The Golden Age of Reprints: An Empire of One Thousand Years

*Anticipation Dept: Whenever Fantagraphics puts out a new book trade catalog I immediately start flipping through for reprints. I can't help myself - I'm definitely glad that, say, Deitch's Pictorama (a paperback collection of new illustrated stories by Kim Deitch and his brothers Simon & Seth) is due in September for now, or that John Kerschbaum is getting a Petey & Pussy hardcover published, but I tend to get most excited over the new old stuff that makes up a significant portion of Fantagraphics' market identity these days. They do it well.

It looks like one of the upcoming books was already announced a week or so ago: a new $22.99 hardcover collection of Blazing Combat, a 1965-66 war comics magazine from Warren Publishing, edited and almost entirely written by a young Archie Goodwin, with an art stable loaded with the likes of Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Alex Toth, John Severin, Russ Heath, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall and Gene Colan.

It took more than a bunch of artists from the EC war comics too - despite being published during the popular opening deployments of the US ground war in Vietnam, the magazine cast a decidedly rueful eye on combat, inspired by the works of Harvey Kurtzman from the decade prior. And while many stories were set in the midst of past conflicts, the title did not shy away from a little contemporary material; issue #2 featured an Orlando-illustrated story titled Landscape, depicting the toll the Vietnam conflict exacts from a peasant farmer, which supposedly prompted Army post exchanges to cancel all future orders. The series didn't last past its fourth issue.

Fantagraphics' book won't be the first made from the material, but it will apparently contain some historical supplements (of course!), as well as reproductions from the original negatives - the standards have gotten high.

But sometimes it's just content that gets me - they've also got coming (also in December) an all-in-one softcover collection of Sam's Strip, a semi-legendary 1961-63 newspaper metacomic by Mort Walker & Jerry Dumas, concerning the adventures of a newspaper strip character who owns and operates his space on the funnies page, leading to all sorts of formalist gags, plus cameos by contemporaneous and vintage strip characters (the Yellow Kid, Charlie Brown, etc.). Oddly, it didn't catch on!

Some past-promised things are coming. That Joost Swarte collection (Modern Swarte) is back on the schedule for October, and Trina Robbins' Nell Brinkley book (The Brinkley Girls: The Best of Nell Brinkley's Cartoons From 1913-1940) is due in January 2009.

The new year will also bring a sequel-in-spirit to Fanta's hugely successful Fletcher Hanks collection, one with a broader purview (and a different editor, Greg Sadowski): Supermen! The First Wave of Comic-Book Heroes (1939-41), collecting 176 pages of pre-WWII capes 'n tights affairs, including Will Eisner's action-packed (and legally actionable) Wonder Man, Simon & Kirby's Blue Bolt, Basil Wolverton's Spacehawk (there's a collection of Wolverton's Bible illustration coming too), plus stuff by Jack Cole, Ogden Whitney, Dick Briefer, Lou Fine, Charles Biro and, of course, Fletcher Hanks.

That's an awful lot of stuff, stretching awfully far into the future, and that's just one publisher, bless their archivist hearts. Sure took the sting off of hearing that Gemstone's Floyd Gottfredson Library project is being delayed, probably into next year...