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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #268

What’s black and white and read all over? Today’s Reason to Love Comics. (I know, I know, that joke doesn’t work in print. Quiet, you. Have an archive link.)


268. Essentials/Showcases/Phonebooks

Essential 1.jpg

I love these babies. Let’s look at what makes them great.

First of all, they’re cheap. Over 500 pages of comics for 15-17 bucks or whatever the suggested retail price is these days is a really good deal, especially since you can’t get the cool old stuff it’s reprinting as cheap anywhere else. This is segueing into my second point, which is that they’re loaded with content– like, 20+ issues of comics goodness in glorious black and white.

Marvel really got the whole ball rolling with their massive compendiums of classic “Marvel Era” material. If someone wants to pick up a collection of great Spider-Man stories, well, they can. No need to shuffle through back issue bins or stare longingly at Mylar-sheathed beauties on a wall somewhere– you can just hit up Borders or Amazon or whichever premiere or independent bookseller you wish and grab a cool tome of great comics. Me, I’m picking up all of Marvel’s Thor editions. I’d love to own these in singles, of course, but I just can’t afford it– and Essentials are the next best thing. Kirby‘s work looks great in black and white, especially when he’s paired with a strong inker. And Ditko– heck, Ditko’s work in black and white is to die for. I don’t want to neglect any of the other greatest artists of the past, either– it’s all good. So, yeah, praise be to Marvel for running with this idea. I’m really glad they’re turning to their more obscure series these days, too. Now if only they’d buy the rights back so we can get an Essential ROM

Showcase Pr.jpg

I really love that DC is using their Showcase Presents volumes to reprint a lot of kooky Silver Age stuff that is impossible to find anywhere else. Okay, okay, so I’m really thankful they put out an Elongated Man volume. I was really hoping for one, but never thought they’d make one in a million years. The gods smiled upon me that day. Anyway, yeah, DC’s putting out a lot of great material that wouldn’t sell in expensive hardback Archive editions, and I thank them for it. However, I’d also like to see them take more stuff that’s only in Archive and put it into Showcase– like Doom Patrol, for instance, or Kamandi. Still, I’m just happy to have these books coming out regularly. My want list is ridiculously long, and I never finish the bloody things, but they’re great!

And who else puts out cool phonebooks? I know there are the Cerebus ones. What else? My memory ain’t what it used to be.

Some people refuse to buy these collections because they’re not in color. Fie on them, I say! You can’t beat this kind of deal– loads of good comics for little cost. I can sacrifice the four color if I have to. If you can’t, well, buy a box of crayons and go to it! They can easily become the world’s greatest coloring books.

Alright, kids, I’m keeping this one short tonight, and I apologize for any bizarre diction. When you’ve been writing or editing formal stuff all day, you just want to bust out and start rambling. And so I have. I hope you followed along.

Anything I forgot to talk about here? How many of these volumes do you have? What’s your favorite? What’s on your to-buy list? Which ones do you want them to come out with next? And when will DC get over this “let’s not reprint anything post-1976″ policy? All this and Andy Rooney tonight on 60 Minutes.


Antarctic Press has done some nice “Phonebook” style collections of their main series, like Ninja High School, Twilight X, and Gold Digger.

Top Cow has also done similarly with Witchblade and Tomb Raider phone books.

These buggers are the best things in comics right now as far as I’m concerned. A big, hefty chunk of some of the niftiest and fun stuff out there for not a big chunk of cash.
And it’s so cool to see DC reprinting their non-superhero stuff. I never dreamed I’d have collections of this sort of material.
Now they just need to reprint the older gear.

I love the format- much rather have huge chunks of 25 isses or more between 2 covers than 4 issue collections.

I believe there’s also a Savage Dragon phonebook, if you’re into that.
It’s a great format, and since I was in primary school when the Essentials started coming out, they’ve played a massive role in my interest in comics history.


September 26, 2007 at 1:16 am

Marvel re-printing their B&W magazine titles, as well as the articles that ran in them, was the one that excited me the most (well that and the fact they did the Howard The Duck One – how the two combined didn’t start an instant Gerber revival is beyond me).
And of course, DC going for the obscure weird shit straight out the gate was brilliant as well – Tony DeZunga instantly became one of my favourite pencillers ever when I cracked open my Jonah Hex.

(Also glad to hear of someone else who’s in love with collecting them, but has more un-finished than finished volumes).

There might be a Spawn phonebook too. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before.

it’s just a damn shame we won’t see 80 and 90s DC stuff

I think there’s a colour Spawn book of a similar size.

Personally I’d like these much more if they were colour – at least the ones that were meant to be colour. I’d be perfectly happy to have the ones that were always B+W stay B+W.

I wonder how much it would add to the cost of these books to keep the colour. I don’t need good colour – just the same crappy printing that these comics would have had originally would be fine. IIRC The Return of Superman was a similar size and in colour and dirt cheap so in theory it can be done – though that had the advantage that it was guaranteed to sell shitloads.

I’m reading the Haunted Tank Showcase now, and it is so good. I’me got the War that Time Forgot on the shelf next, and I’m jonesing for that too.

MATT D: Actually, we are seeing 80’s stuff. Unfortuantely, it’s all Wolverine, X-Men, New Mutants, etc. None of the actually GOOD stuff.

On a realted note, I love seeing certain phone books. Loke many long term collectors, I’ve done a few purges over the years. I really enjoy seeing collections of books I bought off the stands new and have since got rid of. It’s very self satisfying. Almost as satisfying are collection of books I still own. I look at some of them and think: If you looked on eBay for a few weeks, you could get the originals for just about the same price.

I think these phonebooks are a great idea. There’s plenty of 60’s stuff I’ve always wanted to read, but couldn’t afford, even on eBay. Sure, in comparison to the back issues, the Marvel Masterpieces & DC’s hardbacks are a lot cheaper, but it’s still $40+ each. $15-$20 for 20-25 issues in B&W of a book you don’t know if you’ll like is a great deal.

BILL: You know damn good and well why they can’t do a ROM phonebook. Licensing issues aside, we all know that Marvel’s leadership hates you. If they made those, you’d be happy. We can’t have that, now can we.

I went to get my comics last week and wanted to pick up the Essential S.H.I.E.L.D. or Nick Fury or whatever they decided to call it. Guess what: it’s not made! We have damn neat everything else, but not Nick Fury. We have Super Villian Team-Up, Dracula, Werewolf By Night, Howard The Duck, and Ant Man, but not Nick Fury. Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?

Worth noting that Dave Sim (and Cerebus) invented this format. Mostly out of necessity. Cerebus was already in Black and White, and the stories were often, like, 46 issues long.

Lemme see: I own

Amazing Spider-Man 2, 3, 4
Fantastic Four 3, 4
Howard the Duck
Marvel Team-up 1
Marvel Two-In-One 1
Super-Villain Team-Up
Tomb of Dracula 1
Son of Satan

Unknown Soldier
Jonah Hex
War that Time Forgot
The Atom
Brave and the Bold

I’m glad you posted this today because the Essential/Showcase-type format is literally 90% of my comic collection these days. I have every single one (save for some of the Handbooks) and automatically pre-order every one when its solicited.

I just love ‘em. I don’t even miss the color and am so used to the black and white that reading a color comic is sometimes strange.

A random note: When Werewolf by Night volume 2 comes out in November, that will be the 100th Essential.


September 26, 2007 at 8:00 am

I, too, love these things.

They make GREAT reference books, so I don’t have to dig out the original issues.

Besides the obvious value of buying these when I don’t own the singles, in the cases where I already have much of the original singles in the long-boxes, the low-cost to high-value ratio makes it a bit easier for me to buy the same material again.

I would LOVE to own ALL the CEREBUS editions, but sadly those are a little more pricey.
I have a few (one that’s signed & numbered) of them but, there are so many!
Ah well…one day…

As for MARVEL editions, thus far I have:

# 1 (both printings – different covers) & # 2
(# 3’s on order)






– WEREWOLF BY NIGHT 1 (2 on order)




– TWO-IN-ONE 1,2


– X-MEN 2,3 (in the old original cover format)

– FANTASTIC FOUR 2 (old-format)

– AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (old format)

and for SOME bizarre reason…

-OHotMU 1


– OHotMU – Deluxe 1,2,3

Most of these are in the collection for DOCTOR STRANGE and/or MAN-THING appearances.

Others, like “Marvel Horror” and “Werewolf” are just because the series’ were cool.
Super-Villain Team-Up was just because it was stupid-fun cheese!

I DO have to say that giving them away AS COLORING BOOKS is a GREAT idea!
I have nephews who are sorta into super-heroes (mostly DC stuff due to the WB cartoons).
I might have to pick them up some for reading & coloring fun!




Essentials as coloring book Christmas gifts.


You know, I was never a big fan of Jack Kirby, but those Essential Thors were awesome! I have a whole new respect for his work. I just finished reading Essential Punisher 2 the other day, and Whilce Portacio’s artwork used to rock! What happeneded?

Yeah they are great. I also have a “phonebook” TPB (Wildstorm Archive)collecting every issue of Gen-13 up to issue 13-C of the ongoing.

They are a lot of fun

I can’t get into these because of the lack of color. I have no problem with black and white comics, but the Essentials don’t reprint the comics as originally presented, so I feel like I’m missing out. I have been enjoying the dvd-rom compilations of Marvel titles that are complete scans, including color and Bullpen/letter pages.

avengers63: Matt D’s problem was that we’re not getting 80s stuff from DC. Yes, there’s Marvel Essentials from that era, but DC has some weird royalty issue that makes reprinting stuff from a certain period unprofitable, at least in the “multiple issues for a low price” format.

I believe we did see a Batman and the Outsiders volume.

I’m all for good stuff being reprinted, of course, but I’d much rather see older, costier, material in the showcase format than 80s and 90s comics that can usually be snarfed for a buck a pop.

Probably would’ve bought Suicide Squad, though.

And Jonah Hex volume 2.

Jeff Nicholson’s Ultra Klutz (and related series) were also reprinted in two phonebook volumes.

I have most of the superhero-related Showcase volumes up to a certain point, that being the point that I realized I was overwhelmed with reading material and had about 2500 pages waiting for me. (I have less interest in DC’s war, horror and western volumes, though I’m glad they exist.) My Essential collection is much more spotty, though I jumped at the chance to replace my Englehart Silver Surfers.

I find that the art is sometimes improved by being in black and white; Gil Kane, in particular, had gorgeous linework that really jumps out when it’s not competing with the coloring.

Out of curiosity, do people prefer the Marvel system of (generally) reprinting a given run of a title, or the DC system of tracking characters through crossovers and guest appearances (except for major characters like Batman and Superman)? Each one makes sense for the given publisher. Marvel characters were often dropping into each others’ books early on, and the characters who you’d publish these volumes for had their own titles (or half of a title, anyway). DC characters were much more likely to jump around titles or first appear as someone else’s guest (the early Legion appearances are in half a dozen different books), and once they had a feature their appearance in someone else’s was likely to be a noteworthy crossover. (The JLA and Superboy stories in the Green Arrow volume are particular standouts.) They also had a lot more B- and C-listers who maintained a secondary feature or short-lived book.

Personally, I like the DC system as long as it’s saved for significant appearances rather than cameos. Including the Teen Titans crossover issue in the Batman and the Outsiders volume is much more reader-friendly than leaving the story unfinished and forcing the reader to find the ending somewhere else. (Beyond a certain point it can become harder to do this, of course.)

I’d like to see a “Showcase Presents Short-Lived Series of the Seventies” volume, with things like Prez, Anthro, and Brother Power the Geek, but I expect it might be difficult to market effectively.

I would say that the “One Volume Edition” of Bone qualifies as a ‘phone book’.

And it was supposed to be black and white [I think those new color Bones just don’t work that well, although there are specific panels which are nice].

My dad got the first Superman Showcase off e-bay for about 2 quid but then said he was going to complain to the seller because he didn’t note it was in black & white, I couldn’t believe it, I almost disowned him as a father. Myself I’ve got Essential Howard The Duck and Punisher Volume 2 and Showcase Superman 1 and 2, Shazam, Metamorpho, Brave & Bold and Batman & The Outsiders.

I’ve been collecting the Marvel Essentials for a while now. I’ve got:

Daredevil: Vol. 1 & 2
Dr. Strange: Vol. 1 & 2
Fantastic Four: Vol. 1 & 2
Ghost Rider: Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up: Vol. 1
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man: Vol. 1 & 2
Spider-Man: Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6
Werewolf By Night: Vol. 1
Wolverine Vol. 1, 2, 3 & 4
X-Men: Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7
Classic X-Men: Vol. 1

I also have the first Green Lantern Jonah Hex Showcase books.

Love ‘em!

Other ‘phonebooks’? Well, Fantagraphics and 2000AD are both publishing chunky, affordable, black and white reprint volumes – less page count than the Essential and Showcase volumes, but better paper stock and at least its stuff that’s supposed to be monochrome.

The Fantagraphics ‘Love and Rockets’ phone books collect the two main strands of those series in hefty volumes, while 2000AD are publishing full runs of some of their bigger properties, right from the start. They’re obviously doing ‘Judge Dredd’, but best so far are the ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ compilations – amazing stuff from Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill and Bryan Talbot, among others.

I had them all (except Conan) as of the end of July, but have had to scale my comics buying back a bit to save money and have missed Adam Strange, Punisher v2, Daredevil v4, and Metal Men. Of the ones I own, I’ve read them all except for the first three Daredevil volumes, Wonder Woman, and Dazzler (which is next on my reading list.)

Fun things about them: The Wolverine volumes are not only cheaper than the back issues, they are actually cheaper than cover price for the series as it was sold at the time.

The reason there’s no ‘Essential Nick Fury’ is supposedly that Steranko’s art doesn’t look good in black-and-white. Ditto with ‘Essential New Mutants’ and Bill Sienkiewicz.

Gene Colan, on the other hand, was absolutely made for B&W; go pick up every single volume of ‘Essential Tomb of Dracula’, it is worth it just for the art, it’s absolutely gorgeous in black and white and it looks like it was made for it.

Every year in November and January on my blog I’m doing a ’15 Series I Most Want As Essentials/Showcases’ (Essentials in November, Showcases in January). ROM was on the list. I’m thinking of starting a petition. (Come on, you can get ‘Essential Godzilla’ out there, but not ‘Essential ROM’?)

The post-1976 Showcases that were cancelled were supposedly just delayed; DC has said they’ll come out in the latter half of 2008. So if ‘Suicide Squad Volume One’ doesn’t come out then, you know who to get angry at…

Have I mentioned that I freaking LOVE these things?

I love the idea of the “phonebooks” but I haven’t bought them because:
A- I’m really, really old.
B- I already read them.
C- I have a pornographic memory so I remember them all in detail.

I have looked at them and I find it very interesting to see which ones look better in B&W than they do in Color.

Superheroes look better in color.
War Comics look better in Black & White.

[…] Erwin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI’d love to own these in singles, of course, but I just can’t afford it– and Essentials are the next best thing. Kirby’s work looks great in black and white, especially when he’s paired with a strong inker. And Ditko– heck, Ditko’s work … […]

I like them mainly for series that I was always kind of interested in, but either don’t want to track down the back issues or it would be way too much money or work. For example I have all the Defenders and Hulk Essentials, but not any of Thor’s because I want the single issues or color reprints. DC did 3 Superman phone books in color – Doomsday, Our Worlds at War, and Return of – for $20 or $25 each. I’d buy way more of those than the B&Ws if they made more.

Eswential Rom is a rights issue – note the lack of the Rom crossover issue from the upcoming Essential Power Man & Iron Fist V1.

You’re right that certain stuff looks great in B&W – Byrne’s X-Men is gorgeous – I first read some ofthese in B&W in the UK and they look great there too.

And where’s my later volumes of Essential Avengers ? V5 was 18 months ago now and no sign of V6 !


September 27, 2007 at 6:15 am

“26.The Mutt said …

I love the idea of the “phonebooks” but I haven’t bought them because:
A- I’m really, really old.
B- I already read them.
C- I have a pornographic memory so I remember them all in detail.”



Y’know… I think I have one of those too.



Man, I have a full five shelf bookcase full of these things. And I too, have more finished than unfinished.

Up until about 6-9 months ago, I was doing really well at staying on top of them as they came out, and had almost of all them. Then I fell behind, and became sad.

I just can’t get enough of ‘em. There’s just something so satisfying about coming home with a big honkin’ slab of comics for under $20.

Oh, and because someone asked–supposedly, adding color would also add an extra fifteen dollars to the price-tag. (That’s presumably without improving the paper stock.)

I have to think that price quote, John, would be taking into consideration the need for a paper change.

Then again, $30 for this much material in color probably IS a bit cheap, so I may be wrong.

Where did that fifteen dollar figure come from?

If the stuff needed recolouring or printing up to modern standards I could see that, but it sounds a stretch that it would cost an extra $15 to print it in the same old crappy colour.

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