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Exploring Image’s Oversized Comics

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Exploring Image’s Oversized Comics

A LOOK AT SOME RECENT OVERSIZED IMAGE BOOKS

Image Comics, like all the big publishers these days, publishes an awful lot of collected editions. Most of the monthly mini-series and on-going series wind up getting a second life in their complete form that way.

There are also more series now getting slightly oversized hardcover presentations, usually collecting two of those trades at a time. They’re my favorite. They’re often created as more high-end collectors’ editions with more background material like design pages, original scripts, and more. I’m particularly happy lately with “Rat Queens,” “The Manhattan Projects,” and “Chew” in that format.

But there are other examples of books-with-spines at Image in different formats, all of which are larger than standard comic size. This week, I’ll be looking at a few of those recent releases.

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Finally, this week sees the release of “Apes & Babes, the Art of Frank Cho, Volume 1.” First, the good news: It’s a great presentation of the art. It’s the biggest book of all the ones I’ve mentioned so far, and it’s printed on the heaviest, glossiest paper stock you could imagine. If you like Cho’s art — and I generally do — then this is a strong presentation of his work. It includes everything from “Liberty Meadows” to Marvel covers to “Conan” and “Red Sonja.”

Some images appear on facing pages with their original penciled or inked versions next to the final colored images. There are some full page paintings, as well. My favorite section was the “Liberty Meadows” one, just because I love his funny animal cartooning work, perhaps even more than his Good Girl or erotic art. There are also a couple samples of his painstaking crosshatched black and white pin-ups, which I like a lot, too. I’d take a book of just that stuff in a heartbeat.

This is the paperback edition of an earlier hardcover “Apes and Babes” book. Even putting that aside, a lot of this book seems very familiar. I feel like I’ve seen half of it before already in his other art books. And, honestly, the Marvel/superhero section is the weakest part of it, though it’s likely the biggest selling point (and half the pages!). I think Cho works best when he’s not stuck drawing superheroine costumes, or playing it safe with the characters’ poses and proportions. When he can break free on his own Jungle Girl character, or draw more fantastical elements and environments, his art soars. (There’s a “Liberty Meadows” piece in homage to Wally Wood that’s my favorite of the whole book.)

The part of the book that made me giggle, though, was the title page that wanted to make the case that this book is “a scholarly review and portfolio of Frank Cho’s work.” I’d agree with the second half of that statement. It is a portfolio, no doubt. I suppose there’s also some argument to be made that showing art side by side with its less-than-finished earlier state is instructive to budding artists. But a “scholarly review?” That sounds more like justification for some kind of “Fair Use” defense than an honest description. There’s also no text in this book to educate the reader on anything. Past the copyright notices on the page with the indicia, there’s not a single word devoted to any of the art. I’m fine with it just being an art book and not needing explanatory text next to all the images, but “scholarly review” feels like an unnecessary exaggeration.

All of that is just window dressing, though, for the final art art on the larger pages, which is where the book shines. As an art book, it’s very pretty. If I were curating it, I’d tone down the number of Marvel pages, though.

The book is only $19.99 for 144 pages. For such a high quality production as this, that’s a really strong price point. If you like Cho’s work and don’t already own all his prior art books, this is a bargain.

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