These days, it seems as though there are enough trades on the market to fill the Library of Congressa. It’s a virtual paradise for classic comic junkies. A couple of decades ago, when Trade paperbacks were more of a rare beast, some real gems were published never seen again. This week’s column is a look at a handful of these collections that are worth tracking down.
Remember when every TPB published by DC started with the word “Greatest”? Remember how hokey you thought those were? Well, you were wrong and you should have picked up Greatest 1950s Stories Every Told when you had the chance. Are these truly the Greatest Stories of the 50s? Who’s to say? The one thing that I know for sure is that it is a wonderful representation of what DC was putting out in the 50s. What impresses the most about editor Mike Gold’s selections for this volume is the sheer variety. You’ve got plenty of solid superhero stuff but, since it was the 50s, there’s also a lot of great non-superhero stuff. You’ve got Alex Toth artwork on Johnny Thunder and Johnny Peril stories, Gil Kane drawing Nighthawk, an awesome King Faraday story with very nice Carmine Infantino artwork and lush Nick Cardy Congo Bill story. Did I mention Jack Kirby on Green Arrow, and unbelievably gorgeous Aquaman story by Ramona Fradon and a couple of Frank Frazettas as well? I could go on and on. This is like a comic book art textbook. Many of these stories had not been reprinted before, and may not be reprinted again. There are two solid introductions: one by Mike Gold and the other by Joe Kubert and any student of comic book history should find those to be interesting reads. The whole thing is dedicated to Robert Kanigher, which I thought was a nice touch. This is still pretty dirt cheap through eBay and other on-line sources.
Rio by Doug Wildey is a book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf. I’m saying this as someone who picked this up far too late in life (especially for a western fan). I stumble upon this book at a local used/remaindered bookstore. It was priced at $5.99 and I couldn’t pass up those gorgeous Wildey painted pages. Later, I discovered that it was a limited edition hardcover signed by the man himself. Sometimes you just get lucky. Why is this one worth tracking down? In my opinion, it represents the high watermark in the western genre and may be on of the best graphic novels ever published. The artwork is simultaneously lush and gritty. Wildey has very few peers with the paintbrush. This is 64 pages of comic book heaven. It was published in both hardcover and softcover, and there are still plenty of affordable copies floating around the marketplace. Subsequent Rio stories are also excellent, but never quite reached this level.
In the 1980s, Greg Theakson and Pure Imagination put out a series of Kirby-related books that must have thrilled Kirby fans. This 1987 volume highlights one of Simon and Kirby’s more obscure offerings from the 1940s, Stuntman. It a smallish package (only 52 pages), but it packs quite a punch. Personally, I really like the ‘look’ of this period of the Simon and Kirby partnership and their Harvey work was some of their strongest. It’s good, fun Golden Age action and the original issues are now prohibitively expensive (although I have a Stuntman story reprint via Black Cat #9). Also included is a previously unpublished Vagabond Prince story that I think was to be part of Boys Ranch. There also a decent interview with Jack and Joe. This one isn’t quite as easy to find these days, but it’s worth the search and you may still be able to find it at a decent price.
To paraphrase Alan Moore, this one is for the geek who has everything. While this book certainly doesn’t have the mass appeal of the Greatest 1950s Stories, it is not without its unique charm. In the 1960s, Charlton decided to base a comic book series on the less than awesome UK-produced King Kong rip-off, Konga. Somehow the Joe Gill and Steve Ditko managed to make some have decent lemonade out of this lemon. One would have thought that it would exist in a 1960s time capsule, sought after only by Ditko and Gorilla cover completists. Well, in the late 80s Robin Snyder decided that the world needed a little more Konga and put together this rather charming black and white package entitled The Lonely One, reprinting 4 Konga stories. I found one at the same bookstore as the Rio hardcover, and it was $7.99 well spent. There’s a nice little tribute to Gill and Ditko by the late Pat Boyette and a Ditko checklist at the back. When it was initially published, it would have served as a reminder of a slightly more innocent and goofier time. Now, it seems to exist as a piece of nostalgia in and of itself. If you see this one – grab it. You may not love it, but you’re not likely to find anything else quite like it.
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