Scott's Classic Comics Corner: Digesting the Bronze Age Pt. 2

My good friend Craig’s (benday-dot) comments about the squished-up feel to the artwork of many digest serves as a nice segueway to my overview of the next 3 books. While only one is a true digest format book, they serve as an example of a different approach to laying out the artwork for a smaller sized book.

I’m not certain exactly when in 1972 DC’s Tarzan Digest was published (there’s a house add for the 3rd issue of DC’s Korak series), but it was definitely at the very early dawn of the transition from Gold Key to DC. It might have been about the time of the 6th or 7th DC issues of the Tarzan series. It’s an interesting artifact, as DC would not publish a digest-sized book for years to come. My gut feeling is that it’s a book that had been planned for Gold Key’s Golden Comics Digest series, but re-packaged by DC. The reasons behind my thinking are twofold. First, as recently as March, 1970, Gold Key had published a digest featuring Tarzan (2 of the first 9 issues of Golden Comics Digest were Tarzan-themed). Secondly, aside from a Joe Kubert cover, some Kubert title pages and a house ad, the book is entirely comprised of Sunday newspaper strip reprints with Russ Manning art. For readers only familiar with the Kubert take on Tarzan, Manning’s clean and economical artwork must have been a real surprise. I’m a Manning guy, so this book is a blast – especially since it includes an adaptation of Tarzan and the Ant-Men, one of the more entertaining Tarzan tales. Compare this book with the digests put out by DC in the late 70s and early 80s. Rather than merely shrinking the page to fit the format, the layout has been rearranged so that there are fewer panels per page and this allows this reader to better appreciate the artwork. Perhaps this was easier to do working from the Sunday strips – I dunno, I’m no Jack Adler. This one is simply great – a must-have for Tarzan fans and a real oddity from early 70s DC.

The Pocket Book format is kind of a kissing cousin to digests. I have only owned a handful of these over the years – as I was once stupidly snobbish about b&w reprints. The two Marvel books I current own are a Spidey volume featuring Marvel Team-Up reprints, IIRC and this collection of late 60s Avengers stories entitled Stan Lee Presents The Avengers: Origin of the Vision. As a child, the Vision was my favorite Avenger (probably because he was the one featured in the box at the top left corner of the cover). This little package includes two Vision-centric stories (from Avengers #57 and #58) as well as the oft-reprinted but always entertaining Lady Liberators in Vermont story from Avengers #88). First, let me start with the Earl Norem cover. Holy crap, is it ever gorgeous. He did so many beautiful cover during this era (see Moon Knight #6) that I’m always surprised when I don’t see him show up on lists of all-time great cover artists. As for the insides, I really feel that this is a better way to present the story than the simple ‘make it smaller’ approach to digests. John Buscema’s artwork needs to be ‘big’ to be fully appreciated, and this works quite nicely. The trade-off, of course, is a much lower number of actual story pages. I don’t see this one around much – but it’s definitely worth tracking down.

Remember Swamp Thing-mania of 1982? No, neither do I. With the release of the Swamp Thing movie, DC tried a bit of cross-promoting (through TOR books) with this pocket book sized collection of Swamp Thing tales from the original series. I don’t recall DC using this format at any other time, but I happily stand to be corrected. This actually has more of TPB feel to it, as we get a nice little introduction by Michael Uslan, who reminisces about pitching a ‘comics as English Lit’ class to his higher ups at Indiana University. This book reprints the first three issues of the Wein/Wrightson series (which had been very recently reprinted in DC Special Series and would be reprinted as Roots of the Swamp Thing just a few years later). DC sure has gotten some good mileage out of these stories – but they were obviously trying to attract a different crowd with a book in this format. Much like the Avengers book, the reworked pages really help to showcase Berni Wrightson’s gorgeous artwork. It’s quite well done. It just would not translate well in a true digest format. Swamp Thing completists should obviously start trying to find this one.

So that’s my quick look at the world of teeny tiny comics. Well, not mini-comics – that’s a whole other can of worms. Please feel free to stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent

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