian Craig Yoe has a new book out called Super Weird Heroes, a 320-page compendium of Golden Age comic book stories featuring some of the strangest superheroes ever concocted. Nature Boy, Rainbow Boy, Cat-Man and The Kitten, Hydroman, Spider Widow, and 60 other mind-bending crimefighters are included. Read the rest
If you're an aging comic book fan, say in your late 40s or early 50s, Comic Book Fever will scratch the hell out of any nostalgic itch you've ever felt about the hobby. George Khoury's picture-heavy examination of comics and comics culture from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s triggers a flood memories.
There are the comics themselves: Landmark runs of the X-Men, Teen Titans and Daredevil. And the artists: Frank Miller, George Perez and John Byrne. Not to mention all the ads, toys and snacks.
Remember ROM Space Knight, Big Jim and Micronauts? And all those superhero ads for Hostess Twinkies? Or the classic Jack Davis-illustrated ad for Spalding basketballs featuring Rick Barry and Dr. J?
Heck, this book even includes a feature on Grit, the family newspaper that lured generations of comic fans into selling its tabloid door to door with the promise of cash and prizes.
There are also features on such classic stand-alone comics as Captain America's Bicentennial Battles by Jack Kirby; the first-ever DC-Marvel match-up, Superman Vs. Spider-Man, and the Neal Adams-illustrated Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali. They don't make 'em like that anymore. And that's the point.Comic Book Fever celebrates the mass-market popularity of comics even as this popularity was starting to fade. By the end of the period covered, comics were no longer something that every kid grew up on, but a hobbyist product available only in specialist comic book shops. The industry's move to direct marketing and emerging competition from other pastimes, such as video games, spelled the end of an era. Read the rest
I raved about Heroes of the Comics when it came out in 2014. Now I'm going to rave about More Heroes of the Comics, the new companion volume. This large book has 100 meticulous color paintings of people who were involved in the early days of comic books, painted by Drew Friedman, the great portraitist of our time. Each hero portrait is accompanied by an interesting one-page biography.
While Friedman's first book covered the famous heavy hitters of comics (Kirby, Barks, Kurtzman, Wood), More Heroes digs deeper, profiling people who deserve recognition for their work, even though it was sometimes behind the scenes. I'd say about 75% of the names were familiar to me (Otto Binder, Ray Bradbury, Gene Colan, Dan DeCarlo, Jim Warren, John Buscema) while the other 25% were new, and, for that reason, even more interesting (Olive Bailey, Bob Haney, Louis Ferstadt - colorful characters!).
The two volume Heroes set, is scholarly and popular at the same time, and represents a milestone in the early history of comic books. Drew Friedman himself is a hero of comics for making it.
Also, there's an event tonight about the book at the Museum of Illustration in NYC. Drew Friedman will be signing advance copies of the book and join in conversation with Karen Green, MAD's Al Jaffee, and moderator Danny Fingeroth. Also, Jim Warren, the legendary publisher of Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, and Famous Monsters of Filmland, will be there with Drew. I wish I could be there. Read the rest
Here's a fun fact about Cincy Comicon. It's not in Cincinnati. It's not even in Ohio! It's in Covington, KY. But Cincinnati is close. In fact, I walked from my hotel over the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge this morning before the convention got started and was in downtown Cincinnati in 15 minutes. The bridge is great for walking and biking, with a wide path shielded from motor vehicle traffic. When then bridge opened on December 1, 1866 it was the world's longest suspension bridge. It was designed by John A. Roebling, the same civil engineer who designed the Brooklyn Bridge. It's a beaut:
Once I got into Cincinnati, I headed to a restaurant called Cheapside, which has excellent espresso. I also had a tasty smoked salmon salade niçoise. It's called Cheapside not because the ingredients are cheap, but because it's on the corner of 8th and Cheapside street.
Before I tell you about the convention, here's another important thing. There were some scary bugs clinging to the outside of my hotel window on the 11th floor. I took a photo and called Cincinnati born-and-bred David Pescovitz to tell me what they were, but he didn't know. If you do, please tell me in the comments:
OK, now onto the con! The cool thing about this con is its focus on comic books. I don't go to many cons, but the ones I have gone to seem to give comic books short shrift. Not here! I think one of the reasons is that Tony Moore, co-creator of The Walking Dead comic book series, is one of the organizers, and Tony loves comic books. Read the rest
Coloring DC: Batman: Mad Love Featuring Harley Quinn by Paul Dini (author) and Bruce Timm (illustrator) DC Comics 2016, 7.5 x 11.5 x 0.4 inches (softcover) $10 Buy a copy on Amazon
Over the past few decades the dynamic duo of legacy comic book companies, Marvel and DC, have introduced hundreds of new characters. Most have failed to catch on (sorry, Adam-X, the X-Treme!), and while recently many new characters have garnered acclaim and small cadres of devoted fans, the new Ms. Marvel and Prez have yet to become the next Wolverine.
2016 has seen two major breakthroughs that may pave the way: Marvel’s Deadpool and DC’s Harley Quinn. Both were created in the 1990s and have suddenly become the superhero equivalent of rock stars, with T-shirts and tchotchkes available at every Target and Hot Topic in America. One of them even has their own make-up line (I’ll let you guess who). My dad in his 70s now knows these characters, which I find equally amusing and eye rolling.
Which brings us to coloring books. Okay, maybe not directly, but the ascension of Harley Quinn as a character and the recent popularity of coloring books for adults has created a perfect storm, and now we have Coloring DC – Batman: Mad Love Featuring Harley Quinn, a coloring book written and drawn by her creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. This oversized tome contains a few extra stories of DC heroines and villians on the undercard, but the prime material is a reprinting of the terrific Harley story Mad Love. Read the rest