One Fan's Opinion: Issue #78

Fri, June 29th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

Okay, I'll admit it, I'm a format fanatic.

Two of the early Marvel Pocketbook editions.
When I was a kid there was pretty much one format for comics - the traditional 32-page saddle-stitched comic book with a slick cover. There may have been annuals out there somewhere, but I didn't see them. As far as I was aware, all comics were in the same format.

Which was cool. I mean, it worked, and since it was the only show in town there weren't dickheads out there throwing around derogatory terms like "pamphlets" or "floppies" at these four-color wonders, they were just comic books. And if you wanted to read comic books there was one format to read them in.

As time passed I became aware of other formats. There were a few Marvel paperbacks - comics in black and white with panels rearranged to fit in a pocketbook format. Years earlier there were Big Little Books and they kept making those (not that I was aware of it when I first started reading comics) for years.

But at that point, if you wanted to read an old comic you were pretty much out of luck. There were no comic book stores and back issue bins and there were no trade paperbacks collecting everything worthwhile in one easy-to-find volume.

"2001, A Space Odyssey" Treasury Edition
I was aware of older comics. My Dad had a collection of comics from the '40s and '50s that he'd kept in a big trunk but most of those were in the same basic size and shape of the comics that were available on the newsstands. They were a little wider - there were a few less ads, but otherwise they were essentially the same thing.

But times changed.

Sometime in the '70s they started doing Treasury editions. And I just loved those things! DC even reprinted old Golden Age books in this oversized format and then came the new comics created just for this new format: "2001, A Space Odyssey" and "Captain America's Bicentennial Battles" by Jack Kirby, "The Bible," "The Wizard of Oz," "Superman vs. Spider-Man," "Batman vs. the Hulk," "Superman vs. Shazam," "Superman vs. Wonder Woman" (the Man of Steel seemed to mix it up with a lot of good guys in those days) and so on. These things were awesome! And as an aspiring artist, it was great to be able to see the art up close and personal in a larger format.

And then there was "Origins of Marvel Comics."

"Origins of Marvel Comics" was not the first time a tangle of comic book stories had been collected in trade form, but it was the first that ever made its way to me. It was an awesome book! It had introductions to each of the characters written by Stan Lee and it reprinted the first stories that introduced the Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor and Dr. Strange. Along with those early tales came a later one featuring the heroes from a few years later when their books were in full swing. These were priceless artifacts for a certifiable Marvel junky at my age. Stan's introduction to the second Spider-Man story was a mystery (it turned out that he was expecting a different story to see print - his intro was changed in subsequent printings of the book), but everything else was pure gold.

An all-time classic -- "Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man"
But that format - comics on good paper - what's not to love?

And as the years crept by more and more formats were introduced: "100-Page Super-Spectaculars" from DC, "Giant-Size" 52-page comics from Marvel. Then there were the black and white magazines, followed by color magazines with airbrushed full color unlike anything seen in comics before. Then came upgrades of paper at new companies like Pacific Comics and at Eclipse and special projects started popping up like pimples and graphic novel lines were introduced. People who never knew airbrushes existed were getting the thrust into their mitts to compete with the ever-growing number of upscale projects.

Every success bred a thousand imitations. When Frank Miller did the "Dark Knight Returns" everybody jumped on the Dark Knight format. When Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross did "Marvels" suddenly every new project had an acetate cover.

These days it seems that anything goes and I couldn't be happier! I love the format of the "Complete Dick Tracy" from IDW (and a new volume just came out and things really get kicked into high gear - check it out) and I love the Fantagraphics collections of "Peanuts" and "Dennis the Menace" and "Walt & Skeezix" and I love the many shapes and sizes and formats of Chris Ware's "Acme Novelty Library."

The original "Origins of Marvel Comics" by Stan Lee.
Call me mad - call me weird or sick or twisted or whatever you want - but I'll sometimes buy a collection of comics just because I like the way it's packaged. Like "Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits" (a helpful hint - if it involves Art Spiegelman or Chip Kidd, nine times out of ten it's worth checking out) - I couldn't help myself.

I love the Omnibus collections from Marvel - the Spider-Man book that collects every Steve Ditko illustrated yarn is the only Spider-Man story you'll ever need to read as far as this reader in concerned - the rest is a pale imitation at best-including anything I had anything to do with.

And I love the "Showcase" and "Essential" formats (so much so that I'm collecting "Savage Dragon" in that format myself now - check out "Savage Dragon Archives" volumes 1 and 2 on sale where better books are sold).

I love comics big - I love them small. One of surest ways of getting me to buy something I've bought a dozen times before is to put it in a new format. Yes, I have the "Fantastic Four" reprinted in a dozen different books, but now it's in black and white and small? I must have that!

It's sick, I tell you.

DC, Marvel, Fantagraphics, IDW and all the rest keep pulling money out of my wallet and I can't help myself! I'm addicted to new and exciting formats!

One of DC's many "100 Page Spectaculars"
And there are plenty of Image Comics that give me that same charge as well. I'm chomping at the bit to get my hands on the "Silver Star" collection by Jack Kirby that I worked on and I love those oversized "Invincible" and "The Walking Dead" collections in hardcover and soft cover and everything else. I love "Rocketo" - with its colorful landscape format - and we just got in an oversized "Gřdland" collection and then there are those "Elephantmen" books and those "Spawn" collections - I'm just glad that a healthy amount of my favorite comics are ones we publish, otherwise I'd go completely broke!

I still like the standard comic book, of course. And I still like the old newsprint comics of old as well. I miss those a lot, actually. As thrilled as I was to have the standard comic book get upgraded in the late '90s, I miss having crappy comics printed on yellowing paper with huge chunks of wood swimming around in them. There's something real about those - something honest and unpretentious and yeah, they do look cheap next to today's new comics with their slick paper and computer colors but that's okay. Not everything needs or deserves slick paper and computer colors. Sometimes it's nice to have a comic book look like a comic book.

But at the end of the day, I'm just happy that comics are coming out in whatever format they're in. It's a great time to be reading comics, folks!

I'm loving life!

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