I thought it was about time I started posting my Comics Buyer's Guide stories and columns here. Here's the first one published this calendar year, from CBG #1687 (May 12)


More Depth and Breadth

The Growth of Reprints


By Andrew "Captain Comics" Smith

Contributing Editor


January 2012: I’ve written before about the Golden Age of Reprints, and I’m about to again – because it’s grown deeper and wider.


And wouldn’t you know it, a recent arrival squares neatly with our cover feature: Michael Barston’s Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics (Harper Design, $29.99).


Let’s be clear right off the bat: Agonizing Love presents no threat to Michelle Nolan’s Love on the Racks: A History of American Romance Comics (2008, McFarland & Co.). Nolan, a CBG contributor, has set the bar insurmountably high for comprehensive lists and analysis. Racks is the gold standard for historical works on romance comics, and is in no danger of losing the crown any time soon.


In fact, Barston admits early in his book, “it would seem there are about 5,500 issues I still need to make any claim to thorough knowledge of this delightful genre.” Which is not to say the book doesn’t have its charms. Barston has a light writing style that occasionally elicits a smile, and his organization is clever. He arranges his reprints in five sections by content: “Bliss,” “Jealousy and Revenge,” “Despair,” “Marriage Hell,” and “Class Struggles.” This arrangement is not only amusing, but it also demonstrates the repetitive nature of these stories, which followed predictable patterns.


That brings me to my own “love confession”: I confess that I remain curious about romance comics, because I still don’t understand them. What was the appeal? Perhaps if I had been female in the 1950s it would be obvious, but lacking that advantage I can only try to absorb as many of these books as I can in the hopes that I will develop a gestalt of the era, the social mores and whatever forbidden thrill these books conveyed.


Which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading old romance comics. I do. But not for the reasons they were created; I find the outdated gender roles and overwrought dialogue hilarious (which this book emphasizes). And, of course, I’m interested from a purely historical perspective.  


So that’s three reasons for me to read the stories reprinted in this book. If you share them, Agonizing Love might be for you.


Coincidentally, Agonizing Love has a Jack Kirby romance-comic illustration on its cover, which will soon have competition. Fantagraphics is shipping Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics ($29.99) this month, which reprints 21 such stories as selected by animation artist Michael Gagné.


Meanwhile, I’m merrily plowing my way through all the Marvel Masterworks, Marvel Essentials, DC Archives, DC Chronicles, and DC Showcase collections. And I don’t mean Silver Age and Bronze Age stuff.


Oh, I love that material. But, frankly, I already own it in various formats. And if I didn’t, it can be had cheap, even as back issues of regular-sized comic books (See: Marvel Tales). No, that stuff is dime-a-dozen.


What excites me is the material from the 1940s and 1950s. When I started collecting comics in the 1960s, back issues from those mysterious decades were already out of my price range and, of course, are even more pricey today. So it’s been a decades-long dream of mine to read that material someday, and lo, the Big Two have answered my prayers.


DC has already finished reprinting all of the Dr. Fate and Justice Society stories from the 1940s, although I haven’t seen many other Golden Age collections lately. I won’t mind too much as long as they continue archiving Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, which they are (slowly). Meanwhile, Marvel just finished the All-Winners run (with volume 4), and is plugging away on other Golden Age titles, from the major (Marvel Mystery Comics, Captain America) to the minor (Young Allies, U.S.A. Comics).


DC is hit and miss when it comes to 1950s comics, and I’ve snatched up what they’ve offered: Mad Archives, Atomic Knights, Viking Prince, some Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen here and there.


But Marvel is going big guns. As you’d expect, they’re archiving titles that lasted into the Silver Age as fast as they can, with Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish all nearing the end of their pre-superhero runs. To my delight, Marvel has also reprinted the entire 1950s runs of Captain America, Black Knight, Human Torch, Marvel Boy, Sub-Mariner, and Yellow Claw, plus the complete Amazing Adult Fantasy and Menace. They’ve already begun experimenting with war books, Westerns, jungle titles, and the impossible-to-pigeonhole Venus, which they can’t reprint fast enough to suit me.


Meanwhile, publishers without 70-year histories are finding ways to cash in on the reprint boom.


One of the biggest players is Dark Horse, which has cut deals with companies who were around decades ago and is aggressively reprinting their best stuff. DH has already collected complete runs of Gold Key’s Dr. Solar, Magnus, and Mighty Samson; Sparks’ Green Lama; Dell’s “Brain Boy,” and ACG’s Herbie, Magicman (from Forbidden Worlds), and Nemesis (Adventures into the Unknown).


And they’re banging way on Gold Key’s Brothers of the Spear, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Dagar the Invincible, Doctor Spektor, and Space Family Robinson, plus Dell’s Tarzan and Turok, Son of Stone. They’re also grinding away on Warren’s Creepy and Eerie (Dynamite is doing Vampirella), everybody’s Flash Gordon, plus the amazing Archie Archives, reprinting all of the Riverdale gang’s adventures chronologically. And if that’s not enough, the Crime Does Not Pay Archives begins in April!


IDW and comics historian Craig Yoe have combined to collect the work of early horror artists; so far they’ve done Dick Briefer and Bob Powell, with Basil Wolverton in the works. Dynamite has collected the first six issues of the Golden Age Green Hornet. Hermes Press seems to have snagged most of Gold Key’s licensed work, reprinting that publisher’s runs of Dark Shadows, Land of the Giants, My Favorite Martian, Time Tunnel, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.


Fantagraphics deserves their own paragraph, just to highlight the favor they’re doing us all: The Carl Barks Library, which began a few months ago with Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: “Lost in the Andes.” They’re also reprinting Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse work. And they’re doing collections of artists rather than titles, with Setting the Standard: Comics by Alex Toth 1952-54, and Blake Bell’s Steve Ditko and Bill Everett archives.


You’ll note that only occasionally have I cluttered this list with an opinion. You can tell I’m thrilled with the Archive Archives, for example, and grateful for the Carl Barks Library.  But a lot of this material I don’t have much to say about because … well, it’s awful.


That may seem like an odd thing to say when I’m devoting an entire column to the subject. Especially when I’ve admitted I’m buying all these things.


But a lot of 1940s material is just plain old drek (I’m looking at you, Daring Mystery). A lot of post-Code 1950s material is just now being reprinted because it wasn’t any good the first time around, and time has done it no favors. Even some 1960s material, like the first volumes of Dark Shadows and Space Family Robinson, are almost unreadable.


However, I accept that as the price for gaining a comprehensive understanding of our little hobby. It’s fascinating to understand, for example, that at the same time Mac Raboy was setting new standards with Green Lama, U.S.A. Comics was setting new lows. It’s eye-opening to see all the places Jack Kirby showed up (and how much better he was than his contemporaries). It’s engrossing to see how an artist like Syd Shores goes from Captain America in the 1940s to … well, Captain America in the 1960s.


Seriously, even the worst material is educational to some degree. It’s all part of our heritage, and I accept that the bad comes with the good, and is instructive in its own way. So I spend a lot of money embracing good and bad both.


I also spend a lot of money on the flood of comic strip collections, which – for the most part – need no apologies. I don’t have room to list them all, but here are my favorites:


  • “Forever Nuts”: This series from NBM Publishing has produced three hardbacks reprinting the earliest “Mutt & Jeff,” “Happy Hooligan,” and “Bringing Up Father.” I enjoyed them all, for historical reasons if nothing else, but “Bringing Up Father” was a revelation. For a strip with one central joke – Maggie beaning Jiggs with a rolling pin – George McManus kept the strip fresh and exciting day after day. And the art! While Jiggs remained a cartoon, McManus’s women were drawn in photo-realism style, and beautifully modeled the elaborate fashions of the time. All of this took place in a meticulously rendered Art Deco milieu that is a joy to behold.
  • “Blondie”: I’ve never taken a survey, but I imagine not many people are aware that the long-running “Blondie” strip had unique Roaring ‘20s origins. In the beginning, Dagwood was from a filthy rich family, with a robber baron for a father, while Blondie was from a poor family and dressed in flapper fashions. The crux of the strip was the efforts by Dagwood’s snooty parents to prevent him marrying Blondie, whom they regarded as blue-collar trash. This is all covered in the first volume of IDW’s collection of the strip, Blondie: The Courtship and Wedding: 1930 to 1933, which ends (as the title indicates) with the nuptials. This also results in Mr. Bumstead –who’s a dead ringer for J.C. Dithers, who would come along years later – cutting his son off from the family fortune, forcing Dagwood to seek employment for the first time in his lazy life. I’m looking forward to more surprises in volume two this month, which promises (in the subtitle) From Honeymoon to Diapers & Dogs.
  • “The Phantom”: Like “Captain Easy” (which Fantagraphics is reprinting in beautiful, oversize collections) the early “Phantom” strips are really charming – they’re sort of a cross between a screwball comedy and movie serials. In fact, the tone is that of gleeful, barely controlled chaos, a feeling the Indiana Jones movies captured so well. “Captain Easy” is only up to volume two – I suspect sales haven’t been good – and I fervently hope it will continue. Meanwhile. collected editions of “The Phantom” dailies are up to volume four as of this month, with the first collection of Sundays coming in February. And if, like me, your introduction to the Ghost Who Walks was comic books, fear not: Hermes has scheduled hardcover collections of Phantom comic books originally published by Gold Key, King, and Charlton, all in the 2012 pipeline.
  • “Peanuts”: Fantagraphics has been doing a beautiful job reprinting Charles Schulz’s masterpiece in chronological order, and will be for some time to come. They publish two books a year, which you can buy singly or wait a bit and get them both in a slipcase. Currently the series is up to the early 1980s, so the strip is at its peak, with popular but latecomer characters like Woodstock and Peppermint Patty already regulars. Do I really need to tell you how good this is?
  • “Flash Gordon”: This series has never been neglected; currently the Alex Raymond daily strips are available from both Checker and Kitchen Sink. But the Sundays haven’t been reprinted as often, and never in their original size – until now. IDW has begun a four-book series reprinting both “Flash Gordon” and its companion strip “Jungle Jim” in full newspaper broadsheet size. I’ve received the first, and it’s spectacular. Titan Books is also beginning a reprint series of Sunday “Gordon” strips in 2012, but it’s hard to imagine how they could top IDW.
  • “Prince Valiant”: When Fantagraphics began publishing the famous Hal Foster strip in a series of trade paperbacks in the 1980s, I bought them all. It’s a testament to how good Fantagraphics’ new collection of that material is – it’s oversize and hardback – that I’m buying it again.
  • “Mandrake the Magician”: I don’t think anybody’s ever collected Lee Falk’s second-most-famous strip before. Points to Titan Books for doing just that, starting in July.


After all the above, is there any wonder why I call this the Golden Age of Reprints?


Believe me, it wasn’t always like this. Decent collections were hard to come by until the Archives and Masterworks series kicked off the current glut, and were virtually non-existent in the Silver Age.


So what changed? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I’d guess a confluence of events, including the availability of cheap Chinese printing, Baby Boomers recapturing their youth, and publishers looking for new revenue streams.


Regardless, we live in a time when there’s a market for a Brain Boy Archives. And how can that be a bad thing?


Andrew “Captain Comics” Smith has been writing professionally about comics since 1992, and for Comics Buyer’s Guide since 2000.


Views: 336

Comment by Luke Blanchard on April 15, 2012 at 10:33pm

Part of the explanation of romance comics is that, in them, the emotional lives of women are at the center of the stories. Also, most of the heroines are attractive, so girl readers could identify with them both as attractive women and as women who had relatable problems.

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on April 16, 2012 at 11:42am

I have nothing to add but keep posting "Reprint Round-Up" occasionaly! Other than you, I have no one else to discuss these with (even if my comments are often limited to, "Yeah, I agree"). For better or for worse, we're both in this together!

Comment by John Dunbar on April 17, 2012 at 10:50pm

Great article Cap, as usual.  Can you expand on this part a bit though?  Being unfamiliar with both series, I like to hear a little more about this.

It’s fascinating to understand, for example, that at the same time Mac Raboy was setting new standards with Green Lama, U.S.A. Comics was setting new lows.


Comment by Luke Blanchard on April 20, 2012 at 6:28am

The Captain wrote about the second USA Comics Masterwork here. The Green Lama was a pulp magazine character who appeared in comics from Prize and Spark Publications. The comic book version was a kind of Superman-light.

Mac Raboy's style was realistic and made extensive use of shadows. His art often has a still look. He was the first artist on the "Captain Marvel, Jr." feature. Later he drew the Flash Gordon Sundays for many years.

Comment by Figserello on April 20, 2012 at 8:06am

Cap also wrote a long piece about the Green Lama, either on this board or the last board.  It is one of the few Golden Age reprint collections I'd really like to read, as he sounded very progressive for his times.

Comment by Luke Blanchard on April 20, 2012 at 10:13am

Thanks, Fig. I found the Captain's column here. I don't know who wrote the stories the Captain describes, but Steranko's account of Mac Raboy in The Steranko History of Comics 2 (in the section on Captain Marvel, Jr.) quotes a Fawcett editor as saying he was "a fellow who had concern for the underdog", and included a black kid among the kids at Freddie Freeman's birthday party despite the objections of an editor.


I fear the Green Lama stories didn't always have that kind of content; the small number I've seen were uninteresting Golden Age stories with nice art.


You should be able to find many of the stories at the Digital Comic Museum. The comics series initially appeared in Prize Comics, beginning with the seventh issue.

Comment by Captain Comics on April 20, 2012 at 1:00pm

Wow, thanks for the research, guys! I knew I'd written about U.S.A. and Green Lama before, but would never have guessed exactly where they were!

Comment by Captain Comics on April 27, 2012 at 6:56pm

That's a good point. I was exchanging tweets with a fangirl who decided she liked team books because it was a place where girls could play important roles not related to gender. I tried to think of a solo (male) book that had important females who weren't the girlfriend, and had trouble doing so.

It was another reminder, as if any are needed, how female-unfriendly most mainstream comics are. And that's dumb. I'm a longtime fan, and I like lots of girls in my comics, as I do in my life. And excluding 51% of the population at the conceptual stage is just poor business. It's been a long time since comics catered to the under-13 crowd ... except in the "No gurlz alowd" aspect of the clubhouse.

Comment by JHK on May 27, 2012 at 1:25pm

I'd like to comment on this subject. I stopped buying new comics about the time DC started killing/reviving characters like Superman. I won't go into it further except to say, now I only buy reprint collections. About Peanuts, I will commit heresy by saying, pre-Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, Peanuts was brilliant. Then Schulz kept churning out ads for Snoopy dolls. I preferred the first "Patty" to the "Peppermint" one. I believe Gary Larson and Bill Watterson were thinking of Schulz when they retired their masterpieces so young. I love Chic Young's Blondie, but like Beetle Bailey (if that strip was ever funny), let it go. I have fond memories of Atlas sci-fi (I think Titan of Atlantis was perhaps the best story in literary history) and buy those volumes. For most reprints, it's based on artists and writers for me. Creepy and Eerie, with renowned artists and writers, only rarely was any good. EC reprints: nothing better, ever. No use for Archie beyond the 40s, 50s, 60s collections from the 90s. Agree about Sugar and Spike. I recommend all Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, Carl Barks. I have a weakness for Silver Age Superman and Batman; I may be the only one who loves those alien stories in Batman. Anyway, I enjoy your blog.

Comment by Captain Comics on May 27, 2012 at 5:34pm

Definitely agree about Peanuts. The early stuff is edgy and sometimes just weird. After Woodstock came along, I knew something was lost, but wasn't sure what it was. "Churning out ads for Snoopy dolls" may be the best summary I've ever read for that whatever-it-is. Certainly the strip got cutesier and I liked it less.


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