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Friday on the Shelf of Shame

by  in Comic News Comment

Full disclosure: “the Shame Shelf” isn’t actually my expression. I stole it from Betsy Bird, over at School Library Journal, and she in turn got it from Jonathan Auxier.

Here is how Betsy defines it: “Do you have a shame shelf? Which is to say, a shelf of unread books that stare at you in the face, mocking your day-to-day activities until you finally cave and start reading them all at once like some kind of mad librarian? Me too.”

Yeah, me too, although it’s more of a shame nightstand. Mine looks like this…


Really though, that’s just life with the Hatchers. We acquire books, magazines and paper clutter of all shapes and sizes, constantly. Those books in the photo are just the pile of current frontrunners in Project Read The Damn Books Already, the ongoing effort here to keep up with acquisitions. There’s no actual shame involved.

In fact, there’s more of a quiet gloating. When I was a kid, my parents, who were very outdoorsy athletic sorts, would scold me for being such a voracious reader. It especially appalled them that I would spend all my money on books and comics. Part of it was that Mom thought comics were trashy, but there was a lot of scolding just for the act of reading. “Do you want to be just a bookworm?”

Well, yeah. Duh.

So today when I look at all the books around here, there’s always a fleeting moment of, Hey, Mom? Suck on this. That’s where the entertainment income goes. We even took special trips to buy some of these. What’s more, I get paid to read books and write stuff about it. How d’you like me now?

…Yeah, I’m kind of juvenile sometimes.

Anyway. Lord knows, there are lots of unread books around here that I’ve been meaning to get to for a WHILE now….

Like this one and this one and this one.


Some are comics and some are prose.

And this one and this one.


But the ones that shame me are the ones that I mean to mention in this space and I keep forgetting to do it. So, today, we clear a couple of entries off Hatcher’s Shame Shelf of Procrastinated Plugs.

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The first one’s been out of print for a long time. The reason I wanted to spend a little time on it here is because it is the solution, of sorts, to a minor literary puzzle that I wondered about back in the early 1980s.

It began with one of the late Byron Press’ earliest efforts to sell the idea of comics-as-a-literary effort, Fiction Illustrated.

Fiction Illustrated was intended to be a series of graphic novels, released quarterly. There were four of them in all, released between January of 1976 and January of 1977.





Will Eisner and Steranko had a famous fight a few years ago over which of them did the first graphic novel. Steranko was basing his claim on CHANDLER, which was pretty funny because it was not the first, but the third, issue of Fiction Illustrated. Anyway, Gil Kane's BLACKMARK beats both Steranko and Eisner for that honor, I think, for all the good it did Kane.

Sadly, the trouble with Fiction Illustrated, like many of the publishing experiments from Byron Press in the 1970s, is that no one was quite sure where the things should be sold or what kind of books they were. The first two were standard digests, like the Archie ones you see at a supermarket checkstand. Then Steranko’s Chandler was released simultaneously as both a digest and as a glossy magazine-sized trade paperback (for the staggering price of $4.95!!!) and finally the fourth, Son of Sherlock Holmes, was released only as a $4.95 trade paperback.

In the afterword to Son of Sherlock Holmes, Preiss teased the fifth Fiction Illustrated, a project called “Dragonworld,” written by Preiss and drawn by Jospeh Zucker. But it never appeared, because the series was canceled.

Well, that’s not quite true. It did appear, a couple of years later. Not as a graphic novel, though, but as a prose novel.

When I saw Dragonworld on bookshelves, I would glance through it and occasionally toy with buying it, but I never got around to it.


I never made the connection with Fiction Illustrated, though, until I acquired Son of Sherlock Holmes a couple of years ago. That tease in the afterword reawakened my interest, and you can find Dragonworld on Amazon for pretty cheap, so I went ahead and ordered one.

And you know, it was pretty good. I probably should have gotten to it sooner, especially since I’ve always liked Michael Reaves’ work.

That all happened in 2008, and I’ve been meaning to tell that story here since then. Probably should have gotten to that sooner, too. So that’s one for the shame shelf.

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The one that is particularly shaming me at the moment is actually a book that was sent to me for review. Tom Pomplun has been really good about sending along each new volume of his Graphic Classics series as it comes out, and in addition to reviewing each one myself I always try to take them to Cartooning class and see what my seventh graders make of them, and whichever student writes a review gets to keep the book.

Well, Tom sent the latest one a few weeks ago and I’ve been putting off taking it to class.

Why? Because I’m a greedy pig. I can’t bear to part with this one.


Western Classics hits me right where I live.

Because, first of all, it’s a western comic.

Second, it’s a GREAT western comic.

The stories chosen for adaptation are all deserving of the name ‘classic’ — you’ve got Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” illustrated by Cynthia Martin, Robert E. Howard’s “Knife River Prodigal” adapted by Avery and Sellas, a Hopalong Cassidy story illustrated by Dan Spiegle (that’s an especially nice touch since Mr. Spiegle did the Hopalong Cassidy newspaper strip, back in the day)…



….they even lured Al Feldstein out of retirement to do a piece for this. It just rocked my socks from cover to cover.



So I put it off, thinking I’d pick another one up to take to class. And now we have the Olympia Comics Festival coming up, and the close of the school year, and well… we’re not going to have time to do the usual in-class review.

And I can’t bear to wait until next fall to tell you about how awesome this book is. You should go and get it now. I’ll get another copy myself between now and September, and we will get to the in-class review. I promise. He said shamefacedly.

But in the meantime, you should check it out. Because if you pass up something this cool, that would be a shame.

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And that’s all I’ve got this time out. We may revisit the Shelf of Shame now and again, though, because there’s always new books coming in here, and I never seem to get caught up, so I imagine there will be further entries in the months to come.

See you next week.