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Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: Books on Classic Comics and Creators

Here’s a quick look at four books that may be of interest to fans of classic comics:

Gene Colan is one of the truly underappreciated greats of the funnybook business and it’s nice to see him get the bio treatment. Secrets in the Shadows: The Art and Life of Gene Colanby Tom Field is a nicely packaged book runs chronologically through Colan’s life and career. Highlights include in depth looks at his Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck days, including interviews with his collaborators. The section I found the most interesting dealt with the highs and lows of Colan’s transition to DC. I had no idea that it was such a controversial move and that fellow creators were highly critical of his work. The DC experiment ends badly and Dick Giordano has to play the role of executioner. Looking back, his Night Force series with Marv Wolfman is one of the hidden gems of the era. My main criticism of the book is the layout. While things are organized chronologically, some of the sidebars are badly placed and the examples of artwork are not always relevant to the matters being discussed on the page. In addition, there is often repetition between the articles and the text of interviews – I would have rather those sections of the articles be deleted to remove the redundancies. The book would have profited by more focus on Gene’s pre-60s work, but it was still a very enjoyable read and the artwork reproduces very well in black & white.

With Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, Blake Bell set the standard against which all other comic book biographies should be measured. It is extensively researched, thoughtfully organized and beautifully designed. It is also written with an enthusiasm that evidences the author’s passion for his subject, without ever descending into fanboy mode. Bell’s discussions of Ditko’s Objectivist beliefs are well-informed, as he admits to having experimented with the philosophy himself. There is a also treasure trove of tougher to find Ditko artwork from the 50s. What we have here is the definitive book on what of the industry’s more talented, and intriguing figures. It’s a must have for any comic book fan.

When I spotted John Benson’s Confessions, Romances, Secrets and Temptations: Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics in a bargain bin at a local bookstore, I almost felt that I was looking at a mirage. How did this book come to be? How had I not heard of it? Truth be told, I can understand how this one flew under the radar. We’re talking about a sub-genre of books published by a long forgotten company and only Matt Baker fans likely pre-ordered it. That’s a shame, as there’s a lot of good information in this slim, and affordable volume. Most of it is relayed by interviews with company staffers and members of the St. John family. There is also an exhaustive checklist of the St. John’s books. What the book lacks, and it is a glaring problem, is context. Benson fails to properly introduce the various interviewees, leaving the average reader in the dark as to what role was played by whom. This truly hurts the impact of the book, as it never really comes together as a whole. It’s definitely worth a look for those interested in books of the era, and for fans of spectacular artwork, but I’ve got a feeling that there’s a better book to be written out there on the topic.

Everett Raymond Kinstler is an American treasure. He’s had a spectacularly varied career and his work can be found everywhere from the White House (official portraits of Gerald Ford and Ronald Readan) to my house (plenty of Avon and Dell work in my ‘Misc. Golden Age Western” and ‘Romance’ boxes). Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist’s Journey Through Popular Culture, 1942-1962 by Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr and Kinstler is a fascinating look at the artist’s early years in the profession. His life as a young man in New York City is vibrantly told, and a good deal of attention is paid to the relatlionship between Kinstler and his greatest mentor, James Montgomery Flagg. This is a beautiful book, with wonderfully reproduced images from comic books, paperbacks, pulps and paintings. While Kinstler’s time in funnybooks was relatively short, he did leave behind a wonderful legacy and this book is a great starting point for someone looking to learn more about the man.

There are plenty of other great books about comic books out there, and we’re lucky to live in a world filled with excellent comic book scholars. For more comic book chat, stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent

13 Comments

Scott, from one Torontonian to another, where did you find the remaindered copy of Confessions, Romances, Secrets and Temptations: Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics? And was it recently, and were there more copies?

Gary

It was at the BMV store on Bloor between Spadina and Bathurst. I had never seen it at the Edward St one (that’s the one I normally visit).

There was a stack of them, but that was a couple of months back.

Good luck.

I wish I had the money to pick up the new Sunday Press edition of Krazy Kat for Michael Tisserand’s new biographical sketch of George Herriman with information on his life in New Orleans before he and his family left for Los Angeles. I hope Tisserand’s full biography gets published soon.

It’s not so much a book about classic comics as it’s just a collection of classic comics, but the book “Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s” is one of the best reprint collections I’ve ever bought. Worth every penny.

Along the same lines, the two Fletcher Hanks books and the book “Supermen: The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941″ are all fantastic books as well. It really is a good time to be a fan of the non-Big 2 Golden Age comics.

Not that it matters one way or the other, but since it just came out I was positive when I saw your title that you’d be inclouding a look at Blake Bell’s book on Bill Everett. (I’ve already got his Ditko tome, though that’s the only one you cover that I do own.) That one’s high on my Xmas wish list, along with the jazzbo-mentioned Four-Color Fear, Jim Trombetta’s apparently somewhat similar (though it includes a lot of analysis by the author, judging from reviews) The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read & especially (in light of the extent to which they warped my young sensibilities 40ish years ago) The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds.

I’m pretty sure Scott covered the Bill Everett book in a previous column, so maybe that’s why it’s not on this one. That book is on my Christmas list, as well as The Horror! The Horror! and the book on Boody Rogers. There really is no shortage of great books like these out right now.

Dan, I have managed to pick up all those books you mentioned except the Eerie volume, which I think is just hitting stores this week. Because of more accessible sources Bell was actually able to give us a better picture of Everett the Man than he was for the more enigmatic and uncooperative Ditko. This does not make the Bill Everett book superior, but it does set it apart. “The Four Color Fear” book is to be preferred if the goal is to read more of the pre-code stories themselves. However, the Trombetta volume is a lovely thing to behold. It has a nice, if more abbreviated, volume of tales, but the images of the covers reproduced are the real joy to see. The essays I also found interesting.

Others to consider: Mark Evanier’s Kirby, King of Comics, Skywald, the Complete History of the Horror Mood, and Greg Sadowski’s Bernie Krigstein book.

The one I am most anticipating is IDW’s upcoming Toth book, Genius Isolated.

Thanks for this Scott!

Actually, I don’t own the Everett book and I really hope it shows up under the Christmas tree this year! I only wanted to discuss ones that I’d read from cover to cover and held in my hands.

The book on Herriman sounds great, as well as the Toth book.

I also loved the Krigstein book and companion collection, but I think I discussed those in a previous column.

I must admit to having been disappointed in Evanier’s Kirby book. It suffered by comparison to the Ditko book, which I read at the same time. I still believe there’s much more comprehensive book on Kirby waiting to be written.

>>I still believe there’s much more comprehensive book on Kirby waiting to be written.

There is indeed, & last I heard (a couple of years ago, I guess … about the time the existing one came out, in any event) Evanier himself was writing it.

I agree with jazzbo about “Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s”, it’s an excellent collection of stories with well written commentary that gives some context to the tales. And with the US and Australian dollars hovering around parity, it’s now affordable over here!

Hi everyone, I own a Original watercolor paintings by Matthew Baker from when he
was illustrating for St. John’s Publications doing a Pictorial Confessions series,
when I research this Title the information says there where only 3 issues, but the
Artwork I have has number 11 on it & says that the book has 32 pages. I cant find
any info on Number 11. Does anybody know of this book-comic.

Hi Jay S

The St. John’s series Pictorial Confessions had it’s title changed to Pictorial Romances with issue #4. If you have a page from #11 (well done!) it must be from after the title changeover, even if the information on your page might not reflect it.

Here is the cover for issue #11 : http://www.comics.org/issue/299764/cover/4/

Thanks for the reply benday-dot, I dont think I explained all, I have the Original Artwork of the
Cover design with the Title Pictorial Confessions, I looked at the link you sent & no thats
not the one. That is why I find it strange because of the Title & the 11th issue, well in
this artwork it actually has Number 11. I am LOST.

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