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.