As a kid, I loved the old pulp hero, the Shadow. I was way too young to have read his original adventures, but came across an image of him in a magazi...moreAs a kid, I loved the old pulp hero, the Shadow. I was way too young to have read his original adventures, but came across an image of him in a magazine, and learned about him from comics published in the 70s (also before my time). When Howard Chaykin, a comics artist I enjoyed, revived the character in the mid-80s, I fell in love all over again. And when DC Comics followed up that initial story (The Shadow: Blood & Judgement) with an ongoing series, written by Andrew Helfer and drawn initially by Bill Sienkiewicz, it quickly became one of my favorites. So I was very excited to see this book, reprinting the first six issues of that series.
For the most part, the book holds up very well. The story and art feel very fresh and contemporary, even almost 30 years later. Both are fast-paced and dynamic. Sienkiewicz's style is so unique and distinctive, it doesn't feel dated at all. It stands out as its own thing today as much as it did when it originally came out. Similarly, Helfer's dialogue-driven script feels much more in tune with the comics are today, with an almost-complete absence of thought balloons and narrative captions. The dialogue and situations are funny, and feel like real people speaking. And the action is well-choreographed and exciting.
Rereading these stories for the first time in decades, they do feel more episodic than I had recalled, reflecting a time when comics were meant to be read as monthly serials, and were rarely collected to be read as one piece. So while there are elements that carry through the book, in a lot of ways it feels like a series of shorter stories strung together. I also felt that the main villain, the Light, was much less developed than I remembered, until I realized that while this book collects all six issues by Helfer and Sienkiewicz, it leaves out the Shadow Annual #1 (illustrated by Joe Orlando, not Sienkiewicz) which tells the background of the Light. That's frustrating, because without that, we are left with a story that feels incomplete. Because it is.
So kudos to Helfer and Sienkiewicz for creating a stylish comic that doesn't feel dated. A nod to the times in which it was published, for giving us a compilation that feels like six episodes of something instead of a complete, single book. And boo to Dynamite Comics, for leaving out a big chunk of the story.(less)
While recent comic stories, movies, and games like Epic Mickey are reintroducing a more adventurous Mickey Mouse to audiences more familiar with him a...moreWhile recent comic stories, movies, and games like Epic Mickey are reintroducing a more adventurous Mickey Mouse to audiences more familiar with him as a suburban homeowner, more straight man to the comic antics of his pets and friends than a leading man in his own right, this book proves that this is only a return to form. Mickey, under the pen of writer/artist Floyd Gottfredson, is a plucky, feisty adventurer, full of spirit and attitude. It's also a fantastic adventure strip.
Artist Carl Barks justifiably earns a lot of credit for his comic book stories about Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. As humorous adventure stories, they're the equivalent of widescreen technicolor masterpieces, perfectly fusing character, story, and setting. On the comics page, Gottfredson was doing the same thing with Mickey Mouse. Just as Barks used the comic book format to pace his adventures, Gottfredson grew to become a master of the daily strip format, telling fast-paced extended serials that managed to combine nail-biting suspense, edge-of-your-seat action and cliffhangers, and laugh-out-loud humor. His storytelling, within four small daily panels, is detailed and clear.
This book is not only impressive for collecting Gottfredson's strips from the very beginning, but also for the overall package. It includes a number of articles not only putting Gottfredson's strips into the context of the Mickey comic strip as a whole, as well as in the overall creation of Mickey Mouse and Disney history, but also within the context of American culture at the time. The book also features comic strip syndicate ads and premiums, as well as covers of books and magazines, both national and international, reprinting the strips. And while Gottfredson is deservedly the feature of this book, it doesn't overlook the earlier strips (written by Walt Disney himself). They are included as an appendix.
So why only four stars? No strip or artist, no matter how good, ever emerges fully formed. As great as these Gottfredson strips are, you can still see a cartoonist feeling things out and learning his craft. Among the rare missteps are a sequence involving the hilarious antics of Mickey Mouse trying to commit suicide using various methods. It's still great, seeing the growth of Gottfredson as an artist, but I know that the strip will only get better in future books.(less)
This volume beautifully reproduces Cliff Sterrett's gorgeous Sunday Polly and her Pals pages from 1925-1927, just as it says in the title. It doesn't...moreThis volume beautifully reproduces Cliff Sterrett's gorgeous Sunday Polly and her Pals pages from 1925-1927, just as it says in the title. It doesn't reprint the series from the very beginning (although it does reprint two strips a year for each year leading up to 1925, to show a thumbnail of Sterrett's artistic development).
The book starts with 1925, because it was a crucial year for the development of the strip, and Sterrett's work. In the summer of 1925, he took a six-month sabbatical. Before he left, the strip was a very funny, very well-drawn domestic comedy. After his return, the art took on an increasingly surreal look, taking a great leap forward. In its stylization, it is reminiscent of George Herriman's Krazy Kat, but more accessible.
(While the book doesn't reprint all the strips done by ghost artists during that sabbatical, it does present a representative sample. This is the complete Cliff Sterrett Sundays from 1925-1927, after all.)
A very few of the strips read as products of their time, relying on fads of the day, or using the sorts of unfortunate racial stereotypes that were all too common in that period. Most, however, are timeless, and the very best are works of genius.
The book features fabulous reproduction, mostly from syndicate color proofs. The images are sharp and clear and clean, and the colors are gorgeous. Looking at these pages, which once filled the entire newspaper page, it's clear how much comic strips have lost in the past 80 years. Comic strip scholar Jeet Heer provides context with a biographical essay that is detailed without being dry and boring.
Polly and her Pals is a classic that doesn't seem to get much discussion today. Hopefully, this book, and promised future volumes, will correct that.(less)
So many comic strips take a while to find themselves, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Phantom pretty much hit the ground running from...moreSo many comic strips take a while to find themselves, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Phantom pretty much hit the ground running from its earliest days, almost identical to the strip it is today. Some of the dialogue isn't as polished as it would later become (although Lee Falk's dialogue always strikes me as idiosyncratically distinct), and Ray Moore's art eventually loses much of its unnecessary over-rendered detail in favor of clear, economical storytelling. And some of the details take some time to settle down (is the Phantom the defender of the jungles of Asia or Africa in these early stories?). But it feels like Falk's enduring story of the jungle avenger emerges almost fully-formed from the start.
How surprising, then, to discover in Ron Goulart's illuminating introduction, that the character was originally conceived as an urban avenger, the alter ego of a bored playboy, like so many pulp heroes before him, and so many costumed heroes after! Fortunately, Falk quickly became seduced by his own idea of a generational hero, the mantle of the Phantom passed from father to son, appearing to be an undying hero, fighting piracy for hundreds of years. The strip quickly adopts that idea and runs with it, and it feels like that was the plan all along.
Like most period entertainment, the strips in this book contain unfortunate racial stereotypes of their time. It's sad that such depictions ever existed, but it's also important that we don't just ignore, forget, or dismiss them. We need to be reminded to struggle to be better and more enlightened, because while things may be better, we can always try harder.
The Phantom may be one of the first costumed heroes, although he doesn't have the PR machine that later characters like Superman and Batman have. His comic strip still survives, but it's hardly the hit it once was. Reading these early strips, it's clear why the strip was such a success worldwide, and why it still endures today. The worlds of Falk and Moore in these pages hold their own with other adventure strips of their day, telling some gripping adventures mixed with humor and romance. I look forward to continuing to read these reprints.(less)
This second volume of Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson's classic comic strip builds on the excellence of the first. The pair continue to stretch their...moreThis second volume of Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson's classic comic strip builds on the excellence of the first. The pair continue to stretch their artistic wings, and the boundaries of the strip's format. While still ostensibly about the exploits of an FBI agent, this volume (covering the years 1969-1972) sees Corrigan assigned to missions that take him to exotic locations around the world, fighting mobsters, spies, and over-the-top pulp villains. The backdrops range from European castles, Asian monasteries, Hollywood backlots, and a lost world populated with dinosaurs.
The fast-paced stories are always just the right length, and transition from one to another flawlessly. The strips, originally published daily, read like one seamless whole, without unnecessary repetition or duplication.
As for the book itself, the reproduction is gorgeous, really showcasing Williamson's beautiful artwork. The introduction, by the late Archie Goodwin's widow, Anne Murphy, really puts a human face on these two legendary creators. All in all, IDW is really giving this strip the showcase it deserves.(less)
I had heard of Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy strips, but Buz Sawyer was new to me until the King Features web page started running it as par...moreI had heard of Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy strips, but Buz Sawyer was new to me until the King Features web page started running it as part of their (wonderful) vintage strips program.
Now Fantagraphics has started reprinting Roy Crane’s work, starting with the Captain Easy Sundays and the Buz Sawyer dailies. This volume reprints all the Sawyer wartime strips, and they’re great. They totally demonstrate why Crane has the reputation that he does amongst comic strip fans.
The stories are pretty much a product of their time. As stories about the war published in mainstream newspapers during the war, they’re straightforward patriotic adventures of American heroism and ingenuity pitted against the menace of Japan. They’re not particularly introspective, nor are they politically correct by today’s standards.
However, they are fast paced, dramatic, and exciting. Personally, I don’t think the characters and plots are as deep or complex as those found in Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but they’re pretty close. (Plus, I’m totally biased.)
More to the point, the artwork is gorgeous. I’m not familiar with any other newspaper comics artist who uses duotone craftint anywhere near as extensively as Crane, and it gives his work a very distinctive look. Plus, you know, gorgeous women. (less)
This book helps preserve the legacy of writer Archie Goodwin and artist Al Williamson, collecting their first several years on Secret Agent Corrigan (...moreThis book helps preserve the legacy of writer Archie Goodwin and artist Al Williamson, collecting their first several years on Secret Agent Corrigan (originally Secret Agent X-9). Together, Goodwin and Williamson take FBI agent Phil Corrigan through a number of fast-paced adventures, bringing the classic strip (created in 1933 by equally legendary Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond) firmly into the late 60s.
Williamson's classic style, influenced in equal parts by classic illustrators like Alex Raymond and classic cinema, keeps the visuals interesting and exciting. His use of light and shadows, as well as his ability to keep his camera moving, is showcased well by the comic strip format, where he can't rely on clever layouts across the page. (Not that Williamson was ever an artist to rely on flashy gimmicks.)
Together, he and Goodwin take Corrigan through a wide variety of adventures in a wide variety of settings. The action comes fast and furious, and there isn't a clunker in the bunch.
Highly recommended for lovers of fun stories and fine art.(less)
Lincoln Peirce transfers the humor and charm of his daily comic strip to the children's novel format just fine. It's a slight story, taking place over...moreLincoln Peirce transfers the humor and charm of his daily comic strip to the children's novel format just fine. It's a slight story, taking place over the course of one school day, but it's fun and a quick read. Recommended for fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.(less)
While Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie would develop into one of the all-time classic comics, these earliest stories still show him finding his feet....moreWhile Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie would develop into one of the all-time classic comics, these earliest stories still show him finding his feet. The art isn't as developed as it would later become, and the stories aren't as twisty or political as when the strip was in its prime. But even in these early stories, you can see the beginnings of greatness.(less)