Sadowski Opens Bernard Krigstein's "Messages in a Bottle"

Greg Sadowski is an Eisner and Harvey Award-winning editor and comics historian. His biography and career retrospective "B. Krigstein Comics" led to a major reappraisal of artist Bernard Krigstein, and he's edited the acclaimed Alex Toth biography "Setting the Standard" as well as a number of other collections of historical comics.

This year sees the release of two Sadowski-edited works from Fantagraphics, both in the span of just a few months. The first, available now, is "Messages in a Bottle," a collection of comics by Krigstein, and the second, coming out in April, is "Creeping Death from Neptune: Horror and Science Fiction Comics by Basil Wolverton."

CBR News: What is "Messages in a Bottle?" And for people who have a copy of "B. Krigstein Comics," which you edited a number of years ago, what's different in the new volume, besides it being in paperback?

Greg Sadowski: "Messages in a Bottle" is basically a new and improved paperback version of "B. Krigstein Comics," which came out about a decade ago and has been out of print for a few years. I was happy to get another crack at it, because my production approach has evolved considerably. In the earlier volume, several stories had been overly Photoshopped and have a kind of airbrushed color that today makes me cringe. I now realize that it's best to get the coloring as close as possible to the original comics, only with accurate registration and fixing any errors made by the original colorist. I also went over each story to remove any muddiness in the colors, which obscures the line work.

What is it about Krigstein and his work that you find so interesting and respond to?

It was Krigstein's EC work I saw first. I was drawn to his high level of draftsmanship, and of course his innovative approach to panel breakdown. This was an accomplished serious artist at work in a field consisting largely of hacks. His drawings of hands alone were a master class in anatomy and expression. Even among the great artists at EC he stood out, in the way he avoided cliches, and how he tailored his style to each particular story.

A number of the stories in the book, including "Master Race," were recolored for the book by the great Marie Severin. Why did you decide to have them recolored? Obviously she's one of the great colorists in comics, but what made Severin the person to do it?

The main reason I had them recolored was to do justice to Krigstein's drawings. Most comic book publishers had their books colored at the printer, and even those who could afford on-staff colorists weren't encouraging them (or paying them enough) to put much thought and time into the task. EC's colorist Marie Severin was an exception, though even her work could appear rushed at times. Krigstein had a group of black-and-white photostats and silverprints in his files, and I only recolored stories from that group, where I had pristine line work. His wife told me that he threw away most of his comics-related material, so his retaining of these stories signaled that they were the ones he thought most highly of.

When I was putting together the first Krigstein books, Marie was still actively working, so it made sense to hire her to do the coloring. Krigstein mentioned that she was his favorite colorist, so it was a decision I felt he would have approved of. I thought it would be a nice tribute to them both to encourage Marie to take her time and really give Krigstein's work the thought it deserved, and boy did she deliver.

Do you have a favorite story of Krigstein's?

No question, it would have to be "Master Race." It was the story on which he spent the most time -- over a month -- and the one in which he came closest to realizing his ambitions for the comics form. I just wish he could have gotten the twelve pages he pleaded for, instead of the eight EC allowed, but his entire comics career was defined by these types of compromises. He tried to elevate an industry into an art form, which was a quixotic undertaking if there ever was one. But even working under its limitations, he was able to accomplish some wonderful things throughout his career. I love those "Nuggets Nugent" westerns he did in the early 1950s. They don't call attention to themselves as much as the EC stuff, but they are serious work, beautifully drawn.

In recent years, you've edited collections of Golden Age covers, 1950's horror comics and Alex Toth comics from the 50s. I'm just curious what it is about the comics of that period that you love and if there's another project you're assembling now or would like to work on.

Well, first of all, you have to find a subject that hasn't been covered yet, which is becoming harder and harder with all the reprint books flooding the market. I just try to find something that I find interesting and of high enough quality to hopefully appeal to an audience. This year will be spent finishing the Krigstein biography, as soon as I'm done with the Wolverton book.

You're referring to "Creeping Death from Neptune," which collects work by Basil Wolverton. Let's close out out conversation with a little about who Wolverton is and what's in this book.

Apart from "Spacehawk," which has recently been collected in a handsome volume by Fantagraphics, "Creeping Death from Neptune" contains Wolverton's entire known non-humorous comics output, both published and unpublished. Wolverton entered comic books during its infancy in the late 1930s, but lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest, so he took advantage of a certain amount of freedom not available to those who worked in New York. One of the exciting things is that he held on to much of his correspondence, so we get an intimate look at the way the industry operated during its Golden Age.

He was a true American original, with a wild and often violent imagination. Eventually, editors became worried he was scaring the hell out of kids, even during the horror period. At a certain point, he couldn't sell his non-humorous work, and he had to fall back on the funny stuff. Nowadays, he wouldn't have any problem getting published, his work was so skewed and detailed and strange. Guys like Wolverton and Krigstein would be able to work independently now -- all the more reason to give them their due by preserving what they left behind.

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