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Another Friday In The Stacks– Review Pile Edition

By the time you read this, Julie and I will be on the road again.

We were pleasantly surprised with an offer from Scott and Katherine down at the Tokeland hotel to comp us a room for the weekend in return for delivering a printing job down there, so we are off on a Fugitive Easter road trip. Bookscouting may or may not happen, but it is a certainty that homemade peanut butter pie will be consumed. If we do happen to turn up anything interesting, rest assured it’ll show up here sooner or later.

But in the meantime, my original plan to spend tomorrow writing a full-on review-pile column is obviously torpedoed. So rather than put it off again, I’ll try something new– capsule reviews, the same kind of format as I did for the “stacks” columns. All sorts of cool stuff has arrived this week– some I bought, some was sent to me for review– and this way maybe I can still get through a bunch of it without letting the books pile up for months on end.

Okay? This is an experiment, but if it’s something you all want to see more of, let me know.

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The Art Of The Croods by Noela Hueso.

The blurb:
The Croods takes us back to the beginning, to a previously undiscovered era known as the Croodacious – a time when Mother Nature was still experimenting and the flora and fauna we know today hadn’t evolved yet. Trying to find their evolutionary niche are The Croods, a family who must adapt to survive after their cave home is destroyed.

The Art of The Croods traces the evolution of the comedy adventure movie with over 400 pieces of concept art, character sketches, storyboards and digital paintings, along with interviews with the key animation talent.

What I Thought: Honestly, what I thought was that I’d like to see books like this about older, classic animated films. It’s become de rigeur to issue an “Art of…” or “Making of…” companion coffee-table volume to accompany the release of a major studio animated movie– you can find similar books devoted to Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frankenweenie, and on and on and on. But what I’d really love is to see this kind of in-depth coverage and attention paid to something like, oh, the Fleischer Gulliver’s Travels, or even TV stuff like Jonny Quest.

That said, The Art of the Croods is a really stunning book. It’s a beautiful volume just as an artifact, a lovely hardcover with lots of amazing background paintings and production sketches and color renderings of the original art used to create the animation (all of which are more interesting and lively than the final computer-graphics versions, at least to my eyes.) When they offered to send me this book I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing the movie, but I was curious about the backstage stuff. And I indeed found the interviews with the producers and animation artists fascinating reading and even picked up a few things I can probably use in teaching my own cartooning classes. If you are a process junkie, you’ll enjoy this, and right now you can get it on Amazon for less than half-price. After reading this detailed account of all the work that went into the project and the thinking behind each different story decision, I’m thinking maybe we should even go see the actual movie after all.

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Nick Cardy: Wit-Lash by Cardy, Witterstaetter and Stroud.

The blurb:
Renowned commercial artist, illustrator, designer from DC Comics’ golden days– all of these apply to Mr. Cardy. In fact, what has always made Nick’s work stand out in all of these venues and more, is his sense of design, storytelling…. and of course his sense of humor. In “Wit-Lash” (a takeoff on his run on “Bat Lash,” which was also full of humor) we take a look at Nick’s sterling wit, while delving into the background of this amazing artist, and looking at some of his works that have not been explored in any other tome along the way.

What I Thought: What do you THINK I thought? It’s Nick f’n CARDY. Of course I loved it.

Mine is not the full-on version. This limited-edition forty-dollar hardcover usually comes with a DVD of interviews with Mr. Cardy as well, but mine is just the book. I bought it from Renee Witterstaetter in person at Emerald City, because I’d stopped at her table to tell her how much I adored Nick Cardy: The Artist at War and she asked me if I’d seen this companion volume, focusing on his humor work. So of course I had to have it, and Julie loves it too. It’s every bit as delightful as The Artist At War… but funnier. Jammed full of beautiful artwork from Cardy’s various magazine cover jobs and caricature work, along with some very rare autobiographical pencil sketches and some examples of his political cartoons. This volume has not been picked up for reprinting by Titan Books, but is only available from Ms. Witterstaetter’s own imprint, Eva Ink Publishing. But you could probably get your comics shop to order it for you, or find it from an online dealer. Well worth it.

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Modesty Blaise: The Girl in the Iron Mask by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Romero.

The blurb:
Features the classic stories ‘Fiona’, ‘Walkabout’ and ‘The Girl In The Iron Mask’ written by popular British crime writer Peter O’Donnell and beautifully illustrated by Enric Badia Romero! Willie’s admirer Fiona returns, Modesty faces the outback alone and an iron mask could mark her end in this latest gripping volume! With story introductions by Modesty Blaise archivist Lawrence Blackmore, this outstanding collection of never-before-reprinted material is not to be missed.

What I Thought: Speaking of Titan Books, they kindly sent me the latest in their series of Modesty Blaise reprints. My filthy secret is this– I love Modesty Blaise but I really prefer her later prose adventures to the original comic strip itself. So these books are kind of a hard sell for me going in.

But with even with my bias, I still dug this– it’s good solid stuff. This is the 23rd volume in Titan’s Modesty reprint series, and the format’s the same as always– oversized trade paperback, three stories. The strongest story is the middle one, “Walkabout,” featuring Modesty in a hair-raising adventure Down Under, but I enjoyed all three of them well enough. My only gripe with these books is the same one that I have with Titan’s James Bond comics reprints– I don’t care for this oversized album format. $19.95 just feels like way too much for a hundred pages of black-and-white comics. I much prefer the “omnibus” design that Titan has been using to reprint the Bond albums, putting three of them in each volume, and I’d like to see the Modesty strips get that kind of treatment as well.

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Essential Captain Marvel volume 2 by Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, Al Milgrom, et al.

The blurb:
Captain Marvel goes truly cosmic as Jim Starlin takes the reins! Mar-Vell takes on the Super-Skrull, the Thing, the Controller and a horde of his own insecurities, but it’s all orchestrated by the mad Titan Thanos! To stop Thanos’ plan to become a god, Mar-Vell will need to gain cosmic awareness – and team with the mighty Avengers! Then, it’s an explosive battle with Nitro that will have far-reaching consequences, and a trip to the moon to attend the Trial of the Watcher – and clash with the Kree Lunatic Legion!

What I Thought: Longtime readers know that my affection for Marvel’s hippy-dippy, anything-goes 1970s superhero comics is second to none, and this is one of my favorite examples. I loved Captain Marvel when I first came across this title way back when– my first issue was #37, “Mayhem on the Moon!” and everyone in the letter column was still grieving over the loss of Jim Starlin. When I finally caught up with those stories, though, I never quite understood what the shouting was about. To this day I will swear to anyone who is fool enough to listen to my comics rants that Englehart’s Captain Marvel was even more groundbreaking than Starlin’s, made more sense, and was better-constructed. (Starlin’s run always gets described as “trippy,” but it was Englehart and Milgrom that gave us an actual acid trip for Mar-Vell, in the aforementioned #37.) What’s more, I thought Klaus Janson inking Al Milgrom was a better look for the book than Starlin, too; Milgrom was a much better storyteller, and Janson’s finishes had cleaner lines, giving the book more of a space-opera, futurist look. “Trial of the Watcher” was a high point, as Steve Englehart took on the challenge of explaining why Uatu the Watcher violates his oath of non-intereference all the damn time, and incidentally also revealed for the first time that the Watcher had a name and that it was Uatu. I own most of the comics reprinted here but I got this paperback anyway because I like having the stories available in a handy bookshelf edition. In any case, Starlin’s and Englehart’s runs are side-by-side in this volume and you can judge for yourself. I should add that I really like seeing the Al Milgrom-Klaus Janson art in black-and-white, it looks much better here than it did originally on the shitty paper and worse color separations comic books were forced to use back in the day. Even though the Essentials are on newsprint as well, trust me, it’s a much BETTER newsprint than the one they used back then.

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And there you have it. With that, we are off to the Cranberry Coast once again. Hope you all have a nice Easter or Passover or just-plain-weekend, and I’ll see you next week.

6 Comments

I wonder if the affection for the Starlin run stems largely from the presence of Thanos. I like Englehart’s follow-up as well. It’s pretty freaking out there.

If you didn’t get it, or were tradewaiting, I think you’ll like Image’s new book Five Ghosts: the Haunting of Fabian Gray. It seems like it’s right in your wheelhouse, if you will. Nice pulpy stuff.

Cool mini-reviews, I like it!

I have a love/hate attitude toward your reviews: I thoroughly enjoy reading them, but at some point down the line I know I’ll be spending some serious cash (e.g., there’s yet another beautiful Cardy book out there?!)

Hmm…I might have to pick that Captain Marvel book up myself to see why Uatu breaks his own rule so much!

happy easter greg. and nice to know marvel is giving starlin work some love with now essintails or it could be due to thanos being the next big bad on film .

I love the mini reviews as well as the longer ones you do. I think you should use whichever format bests suits your time and the item your reviewing. One thing about the short ones is you get to cover more items, which puts more books on your readers radar. I am expecting my copy of Essential Captain Marvel 2 (as well as Warlock, Marvel Team Up #4 and DC Showcase JLA #6 – Gift card from the wife) and cannot wait to dive into it. Much of my reading of the “cosmic” books was spotty and in fragments, so I will be interested in seeing how they read as a collected run. I remember loving the Trial of the Watcher storyline because it had one issue that basically went over most of the Watcher’s appearances and put them in a new light. (Plus I loved the footnotes telling where all the stories were from.) Have a slice of Peanut Butter pie for me and I hope your trip is good.

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