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Friday, May 13, 2005
Foul Play by Grant Geissman
As a comic fan and as a horror fan, I've always been fascinated by the comics published by EC. The problem has always been getting my hands on them. As a young postmodern boy, some relative bought me several over-size reprints of vintage comics, mostly Disney, but a few samples of EC's output were included in the mix. Those reprints are now lost, and as an adult I've never come across them again. And as an adult collector, I've been frustrated by the lack of affordable collections of EC material, and I'm reluctant to devote the space to filling up a longbox with reprints. So Grant Geissman's biographic over-view of the EC artists is a very welcome reference material for my comics library.
After a short history of the publisher and the anti-comics hysteria that contributed to the line's decline, the book gets to its real purpose. Chapters are broken down into biographies of all the major EC artists, lavishly illustrated with many materials rarely seen outside the EC studio and work from the artist's later career, followed by a reprint of a story illustrated by that artist. It's a very good method to dealing with comics biography, and seems partly inspired by Art Spiegelman's Jack Cole biography. And unlike many of the biographies of comic artists I've seen, Geissman isn't afraid to discuss the negative personality traits of the artists in question, most notably in his discussion of Graham Ingel's self-destructive alcoholism and Harvey Kurtzman's egomania. The reproductions of the stories themselves are in the format of high quality photographs of actual comics pages. I realize that it's a method of reproduction that is currently in vogue with comic fans and historians, and on material like this it doesn't seem out of place, but each reproduced page is placed against a very busy background, when all white or one color backgrounds would have been preferable and less distracting.
There are a few quibbles I have with the book. As others have noted, placing Marie Severin in a "the rest" chapter at the end of the book is terrible minimization of her contribution to the company as an artist. Likewise the frequent slams at competing magazines and comics can get to be a little much, especially in the case of Cracked (curiously, though Cracked is mentioned in the piece about John Severin, it is without the obligatory preface of "inferior imitator" that all the other mentions of the magazine seem to require). And the very first page contains a dismissal of manga in its entirety, in terms very common to sentiments I've seen and heard expressed by many older comic fans and creators. These particular objections to manga always put me in mind of a dinosaur sneering at a mammal for its abilities to reproduce internally and adapt to changes in temperature. "Those things will never catch on!"
But, setting aside my personal objections to those elements, this is still an excellent and valuable book. The biographies are fascinating to read, and the reproduced stories can easily be seen as a "best of EC" collection. The entire package is well designed, and this is easily the best book on the history of comics to have come out in several years.