Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Writers: William M. Gaines, Al Feldstein, Wallace Wood, Harry Harrison (with scholarly material by Bill Mason, Ted White, and S.C. Ringgenberg)
Artists: Wallace Wood (with Harry Harrison)
$29.99, Fantagraphics Books, 240 pgs.
ISBN  978-1606998052

Settle in, gang. This review starts with a bit of a history lesson.

In the early 1950s, American newsstands sold all kinds of comics: Westerns, superheroes, romance, teen humor, funny cartoon animals, war stories…you name it. But the top-selling comics of the day were the horror, science fiction, and crime comics perfected by EC Comics and imitated by a slew of other publishers.

The EC imitators, however, were just that: Johnny Come-Latelys in a field defined by the EC style. EC boasted a stable of cartoonists whose work was, simply put, the best the medium had to offer at the time. Now-legendary names such as Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, and Johnny Craig all worked under the EC imprint, as did the artist whose work is collected in the volume up for review this week: Wallace “Wally” Wood.

Eventually a wave of anti-comics hysteria all but killed the EC line and restricted American comics to safe, easily-palatable children’s fare,* a stunted quasi-life from which US comics didn’t begin to emerge until the 1980s.** But comics fans remembered the glory days of the EC line; they kept the legend alive and paved the way for subsequent generations of readers to discover the magic of these wild and inventive comics. Previously available only as expensive collectibles and tattered flea market finds, low-quality reprints and expensive small-press collected editions, the EC line has at last returned in high-grade formats worthy of the material. It’s long overdue, but EC’s best output is now accessible by a wide audience, finally giving this valuable part of our cultural and artistic heritage artistic the recognition it deserves.

(The author steps away from the lectern and apologizes to his audience, who might not have gone into this knowing that he has taught college classes on the evolution and creation of comics.)

Modern readers can engage with this material in two different ways. Dark Horse Comics reprints the individual EC titles (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, and others) in lavish color editions, presenting the stories in the order they were published in the 1950s. They’re wonderful books, and if you can afford them, they’re worth their hefty cover price of $49.99 per volume. The subject of this review is from a different series: the Fantagraphics EC Artists Library, which collects the material by artist and subject matter, making for a very different reading experience and—because the art is presented in black-and-white—a much cheaper one, too.*** This twelfth volume in the series, SPAWN OF MARS AND OTHER STORIES, collects the science fiction stories drawn for EC by one of its most talented creators, the aforementioned Wallace Wood.

Wally Wood’s name is, among comics scholars, virtually synonymous with the phrase “EC science fiction.” In these stories drawn for EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy titles, Wood crafts a science fiction universe that is at once terrifying and alluring, filled with fascinatingly complex technology, rugged heroes and gorgeous heroines, and weird, menacing aliens. Wood’s artwork, seen here at varying stages of its development, eventually matures into a lavish style that even the most jaded modern reader cannot help but appreciate. The art is the star of the show here.

The writing, in contrast, is almost simple. For example, the stories “Rescued!” and “The Gray Cloud of Death!” are essentially two approaches to the same basic tale! These stories are heavy on pulpy narrative exposition, and most culminate in a trademark EC twist, but that’s not a criticism. Rather, the overwrought heavy-handedness is part of the fun. It pairs quite nicely with Wood’s moody lighting, realistic textures, and penchant for detail upon detail. In total, this is a genuinely special reading experience.

I’ve already written far more than you probably cared to read, so I’ll conclude simply by saying this: if you’ve got serious art-hounds in your patron population, this book will be a hit.

I suppose I could’ve saved us both a lot of time by leading with that…

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: This is a thick, well-made hardcover at a reasonable price, and since the individual volumes in the EC Artists Library have no narrative relationship with one another, you’re free to purchase them one at a time as needed or requested.

READERS’ ADVISORY NOTES: Fans of science fiction and horror should respond well to this material, even if they favor one genre and don’t think of themselves as fans of the other. Some readers may be familiar with the TALES FROM THE CRYPT title, but unaware of the other comics EC published; if your patrons like TFTC, suggest they range a bit further afield and try this volume, too. And finally, art buffs will, of course, go nuts over the stunning black-and-white reproduction of Wood’s art.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Some science fiction and horror violence

*Yes, that happened…the United States Senate even got involved! SPAWN OF MARS contains an essay touching (briefly) on this topic, but for more on this strange and fascinating sequence of events, see David Hajdu’s terrific book THE 10-CENT PLAGUE: THE GREAT COMIC BOOK SCARE AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA (ISBN 978-0312428235).

**Technically, the underground “comix” of the 1960s and ‘70s were the first American comics to challenge the idea that comics were exclusively for children. It wasn’t until the 1980s that mainstream publishers began to push the envelope, though, and really, that’s the watershed moment: the undergrounds may have paved the way creatively and even ideologically, but it was this mainstream paradigm shift that eventually led to the broad, diverse comics marketplace we enjoy now. We’re still decades behind the French, but that’s another article entirely.

***It’s also a lot easier to appreciate the astonishing level of detail ECs artists employed when you see the art in B&W, which is why publisher Russ Cochran’s fabled Complete EC Library reprints were so sought-after by collectors for so long…but again, that’s another article.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


By Mike Mignola and a variety of writers and artists
$24.99, Dark Horse Comics, 261 pgs.
ISBN 978-1616555108

Writer/artist Mike Mignola’s genre-bending Hellboy series—equal parts two-fisted pulp heroics and supernatural horror—is one of the independent comics scene’s most enduring titles. This collection is a bit of an oddity in the Hellboy library in that (with the exception of the first couple stories in the book) it isn’t Mignola’s work. Rather, this is a collection of short stories by an all-star lineup of creators, originally produced to coincide with the release of the first Hellboy film in 2004, but released only recently in hardcover form.

The stylistic approaches to these stories are all over the map, as one would expect from a collection of this nature. The stories take place in different times and places, highlighting the range of tales one can tell in the wide-open playground that is the Hellboy universe. Some are funny, most are action-packed, and a couple are genuinely eerie. It’s a lot of fun seeing Hellboy in the hands of creators other than Mignola and his usual collaborators, and fans of the series will find much to appreciate here.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: From a librarian’s perspective, the book’s only real shortcoming is that it isn’t a very good introduction to Hellboy or the world he inhabits. If you’ve got room in your collection development budget for only one Hellboy book, this isn’t the best option. Instead, go with either HELLBOY Vol. 1: SEED OF DESTRUCTION (ISBN 978-1593070946) or, if you can afford it, HELLBOY LIBRARY EDITION Vol. 1: SEED OF DESTRUCTION AND WAKE THE DEVIL (ISBN 978-1593079109), which collects the first two Hellboy story arcs in one hardcover edition.

READERS’ ADVISORY TIPS: Readers who enjoy genre mash-ups, rejoice…this book has them all! The stories herein should also resonate with fans of pulp action-adventure, horror, and mythology.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Horror violence; some nudity; some adult language; material some readers may find ideologically offensive

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Been a while, hasn't it?

Much has transpired since my last post here. I wrote and drew another in my line of instructional comic books for libraries, this time for Independence Community College in Independence, KS (You can read the book HERE; give it time to load, because the file is huge!). Then, as soon as the book was completed, I moved across the country...1800 and some odd miles, to be exact, all the way from Southeast Kansas to the Portland, Oregon region, where I look forward to carving out an all-new niche for myself in the library world.

The Kansas library community was very good to me, and while I'm loving Oregon, there are many people in Kansas I will miss terribly...people who truly embraced my work and who at every turn encouraged to do more, be more. You know who you are. It's because of you that a part of me will always miss being a Kansas librarian.

I'm currently concentrating on completing the final book in my series of library instructional comics. It's shaping up to be my favorite of the bunch, and I can't wait to show it to you! In the meantime, you'll have to make do with fresh new reviews, the first of which can be read in the very next entry...