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Friday in the Mailroom

by  in Comic News Comment
Friday in the Mailroom

Some interesting things came in my mailbox this week…. apparently my grouching off last week about not getting stuff hit some kind of nerve.

First of all, here is a puzzle, and with it, a contest for you readers. With actual prizes, even!

A while back I did the column about cover paintings, and the great illustrators I admired in my youth. One of those was a gentleman named George Wilson, who did lots of cool stuff for Gold Key Comics as well as a multitude of paperback covers.

What this means, apparently, is that if you do a Google search on “George Wilson illustrator,” you get that column showing up. Which is how it happened that the CSBG crew got a nice letter from a woman named Rachel, asking us if we could help her identify this painting.

Her boyfriend bought it at auction, apparently, and no one knows what it’s from, including the people who sold it off. The back of the painting has the handwritten note, Matt realize more fully, and a white sticker– one presumes from the auction house — reading, Col 1 from the estate of and art by George Wilson. Everybody else here at the blog took one look and said, “Well, obviously, this is Hatcher’s kind of thing.”

And it is, I suppose. The trouble is, I can’t really nail it down.

You may recall that I actually complained in that previous column how goddamned hard it is to get any kind of information on the internet about George Wilson. There are no online indexes, no biographical encyclopedias for illustrators, nothing at all like that, at least that I can find. My reference books here at home are no help. My basic problem is that I’m trying to work backwards: with the various sources I have available I’m all set up to track down the guys that worked on a specific book, but to reverse-engineer that process and find a specific book from a guy’s original painting is quite a bit more difficult.

The painting itself is not telling me much. I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of paperback from the late 50’s or — more likely — the early 60’s. It’s got that Fawcett Gold Medal look, and you can see it’s designed to leave lots of room for cover text, far more than a comic book painting would need: very similar to these. You can see they really liked to pile on the cover copy.

But beyond that initial assessment, I can’t really say much. I’ve consulted several experts and they are all coming up empty too. It’s clearly some kind of Cold War story, with the Communist officers interrogating the captured Westerner. (My first thought looking at it was, “Francis Gary Powers.” But Wilson didn’t illustrate any books about him as far as I can find.) Likewise, we really can’t seem to come to a consensus on the officers.

One friend says flatly, “Look at the wooden chairs and the way he’s holding the cigarette — gotta be East German,” while Julie and I are both thinking, It looks like he’s been captured by Communist China, and then another friend pointed out that, given the time frame (I’m reasonably sure it’s an early to mid-sixties paperback cover) we really ought to be thinking Korea.

And now you know as much as I do. So I thought, hey, why not make a contest out of it?

Here’s the deal. First one to e-mail me with some kind of convincing PROOF of what this picture is from wins a pile of nifty old funnybooks from my collection. I’ve acquired some doubles in scooping up eBay lots over the last few months, and I’ll give them all to the winner. There’s some Marvel Doc Savage, some Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, the first issue of Epic Illustrated, the first issue of Marvel Preview, and a couple of others. I’ll even throw in a copy of David Yurkovich’s Mantlo: A Life In Comics, since we ended up with two of those too. The lot’s yours if you can identify the book this lovely George Wilson painting was done for. (Rachel has also hinted that she might provide some sort of material reward along with her gratitude, and if that is indeed the case, I’ll make sure the winner gets that too.)

I’m betting that of all you know-it-alls out there reading this, ONE of you should be able to nail it down. Contact info for me is here — but please, only e-mail if you KNOW it. If you just want to speculate and shoot the breeze, that’s fodder for the Comment section below.

*

I feel like I have official Press Credentials now, since Boom! Studios added me to their mailing list. It’s fun. Press releases aplenty and two new books to review. I wish I liked them better than I did. As it is I can only give guarded recommendations.

Let’s take the easy one first.

Cthulhu Tales: Tainted is an anthology of Lovecraft pastiches by a variety of talent. Like most anthologies, it’s a little uneven. And there’s a minor flaw in the DNA of the whole project, which is to say — Lovecraft is ill-suited to comics in the first place, to my way of thinking. H. P. Lovecraft built his entire body of work on stories of things that were too horrible to describe, beings of such an impossible cosmic ugliness that to look upon them would drive a man mad. And so on.

So far so good… until you try to put together a comic book about them. Now you’ve got to get a comics artist to DRAW these visions of incomprehensible horror. You can get away with this sort of thing in prose, but as soon as you translate Lovecraft to a visual medium you get… well, something like that cover up there, which is basically an octopus with a mustache.

That said, a couple of stories jumped out at me as managing to evoke the basic Lovecraftian sensibility while at the same time finding a fresh approach. “Just A Photographer,” the headliner of the book from what I can tell reading the accompanying press material, justifiably earns the leadoff slot. It’s a sly little chiller about a paprazzo who gets entangled with a cult worshiping the Elder Gods. Written by Brendan Hay and beautifully illustrated by Andre Coelho, it sets a nice tone — well, not a NICE tone, but rather the PROPER tone if you know what I mean — for the rest of the book. And Coelho pulls off some clever visual sleight-of-hand in an effort to work around the problem of having to draw Things No Man Should See. He can’t quite pull it off but I think it’s the best compromise he could have made, and easily the best in the book. Very well-done.

The other stories don’t fare quite as well, though I found things to like about all of them. The other standout for me was the one that closes the book, “The Happy Little Boy” from Henry Alonso Myers and Sherard Jackson. Again, this works because of what you DON’T see — the focus is on a miserable Goth kid who finds comfort in worshiping Cthulhu. Cleverly written and gorgeously illustrated, it works because it’s so understated and authentic in its depiction of the kid’s unpleasant life.

So on the whole this was a pretty good book, though I have one major reservation — seven dollars is a lot for this package. I am on the fence on whether I’d recommend BUYING it. I enjoyed reading it, and the page count is reasonably hefty. I guess my concern is more along the lines of, “Is this seven dollars best spent on a single comic, or would I rather have a novel or a used DVD?”

The economics of today’s comic book landscape are hardly the fault of the creators involved, but it does figure into the review. Overall, the content is only on the high side of okay and the page count isn’t all THAT much more than a standard comic. Publishers, if you are going to put books out that are a dollar or more higher than the going rate, you better have something more going for you than slightly nicer paper and a glossy cover stock. As it stands I can only give this a VERY qualified thumbs up, because I’m not at all convinced the book is worth the price. Three or four dollars, absolutely, maybe even five… but seven is a little much for what you get here.

Boom! also very kindly sent me a preview copy of Cover Girl #5, written by Kevin Church and Andrew Cosby, with art from Mateus Santolouco and the aforementioned Andre Coelho.

Now, I have similar reservations about the price here as on the Lovecraft book, but that’s more because this was part five of a five-part story. It took me most of the book to figure out that Alex really was a ham actor and Rachel was his bodyguard. It took even longer to puzzle out exactly what the conflict was supposed to be about and how they got embroiled in it. All this could have been solved at a stroke with a simple “Previously in Cover Girl” blurb. Again, publishers, if you are going to do serialized fiction then damn it, remember that every issue is the first one for somebody. Get us up to speed as quick as you can.

HOWEVER —

The art was so wonderfully expressive, and the dialogue so smart and funny, that I didn’t want to dismiss the book with just the patented Grouchy Old Man snarl about how creators need to think about the new reader. There was a vibe about this book I did really like, despite feeling like I’d tuned in to the show five minutes before it ended. In a moment of charity, I thought, “Maybe the recap’s on the inside front cover or something, it’s not on this advance press copy.” So I went down to the comics shop to have a look. They had #3 and #4 on the rack along with #5, and I bought all three, setting me back a wince-worthy twelve dollars for something that was still not a complete story.

There was no recap on any of them. They lose points there… but gain them right back since #3 was infinitely easier to jump on. We open with Rachel and Alex talking to the police right after a car bombing, and within the next page and a half I knew that Rachel was a bodyguard and Alex was the guy she was guarding, an action-movie actor; the bombing had killed Dwight, Rachel’s partner in the bodyguarding business; both Dwight and Rachel were ex-cops and she had been mentored by Darius Lafong who was the investigating officer at the scene; and that it was the studio that hired a bodyguard for Alex, who was pampered and kind of a doofus. All in the space of seven panels and none of it felt wordy or forced to me. That’s what I’m talking about, folks. That’s how it’s done. I was so pleased that I immediately forgave them the boneheaded typo on the cover, though really, people, that’s just embarrassing. Still, I’m sure they’ve been beaten up over it enough since it came out two months ago.

#4 wasn’t quite as welcoming but it was still better than #5 and set the scene reasonably well, so I figure I’ll give them a pass on #5 being hard to jump on… it is the last issue after all. Now, there are two schools of thought about this sort of thing. One is that doing recaps are a big waste of time since you can always look online and anyhow everybody starts buying a mini-series with the first issue. The other is that you should always do a recap because it not only helps the new readers, it also serves as a quick reminder to your regulars of what happened a month ago. I tend to side with the latter group, obviously — who remembers stuff from a month ago without needing some kind of a reminder?–though I concede that you can argue either side of it. You could easily please both camps by putting a text recap on the first page or inside cover, something that you then omit from the trade collection. A lot of publishers do, in fact, do it this way, and Boom! should take its cue from them. Especially at $3.99 an issue.

Anyway, putting all that to one side, once we were caught up we really loved Cover Girl. (Yes, Julie read it too. I told her, “You will like this, it made me laugh out loud. It’s a lot like Burn Notice.” Which is a never-miss show for us. In fact, I am trying to get this wrapped up so I can go get dinner for us — it’s a takeout dinner evening — and we can catch the new episode in a couple of hours.)

And it is very similar. The story’s nothing like it, but the pace, the tone, the whole smart-assed exuberance of the thing… they’re peas in a pod. The thing about Boom! having all these screenwriters working on their comics is that the books often seem to feel a lot like TV pilots. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all, but some people might.

Anyway. It’s good, but frankly I think I’d wait for the collection. Which really ought to be cheaper than twenty dollars, one would hope.

Addendum: I just noticed that our other Greg also reviewed this, and though we may quibble about a point here or there, we more or less agree that it’s a fun book that probably costs a little too much. However, that’s two of us CSBG reviewers that liked it, and I believe we both liked it enough to go spend actual money on it, rather than just read our online review copies — which is to say, we are genuinely enjoying the stuff and not just whoring ourselves for more freebies. Between that and Potter’s Field it makes for a pretty good batting average for the crew at Boom! here. Make of that what you will.

*

That’s all for this time out. Remember, there’s a contest with actual prizes!

See you next week… or maybe sooner, if we get a winner before then.

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