By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Feb. 8, 2011 -- You think you’re behind? *Sigh* Let me try to get the last 2010 books out of the Teetering Tower of Review Stuff …
* I initially passed on Cover Run: The DC Comics Art of Adam Hughes (DC, $39.99) because I have all the comics whose covers are contained in this oversize hardback, and art books don’t have a narrative to sustain my interest.
Oh, what a goose I am. Yes, I have all these covers from Catwoman, Wonder Woman and elsewhere, but I don’t have them all in one place, all annotated by the artist and all this BIG. Hughes is a terrific artist, not just with the female form (for which he’s known), but in the use of color palettes, composition and light effects. It would be a joy just to flip through the oversize pictures by themselves, but the amusing, self-deprecating explanations by the artist about his processes and decision-making is fascinating, especially to frustrated artists like your humble narrator. Hughes signs his work “AH!”, and that’s pretty much the reaction I had to every page.
* I also passed last year on Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Comics 1946-1948 (IDW, $39.99), because I usually don’t enjoy humorous comic strips. That’s because they’re usually what’s called “gag-a-day,” and at my age I think I’ve read every conceivable three-panel gag. Or they do have a narrative, but each daily installment spends so much time recapping yesterday and anticipating tomorrow that they rarely say much and it takes forever to tell even a simple story.
Maybe that’s not a fair assessment in general, and it surely isn’t for Archie, which a Legionnaire on my website insisted I buy (thanks, Jeff Plackmeier!). This stuff – all written and drawn by Archie’s creator, Bob Montana – is genuinely funny, even though it’s 60 years old. Plus, I love spelunking through old pop culture like this, trying to figure out the entertainment sociology of times long gone. For example, is it meaningful that every walk-on character is named Iggy? And there are a couple of surprisingly naughty gags – so was dirty-mindedness more acceptable then, or did they get through because 1940s editors weren’t dirty-minded enough? Also, it goes without saying that everyone was skinnier then, especially the (very fetching) girls – except for people over 40, who were invariably pear-shaped. Was that true?
I had a ball with these reprints, which really whet my appetite for Dark Horse’s complete Archie archives, beginning later this year. Also, everyone go buy a copy, so that IDW will publish a volume two!
* Harpe: America’s First Serial Killers (Cave In Rock, $9.99) came out sometime in 2009, a self-published, B&W, historical graphic novel that found itself to me last year. And, as both a history buff and a comics fan, I’m glad it did.
Harpe is the story of two brothers with that surname, Wiley and Micajah, who went on a killing spree in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky between 1797 and 1804. That’s during the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson administrations, which means that this story is on the Western frontier of the time, where there was no mass communication and very few lawmen. It’s hard to think of Knoxville as the Wild West, but it surely was in this time period, which allowed the bloody-minded brothers (with three women in tow) to escape justice long enough to kill more than 30 people. No, that’s not a typo. And it’s all true (mostly)!
Writer Chad Kinkle does an excellent job of suggesting the time and place through dialogue, which is necessarily fabricated. I have to say artist Adam Shaw’s work – mostly ink wash – is a little rough. But then, so is the subject matter. And the horror sticks with you long after you’ve put the book down.
* The Tango Collection (Trafalgar Square, $24.95), as its name implies, is a collection from the first eight issues of an Australian comic book called Tango, which is described as “a quirky romance comic anthology.” I’ve recently come to appreciate romance books more than I used to, but Tango, I’m afraid, is a bit too quirky for me.
Tango offers 60 tales in 240 pages, so most are bafflingly short. And the art varies from odd to odder. I allow that could be ethnocentrism talking, but the upshot is that Tango read like a high school art class project, and I can’t recommend it.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at email@example.com.