Action! Mystery! Thrills!: Comic Book Covers of the Golden Ages, 1933-1945
Edited by Greg Sadowski
Fantagraphics Books, 208 pages, $29.99
Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives Vol. 1
Edited by Blake Bell
Fantagraphics Books, 224 pages, $39.99
Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics
Edited by Michael Gagne
Fantagraphics Books, 200 pages, $29.99
Our current publishing era has been dubbed the Golden Age of Reprints by a number of online pundits, myself included, and it’s not too hard to see why. Classic comics that fans and scholars never thought would make it to the bookbinders, let alone be available in an affordable version, are now coming off the presses at a staggering rate.
One of the benefits of this plethora of reprint projects is it allows us to re-examine certain noteworthy periods of comics history, help us discover long ignored artists and fully consider cartoonists who, though their names might have been recognizable, have largely been unappreciated except by a few. The alleged Golden Age of comics in particular has benefited from this scrutiny, not only in illuminating people like Fletcher Hanks but in showcasing work by folks like Jack Cole and Bill Everett.
One of the people leading the way in this specific endeavor is editor Greg Sadowski, who, in anthologies like Supermen! and Four Color Fear, has given average readers access to comics from well-covered eras (i.e. the early superhero and horror trends) merely by republishing stories that didn’t come from Marvel (or whatever it was called at the time), EC or DC.
Sadowski’s latest book, Action! Mystery! Thrills! has a somewhat even narrower focus, dealing entirely with comic book covers from the Golden era. It makes a certain amount of sense. While covers are still an integral part of marketing and selling a comic, they were even more essential back in those early, heady days, when you competed with hundreds of other titles and an eye-catching cover could mean the difference between profit and cancellation (or at least that’s what many editors and publishers of the time felt).
The Quality Companion is a great book for lovers of comics history. It starts out with nine comics featuring heroes such as The Ray, Phantom Lady and The Human Bomb, with art by Jack Cole, Lou Fine and other comics luminaries, and then there is a detailed account of the history of the company. You may not have heard of Quality Comics (I hadn’t), but it was one of the early comics publishers and the original home of Jack Cole’s Plastic Man. Many of Quality’s characters were eventually absorbed by DC. The book is well-written and detailed, and the comics in the front are at once cheesy and fascinating.
TwoMorrows makes the book, and most of its other titles, available in two formats, a hardcover print book and a digital version. The digital book is a PDF, which means it can be downloaded and read on any device, without any concern about the distributor disappearing and taking it with them. That also means it could be easily pirated, and there’s a note in the front of the book telling people that if they downloaded it for free, they did so illegally. “Go ahead and read this digital issue, and see what you think,” the note continues. “If you enjoy it enough to keep it, please do the right thing and go to our site and purchase a legal download of this issue …” This makes so much sense that I don’t know why everyone else doesn’t do it.
It seems as if TwoMorrows has found a digital/print balance that works, at least for this type of book. The print edition is priced at $31.95 (marked down to $27.16 at the moment), and if you spring for it, you get the digital edition free. That’s quite a reasonable price for a book like this. Even better, the digital edition is priced at only $10.95. The print edition will obviously appeal to collector, but for someone like me, who wants to read the book and have it as a reference, the digital edition is a great deal, especially with no DRM.
Comics College is a monthly feature where we provide an introductory guide to some of the comics medium’s most important auteurs and offer our best educated suggestions on how to become familiar with their body of work.
This month, we’re looking at the career of one of the Golden Age greats, Jack Cole.
I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t DC already collect Jack Cole’s run on Plastic Man?” The answer is well, sort of.
The Meanest Man in Town by Milt Stein
Editor Greg Sadowski‘s new Fantagraphics book, Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941, is a spectacular snapshot of a historical period long before comic book company events, crossovers and alternate covers or universes. As detailed by the publisher: “The enduring cultural phenomenon of comic book heroes was invented in the late 1930s by a talented and hungry group of artists and writers barely out of their teens, flying by the seat of their pants to create something new, exciting, and above all profitable. The iconography and mythology they created flourishes to this day in comic books, video, movies, fine art, advertising, and practically all other media. Supermen! collects the best and the brightest of this first generation, including Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Lou Fine, Fletcher Hanks, Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Basil Wolverton.” The book sports a foreword by Jonathan Lethem. My thanks to Sadowski for his willingness to discuss his editorial approach on this project and after learning some of what did not make the first volume, I look forward to seeing a second volume down the road as time and other logistics permit. Fantagraphics also offers folks the chance to download an “11-page PDF excerpt (7.4 MB) featuring an entire story by Will Eisner and Lou Fine starring The Flame!”
Tim O’Shea: How did the foreword by Jonathan Lethem come about?
Greg Sadowski: Someone at Fantagraphics approached him, and Jonathan really came thorough – his foreword starts things off beautifully.