The most amazing secret of the cut-off bin!

*First, though, I noted a short but nice tribute to Will Eisner in the new “Entertainment Weekly” (#801), an issue stocked with remembrances of recent passings. The ‘Books’ section also gives the new “Epileptic” collection an ‘A-’ in a short capsule review.

*Sometimes, I just get lucky. When I’m diving through the quarter bins I’m prone to picking up books simply because I’ve never heard of them before and the cover looks nice, or there’s something funny that catches my eye. Anything can trigger an impulse buy when it’s only a quarter. But sometimes one of those purchases turns out to be so much more…

Imagine #1

Pretty much the only reason I picked up this 40-page book from 1978 is because of a large caption across the top of the cover, screaming “In this issue: COLOR”. Now who can turn down COLOR when it’s only a quarter? And there was nudity too, right on the cover! Nudity in COLOR, with the guarantee of further COLOR inside, and the suggestion of additional nudity, possibly also in COLOR!!! You can scope out the cover for yourself here just to truly understand the irresistible hold this book immediately exerted upon me. And indeed, that which was promised did appear, although there was so much more.

Published by Star*Reach Productions, “Imagine” offers an attractive if newsprint-based and mostly b&w reading experience, feeling a lot like “Metal Hurlant” in its upscale mix of twisty contemporary sci-fi and fantasy. To the modern reader, it also offers a look at some big creators, a few near the beginnings of their careers.

The book starts off strongly with a totally wonderful story written by Neal Adams with lovely art by Frank Cirocco, who gives everything a lavish, 70‘s supercomics classicist solidity. The plot is magical in its simplicity: a chauvinistic airline pilot is upset that his new co-pilot is an (ick!) woman, so he starts to fantasize. He begins by imagining himself as a Sabre Jet fighter, gradually moving back in time to a WWII-era gunner, then farther back to an antique biplane, finally winding up, as logic would naturally dictate, sitting naked on the back of a gigantic flying woman (herself clad in only stockings and a hood) who fires energy blasts from her hands. “This is the way flight was meant to be!” beams the delighted pilot, surely echoing the sentiments of countless top aviation authorities. But his reverie is short-lived, as his hated co-pilot swoops down, riding bare-back atop a gargantuan soaring slab of beefcake. The two rivals then steer their humongous nudie steeds into a laser-beam dogfight above an alien landscape and I don‘t need to say anything more because it’s now an objective fact that this is the greatest goddamned story in the history of comics. Comics as an art form could have just stopped right after this story was published and everyone would have been satisfied. Forget all of that “Batman” garbage: this is Neal Adams’ crowning glory.

And as if things couldn’t get more delightful, we’re next treated to an early script by Dave Sim, produced just after the third or so issue of “Cerebus”. He’s joined on the art by Fabio Gasbarri, telling the story of a rock star’s shooting through a mixture of heavily shadowed comics panels, photos (some of which appear to feature the young Sim himself), and text dropped into the panel gutters. While Sim doesn’t seem to handle any of the drawing, the sense of visual/textual experimentation that he’d eventually make an indelible part of “Cerebus” can be glimpsed here in prehistoric form. Another story provides another early glimpse at a now well-known talent: Steven Grant, who provides a verbose, caption-heavy, and somewhat convoluted script for Richard Larson’s decent art on an alien hunting tale, with plenty of psychological details thrown in as to the personal costs of battle.

But what of the COLOR?! Marshall Rogers, another “Batman” vet, provides a largely visual story, with some really nice color contrast, the festive energy blasts exchanged between two combatants reflecting off of the glass and crystal environs of an alien city, all while the damsel in distress amuses herself with one of the arch-villain’s lackeys; very “Heavy Metal“ stuff here, but great looking. Really everything in this book sports fine visuals, even a one-pager by Lee Marrs, originally intended for publication in “Arcade“, the then-recently expired Art Spiegelman/Bill Griffith anthology series. Gasbarri returns with art for the final story, about alien garbage men, with a script by Gene Day.

Considering the general variances in quality one expects from an anthology, this book is quite good on its own terms, and doubly valuable as a historical record of early and obscure works by some major comics vets. Containing the greatest story in all of comics is a good bonus too. This is the sort of great book that waits in the bargain bin like a patient kitten at the pet store, hoping for some kindly soul to take it home and cuddle it so it can offer nudist humanoid laser warships and Dave Sim in return. Which is all any of us truly need.