If you have been subscribing to Alter Ego since the 60s or if you are an Overstreet Advisor, you may want to skip this week’s column. The targeted audience this week are those folks who read mainly modern, but who admire the likes of Kirby and Steranko and may have read a few old ECs. Your interest is piqued and you want to dig a little bit deeper into the world of classic comics and find out what all the fuss is about regarding certain creators. If that describes you, read on – because I’m spotlighting a few books that you should run out and buy, because we all know they won’t show up under the Christmas tree. I know, there’s plenty of great stuff that I’ve missed – but space and time are limited and these are a great starting point.
The Complete Classic Adventures of Zorro by Alex Toth
Ok, so you’ve heard many people wax philosophic about Toth, and perhaps even seen his name at or near the top of ‘Best Ever’ lists and wondered what the hell the fuss is all about. Well, the fuss is about the simplicity in his storytelling. Better yet, it is the amount of thinking that goes into the way he crafts a page, ensuring that nothing gets in the way of the story. This may all sound a bit zen-like, but please do yourself a favour and pick up this ultra-inexpensive collection of the Zorro stories Toth did for Dell in the late 50s and early 60s. For my money, this is Toth at his peak – the stories are lots of fun and the hero is so full of charisma and flair that you will instantly fall in love. Try to leave as much of your funnybook baggage at the door and allow yourself to be entertained. You’ll be surprised at how good a job Toth does taking you along for the ride.
Herbie by Richard E. Hughes and Ogden Whitney
If you’re already a member of the Herbie cult, there’s really no need to read this as you likely know far more about the Fat Fury than I do. For those who are wondering how some obscure 40-year old character got the hardcover treatment from Dark Horse, let me just say that there are no words to describe what makes this book work: it just does. It is absurdist humor at its best. Herbie Popnecker is an awesome hero, with seemingly limitless powers. Women throw themselves at him, but Herbie dismisses them with single word or grunt. Herbie has met almost countless celebritities and world leaders, and yet he can’t seem to make any headway with his parents. This strip was a career highpoint for both Huges and Whitney. I haven’t seen the Dark Horse books, but that’s likely a good way to start. If you have a bit of patience, I’d recommend seeking out the actual back issues as they’re still relatively inexpensive in lower grades.
B. Krigstein: Comics by Bernard Krigstein et al.
This collection of stories served as a companion piece to Greg Sadowski’s excellent biography, B. Kigstein, Volume One. Bernard Krigstein had a short but highly influential career in funnybooks. His unique approach to comic book storytelling is amazing, and for those only familiar with the iconic ‘Master Race’ story, this book is a must read as in includes samples of his work not just for EC, but also Hillman Periodicals and DC among others. While some of these stories haven’t dated all that well, it’s clear that Krigstein always rises above the material. Much of this material is next to impossible to track down and, aside from the EC stuff, won’t likely be reprinted elsewhere so grab a copy of this book which can often be found for a fraction of the cover price. Buy it just to see his layouts, which were decades ahead of their time.
Little Lulu by John Stanley, Irving Trip et al.
Stop laughing! I swear, the only thing I regret about purchasing so many Little Lulu comics is that I waited a quarter century to do so. Once up a time, I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading a Little Lulu comic. One day, I happened upon a 50s issue from her Dell series. I loved it and there was no turning back. I eventually learned that not only was there no shame in reading Little Lulu comics, but there was a legion of fans out there happy to declare their love for all things Lulu. Dark Horse obviously saw the writing on the wall and starting printing their black and white Little Lulu collections. This is a wonderfully inexpensive way to get your hands on some of the most brilliantly fun comics ever. Lulu and Tubby form one of the greatest pairings of all time – constantly at war, and yet completely codependent. Much like Herbie, it’s hard for me to describe what makes Lulu great. It mayl take you quite a while to see just the subtlely subverse themes in John Stanley’s work, but you will eventually have an epiphany. Go into it open minded, get a feel for the pace of things and then declare your love for Lulu.
Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff
So, you’ve heard of Caniff and perhaps you’ve even heard of certain artists referred to as graduates of the Caniff School. Well, unlike Joe Kubert, he didn’t actually have a school – but if you take a look at many young artists in the late 40s including Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Lee Elias – it’s impossible not to see the influence Caniff had on their work. This series of books from Checker reprint the newpaper strips in chronological order, and while I’m not in love with the reproduction (panels are tiny), it certainly is a cheap way to read one of the greatest comic strips of all-time. Steve Canyon is everything you could possible want in a hero – ruggedly handsome, tough as nails and virtuous to a fault. We’re dealing with post-WW2 high adventure as Canyon and his crew travel the world setting things right. While there’s a heavy dose of fistfights and femme fatales, what impressed me the most was the humor. It’s just a lot of fun and should be on everyone’s bookshelf.
So, there’s a good place to start looking backward to the classic. All of the above are fairly easy to track down and shouldn’t put you back too much.
For more classic comics talk – check out my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent
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