Sunday, November 2, 2014

This is the end...beautiful friend, the end.

So sang Jim Morrison many moons ago.

This blog has been running on fumes for some time now. There have been three points during 2014 where I was *this close* to pulling the plug on it. It's not because I have nothing left to review; quite the opposite. I have somewhere between 300-400 (possibly more) unread books in my ever growing backlog. I simply don't have anything more to say. Something has to give. I have a family and a life which I feel sometimes get shortchanged by distractions like the Internet and this very blog. No more. 

I have never considered myself a writer, and honestly still don't. I am just a person who articulates his opinions and observations with varying degrees of success. I have always been completely honest with you, condemning a phoned in piece of rot or shouting my praises of brilliant work from the rooftops of the Internet.

I started doing reviews on my long gone Myspace blog in 2008 and moved all of them over to Blogger in 2009 once I migrated over to Facebook. Over time I refined and added things, such as fan favorite The OCD zone. I built this blog from nothing, doing backflips when it first hit 100 hits in a month. I have built it to point where it gets 8-9,000+ hits a month. I have made it semi-legitimate, making money from site sponsorship and referral links. Nothing major, mind you, but it has paid for a few books along the way.

I have made friends and enemies, interacted with creators whose work I respect and love, and had a lot of fun over the past few years. The problem is that this blog stopped being fun a while back. It became work. As stupid as this may sound, the more “successful” this blog became, the more of an obligation I felt to try and do good work and not let folks down. The more of an obligation that this blog felt like, the more that it became a burden. The bigger the burden it became, the more that I resented it.

I am pretty selfish with my free time, and I feel like this blog is taking too much from me. I am at a point in my life where I don't feel like sharing my thoughts anymore. Friends have told me to take a break, which I have from time to time, posting reviews which I had in the can to keep this blog rolling along, all the while making it appear like things were going steady. In all honesty my wife has spurred me along for a while now or I would have stuck a fork in this thing months ago. I have a stack of finished books to review, and I can't bring myself to review them. The backlog of unread books has become a backlog of unreviewed books. Enough is enough.

The problem with the written word is that folks often miss the inflection of what I am saying, thinking that I am raging and ranting about things. So much of this blog has been written for laughs. Some of it has been venomous, sure, but much of it was tongue in cheek fun. Some folks got it. Others made voodoo dolls and effigies of me.

I always told myself that if I ever ended this blog that there would be no goodbye or “farewell tour” as such, as there is never any going back once you do that. I toyed with the idea of turning this blog into a Consumer Reports style thing, where I would only post information on binding, paper, etc., but that would honestly feel like I was putting this thing out to pasture to die a slow, boring death. I would rather take it behind the barn and put it out of its misery quick and clean while burning the barn down in the process.

I will leave this blog standing for now, an abandoned artifact in the Internet wilderness like Stonehenge or the pyramids of Egypt. This blog hasn't mattered in the grand scheme of things and it never will. Hopefully I have made you laugh or entertained you. Maybe I turned you on to a comic or band that you never heard of, or saved you from buying a piece of crap book, or maybe you just read out of spite all this the end of the day none of it matters. I will continue reading comics and discussing them with real world (and Facebook) friends, but the idea of sitting here and thinking long and hard about what I want to say is over. I will save that for my book(s) which will never be published nor read by anyone.

In closing, thank you for reading these past five or six years. Your love, your hate, and your words, kind and otherwise, have all been a part of this thing for me. 

Review- PRINCE VALIANT VOL. 3: 1941-1942

PRINCE VALIANT VOL. 3: 1941-1942 (Fantagraphics, Second Printing, 2011; Hardcover)

Collects Prince Valiant Sunday strips 204-307, originally published on January 5, 1941- December 27, 1942

Writer and Artist: Hal Foster

I have fallen down the rabbit hole of comic strips. Gone is my interest in most modern comic books, replaced by the high art of Hal Foster and the rest of the geniuses who blazed the trail that folks take for granted nowadays. I fear that I have become something of a snob in my quest for the best of the best that this medium has to offer.

Hal Foster's wit is as sharp as his pen, with tongue planted firmly in cheek in regard to the institution of marriage. While the humor is so subtle that it might not seem particularly witty by today's hyper-saracastic standards it is well beyond what was going on in strips at the time. Foster is one of my top five artists of all time. He spent as much as 60 hours a week working on each strip, and it shows. This strip is way more detailed than it had to be. It blows my mind that Foster put so much effort into each panel for something that was essentially a throw away item. Think about it, folks- there were no collected edition like this in the early '40s, really, and not many people collected these strips. They were read and then thrown away.

Comic strips were where the money was, which is why the best artists worked on them. Compare this to any comic book of 1941-1942 and this blows it away. Syndicated strips were where the cash was. Comic books were the ghetto. The more I dig into the world of strips the less interested I am in modern comics, with the poor writing and cheap gimmicks.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.

The OCD zone- Fantagraphics always produces top shelf high quality product. Their books may run fashionably late, but you'll never have to buy an “upgraded” or “remastered” version, as these books are points of pride and labors of love for the company.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Foreword by Dan Nadel. (2 pages)
A Gallery of suppressed Prince Valiant images from 1939-1940. (2 pages)
A beheading in Camelot- the extended cut. (1 page)
Linework and Color: The strips are scanned from pristine syndicate proofs. This is as good as it is going to get.
Paper stock: Beautiful thick uncoated stock. It also smells terrific, as do as all Chinese made books.
Binding: Smyth sewn binding, nine stitches per signature. Book lays completely flat.
Hardback cover notes: No dustjacket. Image part of the paper of the casewrap. Portion around the spine has a rougher material to it as a design choice. 


TALES FROM THE CRYPT: THE EC ARCHIVES VOL. 4 (Dark Horse, 2013; Hardcover)
Collects Tales From The Crypt #35-40 (cover dates April/ May, 1953- March, 1954)

Writers: Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, Jerry De Fuccio, Ray Bradbury, and Bill Elder
Artists: Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Jack Kamen, Graham Ingels, George Evans, Reed Crandall, and Bernie Krigstein

Thus ends my EC Hallowe'en marathon! I have read over 1,000 pages of EC Comics during the month of October and loved every minute of it. There are two points in this book where the quality dips ever so slightly below EC's unusually high standards. #38's Mournin' Mess, where it is a complete retread of Midnight Mess from #35, and #39's The Crypt-Keeper's Grim Fairy Tale!, with the lame attempt at humor.

Russ Cochran's Foreword is fantastic. Cochran is the torchbearer for EC. If not for him EC may have faded into obscurity, and every fan owes him a debt for his endless work. He was part of the first generation of comic fans and was among the earliest members of organized fandom back in the '60s. 

Midnight Mess from #35 is a great twist on the vampire story. #35 runs the gamut for traditional monsters (mummies, werewolves, etc.). EC really upped the ante at this point in terms of gore and violence while maintaining the class and quality of earlier issues. Ghastly Graham Ingels in particular was at his peak here, with each issue seeming better than the one before it. Shadow Of Death in #39 is one of his creepy crawliest best.

#36's Curiosity Killed... is pure George Evans genius. He is such an underrated artist. The story is fantastic, total Hitchcock vibe. That same issue's How Green Was My Alley takes an unsavory subject (adultery) and provides a great twist ending. Jack Kamen's beautiful artwork doesn't hurt, either.

EC Comics remain the gold standard for Horror comics and their importance cannot be stated enough. The writing is superior to modern comics by far. I love the narrative, as it paints a complete picture. Many modern comic fans prefer to “let the pictures do the heavy lifting”, but there are things that words in a caption can describe more effectively than a word-free panel.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.

The OCD zone- I can't wait for the day when someone, anyone, produces EC Comics Archives in full color with the original color palette, including the original cover color palette.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Introduction. (2 pages)
Foreword by Russ Cochran. (8 pages)

On the left is an EC Annual which features the original color palette. On the right is this book. Note the liberties taken with the colors on this line of books. 
Linework and Color: The linework is superb, taken from the original artwork. The color is the killer for me. While based on Marie Severin's original colors, there are too many liberties taken with it in terms of gradient shades and other Photoshop effects for my taste. Your mileage may vary.
Paper stock: Thick coated stock with minimal sheen.
Binding: Smyth sewn binding with seven stitches per signature.
Hardback cover notes: This is the best of both worlds- a dustjacket with the same image on the paper of the casewrap. Top it off with a super thick lamination on the casewrap and you have the cherry on the top of this sundae.