I hope you enjoyed the little break from this series about my bookshelf. Like many comic book fans, I have a big bookshelf full of graphic novels, hardcovers and trade paperbacks. However, my big bookshelf isn’t quite big enough and my collection has spilled over onto three other bookshelves. One houses oversize books. Another stores undersize books. And a third collects everything else.

Jim Steranko’s History of Comics Vol. 1-2

As I mentioned in several of the previous articles on this subject, I have an interest in comic book history. That interest has led me to pick up collections of Golden Age comics or oddball issues from the Silver Age (I have comics like Adventures of the Jaguar and Nukla in my collection). It has also led me to pick up numerous books about the history of comics. Jim Steranko’s two volume set is one of the oldest. It’s not great for research purposes (no index). But it was still a treat to read. Steranko mixes an overwhelming amount of minutiae with incredible anecdotes about creators. It’s too bad that the project stalled out after only two volumes. I would have loved to read his take on some of the other Golden Age companies, especially MLJ (the forerunner of Archie).

Steve Gerber’s Photo-Journal Guide to Comics Vol. 1-2

Here’s another historical treat. These were also a Christmas gift from the lovely anacoqui. I knew that I would have fun flipping through page after page of early comic book covers. But I didn’t know how much I would learn. Gerber provides a pair of excellent introductions, covering topics like issue grading and the fallacy of buying comics as investment.

Red Star: Battle of Kar Dathra’s Gate

I missed out on Red Star when it was originally published. But, like Age of Bronze, Fables and so many other series, I heard good things about it and decided to try it for myself. Image published the first story arc in this incredible oversized book. I saw it in a comic book store in California and I just knew that it was going to be worthwhile. I was blown away by the scope of the story: a modern Soviet Union powered by industrial magic fighting to keep its empire intact against breakaway states and incursions from other dimensions. The oversized format emphasized the epic aspect. It overwhelmed me, like I was sitting too close to a movie screen. And it drew me in, as if I was entering its reality. What a great introduction to a great series.

Superman: Peace on Earth, Batman: War on Crime, Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth, Captain Marvel: Power of Hope, JLA: Secret Origins, JLA: Liberty and Justice

This is a series of oversized stories by Paul Dini and Alex Ross. The first four had a slight “after-school special” aspec to them as each had a clear point or moral to them. Yet the art was so beautiful and the stories so well-crafted that I didn’t mind. It even seemed to fit the format. A big comic should have a big point to make about the world we live in. I’m still holding out hope for the water issue starring the Wonder Twins (an April Fool’s joke by Wizard Magazine). Instead, Dini and Ross followed the first four- issue project up with a second two-issue project starring the Justice League. They put the team together
in one volume and told a great story with them in the second. I was happy to see that the full six-issue set was recently collected as a regular trade paperback.

JLA: Heaven’s Ladder

There’s a third oversized JLA book but it’s unrelated to the first two. After Grant Morrison finished his acclaimed run on JLA, DC put together another superstar team to replace him. And they decided to introduce the new creative team through this prestige original graphic novel. Writer Mark Waid and artist Bryan Hitch deliver an incredible “widescreen” comic. Waid brings his scientific curiosity to bear. And Hitch delivers eye-popping images like a chain of planets.

Blacksad Vol. 1-2

I love this European import. Spanish creators Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido deliver a comic that combines anthropomorphic animals with film noir. In the process, they craft memorable characters and emotionally packed situations. Plus, the use of animals allows them to comment on social and
political realities, similar to the use of creatures in Art Spiegelmann’s Maus. There’s a third volume (Red Soul) that I haven’t been able to find yet in North America and a fourth volume on the way.

The 2000s were a great time for experimental formats. There were the oversized prestige volumes that I’ve written about already. And there were digest books that I’ll write about soon. But the 2000s weren’t the first time that comic book publishers played around with dimensions. The 1970s saw black and white magazines, supersized 100-page spectaculars and some of the earliest oversized comics. I don’t have some of the more famous treasury editions like Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (although I’d like to). But I do have this relatively obscure horror comic: Ghosts. It was published in the winter of 1974/75 and it comes with the odd numerical designation C-32. The stories are pretty standard fare-designed to surprise more than scare. For all I know, they’re reprints or rejects from DC’s regular horror
comics. But it makes me smile every time I bring it down from the top shelf.

Superhero Comics of the Golden Age, Superhero Comics of the Silver Age

These are my most-used reference books. They have chronological histories, character spotlights, entries for every superhero title published and good indexes. There are probably better academic books out there. But Mike Benton provides the right combination of information and accessibility for me.

Comics Between the Panels

This was Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson’s ambitious project. It has thousands of entries about every topic imaginable. There are creator entries, character entries and company entries. There are entries about headlights, injuries to the eye and comic book covers with the American flag. There are some great anecdotes. There are also some flaws. Its biases are obvious. And the emphasis on interesting stories over information makes it an enjoyable read but a marginal resource.

Eagle Annual 1950s

Looking over my shelves, I’m surprised at how many gifts I’ve come across. I knew that I received comic books as presents and favors over the years. But I didn’t realize how many. This is another gift from a fellow Legionnaire (thanks, Jeff!). It contains highlights from the famous British comic magazine Eagle
from the 1950s. It’s an interesting historical survey. The volume tries to reflect the comic as it was at the time- complete with puzzles, crafts and true life stories about British boys. I suppose the highlight is supposed to be the various stories starring Dan Dare- a character Garth Ennis said was better than
Batman- but I found them to be mostly boring. The historical oddity stuff interested me a lot more.

That’s it for the big books. Come back next week for the little ones.

Views: 563

Comment by George on November 8, 2010 at 1:22am
I read Vol. 1 of Steranko's "History" when I was 11 or 12. It was really my introduction to pulps, classic newspaper strips and Golden Age comic books. Steranko had a way of making these things sound very mysterious and exciting -- and the fact that they were virtually inaccessible, at the time, added to the feeling of coming across buried treasure.

I was hooked! Good job, JIm. I also regret he never went past Vol. 2 (which has a wealth of info on the Fawcett and Quality groups).
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on November 8, 2010 at 12:35pm
STERANKO’S HISTORY OF COMICS: I’ve had this one for decades and have found it invaluable, not only as a reference for comic books, but for pulp magazines, too.

GERBER’S PHOTO-JOURNAL GUIDE: I was looking at these just this past weekend (no lie!), studying the sales graphs of different genres of comics over the decades. Superheroes were way up at the height of the Golden Age, but surprisingly, respective sales stayed level (and low) throughout the Silver Age and into the ‘70s. I also have volumes #3-4, focusing on Marvel Comics, which I consult more often than volumes #1-2. My only disappointment with this series is that there are not volumes #5-6 covering DC comics.

DINI/ROSS: I re-read all of these (and “Heaven’s Ladder” and the Superman/FF one as well) earlier this year. The reason for the “after school special” aspect and moral of the first four, I think, was that each was released around Christmas and was intended to capture the spiritus mundi of the season.

EAGLE ANNUALS: You’re welcome! I have a better idea now of what you have on your shelves, but I wanted to give you something I hoped you would like and was fairly certain you didn’t already own in return for your hospitality. There’s another one from the ‘60s and another one featuring those “blow-up” diagrams. I like the Dan Dare stuff, too, kind of as a British answer to Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. It reads better in its own collection, though, rather than the little snips with all the other Eagle material.
Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on November 8, 2010 at 3:19pm

Red Star: Ah, man I loved that series so much when it first came out. They just seemed to piss away whatever momentum they had. I can't even remember when the last issue came out. So much potential, totally wasted.

Alex Ross - Paul Dini Books: You know I have all of them, but I've only read like 3 of them. I need to dig them up and finally read 'em.

Blacksad: Dark Horse put out  a new volume this year that has all three stories in them. I loved them all. Although, I think the second one was my favorite.

Comment by Chris Fluit on November 8, 2010 at 6:15pm
STERANKO’S HISTORY OF COMICS: I’ve had this one for decades and have found it invaluable, not only as a reference for comic books, but for pulp magazines, too.

As I mentioned in the article, I don't think it's a great reference tool because of the lack of an index. However, I'd agree with George. It's a wonderful introduction to pulps, strips and comics.
Comment by Chris Fluit on November 8, 2010 at 6:16pm
Red Star: Ah, man I loved that series so much when it first came out. They just seemed to piss away whatever momentum they had. I can't even remember when the last issue came out. So much potential, totally wasted.

I agree. The irregular publishing schedule. The frequent changes of publisher. It was hard to keep up with the title even if you wanted to. The last issue apparently came out in 2007. However, I know that I missed at least one issue simply because I didn't know it was being released. I think that Red Star was ripe for going straight to trade. One high profile book every three years or so would have had a greater chance of success than sporadic single issues.
Comment by Chris Fluit on November 8, 2010 at 6:33pm
As I mentioned in the article, I don't think it's a great reference tool because of the lack of an index. However, I'd agree with George. It's a wonderful introduction to pulps, strips and comics.

What I would say is that other books told you that the Golden Age was an exciting time which introduced thousands of new characters, but Jim Steranko helped you feel it.
Comment by George on November 9, 2010 at 1:03am
Re "History of Comics:

Because the book was researched in the late '60s, Steranko was able to interview dozens of comics creators who are no longer alive. The Golden Age generation is pretty much gone, aside from Lee, Infantino, Kubert and a few others (and most of them didn't make an impact until the Silver Age; they were very young guys learning their craft in the '40s).

Again, it's still a great introduction to that era. And it's written in a style that is not above a kid's head, which is probably why I responded to it 40 years ago. It opened my eyes to a world that existed before my birth -- the pop culture of my parents' childhoods in the '30s and '40s.
Comment by Luke Blanchard on November 9, 2010 at 7:16am
Not all great strips have a great character at their heart. Dan Dare himself is basically an idealised RAF pilot in space. At its best the strip had really spectacular art. Some of the supporting characters were very likeable, and some of the strip's imaginative elements were good (above all his arch-foe, the Mekon). Information on the series, and evidence of how good the art could be at its best, can be found here.
Comment by Figserello on November 9, 2010 at 8:56pm
I have a couple of Dan Dare collections from the 50's that I must read sometime.

"Better than Batman" is good marketing on Ennis' part, at least. Who's going to disprove an opinion?

I have both Morrison's and Ennis' takes on Dan Dare tucked away as well. The Morrison one has beautiful Rian Hughes artwork. I'd like to post a comparison of the two, but I'm short a few issues of the Ennis series.

I thought Dan Dare might have been a good match for you Chris, as he's one of the few comics characters to be created by a man of the cloth...

I loved the oversize Dini/Ross books, although I have yet to read the Shazam one. Hopefully it'll turn up second hand somewhere now that they are all in one collected edition.

They are a little preachy, but it's good to see the characters being taken seriously, and stories with a bit of passion to them. The Superman one in particular is a key text on the character in some ways. It has a good stab at answering the question - why doesn't he just fix everything already? That Superman is humbled and defeated at the end is the polar opposite of how Morrison approached him in JLA and All-Star. His very definition of the character is that he always wins. But he's a big character and there is room for different interpretations. Superman defeated would seem to be further removed from how he was originally conceived though.

Although I'd loved the Silver-Age flavoured renaissance that DC's superheroes went through in the mid-to-late 90's, Jacob's Ladder was where it jumped the shark for me. For someone with limited knowledge of the DC Silver Age like myself, the old-fashioned concepts had worked well up to that point because they were modernised and well-integrated into good stories, but Waid simply threw a lot of Silver Age concepts into this story, and we were supposed to love them because they were Silver Age, and no other reason. How the Weaponers were used particularly annoyed me. It was fanservice of sorts, rather than primarily about the story.
Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on May 17, 2012 at 9:13pm

...Supposedly Steranko did reseach/interviews for planned subsequecent(Sp!!) books ?

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