day 338 – four indispensable comic collections

I’m going to talk about comics today. All weekend, the 2011 edition of the Central Canada Comic Con is happening at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, so this is about as timely as a post about comics can get. I don’t plan to attend the comic convention, but that’s just me.

TOP LEFT The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (1977), edited by Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams
This book is excellent. It contains a broad overview of every significant comic strip from the 20th century. There are more comprehensive collections that exist of the individual titles contained therein (I’d recommend the beautifully-reproduced collections from Sunday Press Books), but the history written about each strip and the spectrum of genres makes this an essential collection. If you’re at all interested in nerdery like this, you should add this to your bookshelf today.

TOP RIGHT Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 (2007), collecting Amazing Fantasy #15, The Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1-2, Strange Tales Annual #2 and The Fantastic Four Annual #1
Sure, you can buy countless comic collections containing the work of Stan Lee, the writer of this collection. The main selling point of this collection, though, is that it contains Steve Ditko‘s complete Spider-Man run. Ditko, the reclusive artist of these issues, is an absolutely fascinating character:

  • Stan Lee was fervently left wing, while Steve Ditko was a hardcore right winger. This is especially hilarious as another character Ditko created around the same time, Dr. Strange, was embraced by the psychedelic generation (Ditko hated this).
  • Without warning, Ditko left Marvel Comics and the character (Spider-Man) he helped create.
  • I mentioned Ditko was reclusive, and boy is he ever. There are only a few known photographs (and a self portrait) of the man and he doesn’t do interviews. For someone who created the look of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes, that’s very odd.
  • He is a strong believer in Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.

There is an engrossing BBC documentary by Jonathan Ross, In Search of Steve Ditko, that covers most of this. If you watch the documentary, you’ll be treated to legendary comic creator Alan Moore reciting a poem he wrote about Ditko’s really bizarre creator-owned superhero Mr. A. Documentarian Ross also has a piece for The Guardian here.

Aside from Ditko’s crazy backstory, his Spider-Man comics are superb; Ditko is a master visual storyteller, and there’s something appealing and just a little bit off-kilter about his work. In terms of classic superhero comics, this is one of the best collections available.

BOTTOM LEFT The MAD Archives Vols. 1 and 2 (2002 & 2007), collecting MAD Magazine #1-12
I’m not sure what needs to be said about MAD Magazine. Most people are familiar with the satirical magazine, but these volumes are vital because they show where the magazine started: as a comic magazine. Do yourself a favour: go read some classic MAD issues and laugh along with the Usual Gang of Idiots.

BOTTOM RIGHT It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken by Seth (1996), originally published in Palookaville #4-9
Seth’s drawing in this volume is his best, in my opinion. It’s fluid, lively and nostalgic, and displays great emotion. His more recent work, while still impressive, has veered into more simplistic and stylized territory. I select this volume to represent modern cartooning. It’s difficult to do this, what with so many other incredible artists and storytellers producing stellar work, but I suppose I discovered It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken at an impressionable age (16) and it’s stuck with me ever since. All of my subsequent comic purchases have been informed by this one comic.

Go read some comics.


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