Sunday, January 27, 2013

Four From The Library

Been picking up a bunch of things from the library lately.  Sitting here unread right now are multiple volumes of LOCKE & KEY, THE STAND and 20th CENTURY BOYS (hopefully the last issue of that will be out by the time I catch up), plus THE CARTER FAMILY,  FATALE, several of DC's "New 52" volumes and some recent Charles Burns books.

Some things I have read, or finished with, below the jump.  Summary, LEO GEO and STONE FROG good, LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS gorgeous yet awful, CREATIVITY OF DITKO, good comics, many available in better forms, one decent feature, borrow a copy if you can.






LEO GEO AND HIS MIRACULOUS JOURNEY THROUGH THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
This is a clever little book by Jon Chad, featuring a character taking an unlikely but entertaining trip, as you can guess from the title, through the world. The format is pretty innovative, and I think it's better if it takes you by surprise, as it did for me, so I can't talk about it too much.  The script is pretty funny, and probably more so for the smart 8-12 year old that it's directed at, and the art is a nice open but detailed black and white, kind of reminiscent of Geof Darrow's work. 

THE SECRET OF THE STONE FROG
I've enjoyed reading the beginning reader comics of the Toon Book line edited by Françoise Mouly over the last few years, but as someone just slightly older than the target audience, the books always felt a bit slight, taking only a few minutes to read. I understand that for the kids learning to read with the books that's all a feature not a flaw (and I'll happily read them with my niece when she's old enough), but I'm glad to see them expanding to a few more complex books, like this 80-page book by David Nytra, the first branded as a "Toon Graphic Novel". The easiest way to describe the artwork is to compare it to Charles Vess, or possibly to the earlier generation of book illustrators who influenced Vess (Arthur Rackham, Heath Robinson, etc.). There definitely seems to be more than a hint of Winsor McCay in there, as well. The story is the old Lewis Carroll bit, with two children trying to find their way home through an increasingly bizarre and frantic realm of dream-logic.  Fun stuff with some nicely bizarre creatures and intricate art you can read in seconds and then just got lost in for minutes if you want.

LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS: THE ORIGINS OF AMERICAN COMICS
A collection of short two to six page profiles of various comic book creators, both classic and modern, written by Christopher Irving, plus full page photographs of most of them by Seth Kushner, and samples of their work (a mix of published work, finished original artwork and production artwork), plus shorter profiles of a bunch of younger artists as part of "The Digital Generation" at the end. This is a very attractive book, but I don't think I can read any more of it. In just a few minutes of reading after admiring the art for a while I saw Mazzucchelli spelled wrong (one "c") in Frank Miller's profile, a profile of Stan Lee that claims Ditko left SPIDER-MAN over a dispute about the identity of "supervillian [sic] Green Goblin" (why am I still reading that in a book published in 2012?) and saying his last issue was #33, a caption for a page which has a Dick Ayers inking credit right on the page saying Steve Ditko inked that page, some wrong information about Jerry Siegel's 1960s scripting on Superman  (and an odd inconclusive statement at the end of the one-page Siegel and Shuster article) and Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN cited as lasting 81 issues. And that's without even trying to look for errors. Anyway, some great photos and art samples to look at, so that's something.

(by the way, one of the Laws of the Internet says that since I spent so much space criticizing someone else's proofreading, there's a huge typo somewhere in this post that I've missed. So let me just say in advance, "Yeah, but I'm not charging $35 for this weblog".)

THE CREATIVITY OF DITKO
A sequel to THE ART OF DITKO book I reviewed over here years ago. Most of the same things I said stand, although at least this volume is missing some of the most egregious errors of the first one (no missing pages as far as I could tell, and no inexplicable void in the artwork every 8 pages). All stories from Charlton, a few from the 1950s, all available on-line, and the bulk from the 1960s and 1970s, four of those available in sharper black&white form in Ditko's own co-published STEVE DITKO'S 160-PAGE PACKAGE FROM CHARLTON PRESS [1999]. Most of the stuff isn't the best Ditko work of the material available, but it's solid stuff, with a few great stories, and at least one clever visual in every story. There's a bunch of original art, most of it stuff that was publicly auctioned so you've probably seen high quality scans if that's something you care about. In one inexplicable decision, they show the artwork to OUT OF THIS WORLD #4, but don't show the published cover, which seems pretty shortsighted to me. The published cover is the payoff, really showing Ditko's skills.


Other than the Ditko stories and original art, the most worthwhile contribution is by frequent Ditko collaborator Jack C. Harris, who shares a few stories about their work together, and several pages of one of their many unpublished works, "The Fantasy Master", some sort of choose-your-own-adventure comic. Hopefully Harris and Ditko will publish more of those things at some point (modern digital distribution would make a multipath comic much more practical). Of the other articles, Mike Gold writes a fairly entertaining account of some of his encounters with Ditko, Paul Levitz writes an introduction almost admirably devoid of actual content, and the rest were largely pointless at best. I was going to say it needed another pass through by a proofreader, but after the previous book the mistakes seem pretty minor. Don't really recommend anyone buy this, but if your library or bookstore has a copy take a look at the JCH pages and any of the stories you don't have access to better copies of.

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