One Fan's Opinion

Fri, February 8th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

"Fantastic Comics" #24
We just got copies of "Fantastic Comics" #24 into the Image office and it's simply the greatest comic book I've ever been part of.

It goes on sale February 13th and it's like nothing you've ever seen before.

And yeah, you may have seen "The Twelve" and maybe even "Superpowers," but this is another animal entirely.

This isn't a depressing "everything has turned to crap and look how old, tired and silly looking these characters are" story -- we've seen those tepid tales time and time again ever since Alan Moore trotted out Marvel Man. This isn't some pale imitation of an Alan Moore story -- it's an upbeat, energetic "look how cool these characters are and can be" type of thing.

Now, I'm not one to toot my own horn. I really have tried to use this space to do something other than plug my own stuff. Sure, I could rattle on at length about "Savage Dragon" each and every column or plug various books, but my thought was to talk to fans as a fan rather than as a publisher. If I want to plug Image Comics (and they're certainly worth plugging) there are places where I can do that.

But I can't help myself.

This comic book is awesome.

And it goes deeper than just the cover (and there's one of those -- not fiveE). It's the entire package. The comic book is Golden Age size -- so it's an inch or so wider than a standard comic book -- it's printed on an exceptionally fine kind of paper, which has a matte finish instead of glossy one, which lends itself to the kind of carefully concocted coloring in its interior and the interior looks amazing.

I'm so used to projects being given to no-name creators or cookie-cutter creators out to do the same tired work found in every other tired book that a lineup of this kind is almost a shock to the system!

Pages 1 & 2 from Joe Keatinge & Mike Allred's story in "Fantastic Comics" #24.
And I'm not even going to mention my own humble efforts contained in this volume. I'm talking about superstars like Joe Casey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Thomas Yeates, Andy Kuhn, B. Clay Moore, Tom Sciolli, Jim Rugg, Mike Allred, Fred Hembeck and Ashley Wood!

I don't want this to sound like I'm giving anybody the hard sell here, but this project really isn't like anything else on the stands.

This Next Issue Project came about from a conversation I had with Image Comics' own jovial Joe Keatinge. Joe is Image's PR and Marketing Coordinator and it's a job he takes very seriously, but prior to that I knew Joe as an enthusiastic Image supporter and creative dynamo. Joe has been writing off and on for years now. It's been mostly unpublished, but what I've read has been well worth the effort. In any case, Joe and I were chewing the fat about old comics and he was expressing interest in the work of Fletcher Hanks.

An aside here -- nothing to do with Image comics at all -- Marvel just released "Marvel Masterworks #89 Golden Age Daring Mystery Comics" and there's a Fletcher Hanks story in there under one of his many pseudonyms. Fletcher Hanks is the subject of the book "I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets: The Fantastic Comics Of Fletcher Hanks" published by the fine folks at Fantagraphics, edited by Paul Karasik. If you loved that book, you'll probably get a kick out of the Marvel Masterworks volume.

In any case, Joe was pretty into Fletcher Hanks' work, having been

exposed to it through "RAW Magazine" and the ever-popular World Wide Web. I was less familiar with his work, but was an enthusiast of several other Golden Age comics thanks to my father's fine funnybook collection that I grew up with. I had started buying Golden Age comics in earnest sometime earlier and it dawned on me that we could actually continue these abandoned titles since they were in public domain.

And so it came to be.

The first comic that we decided on was "Fantastic Comics." "Fantastic Comics" featured Stardust, a Fletcher Hanks creation, and Joe Keatinge wanted to tackle that one himself.

It was almost the comic book equivalent of the "Make A Wish Foundation." I contacted Joe's favorite artist, Mike Allred, and he readily agreed to take on Joe's script. There it was -- Joe and Joe's favorite artist on Stardust, one of Joe's favorite characters. He's been pinching himself to make sure he's not dreaming ever since.

And man, what a script! You'd think Joe had been doing this all of his life! He packed more cool crap into eight pages than most modern creators put into eight issues! And rather than merely mimic what Hanks had done, Keatinge told a tale that was more than a mere comic book caper -- it was a modern page-turning parable.

The kid did good.

Lining up the talent -- coordinating everything -- was an enormous

undertaking. Artists came and went. Arms needed serious twisting. But once those pages started pouring in -- wowee!

Page from "Fantastic Comics" #24 by Joe Casey and Bill Sienkiewicz.
Again, I didn't want to write some mindless puff-piece about something I played a part in, but the finished product turned out far beyond my wildest dreams.

It looks great.

From the faux-Golden Age coloring on some pages, the authentic Golden Age comic book dimensions, actual ads from the Golden Age and the awesome art by a host of heavy-hitters -- it's just mind-blowing how cool this turned out. I'm at a loss to describe just how cool this is.

And the thing is, this isn't an homage. It's not as though we lined up Ashley Wood and Bill Sienkiewicz and Fred Hembeck and forced them to draw like Golden Age artists. Everybody involved did their own thing. Some tried to emulate old school coloring (including me), others opted to do things in their own way, but everybody stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park. This is one book where there is literally no weak link or half-assed effort. It's all good.

A lot of time, effort and care went into every aspect of this project. And opinions varied. At one point we'd talked about printing the book on newsprint and imitating the Golden Age books in every respect when it came to format. But with artists having access to a lot more options in regard to color, it was thought by all that newsprint would not be an ideal choice. Colors tend to get duller and muddier on newsprint and while that would work if everybody opted to be garish, it wouldn't if we wanted this to be something other than a cheap reproduction.

And then there's the reader to consider. Is a reader going to feel that a comic on newsprint is worth the $5.99 cover price? I'm guessing not. So, we opted to choose something else and it turned out to be the absolute perfect choice. When artists chose to imitate the old school coloring and add a newsprint texture, it looked amazing. Your brain tells you it's old newsprint, but your fingers tell you it isn't. Paging through it baffles your senses.

And the guys who opted to look modern, well, those colors held up just fine. It's an interesting mix, really, as it changes from one story to the next. It's all awesome.

Even picking out highlights is no easy task.

Page from "Fantastic Comics" #24 by Andy Kuhn
Joe Keatinge and Mike Allred did a splendid job, to be sure but Thomas Yeates took a character called the Golden Knight and transformed him from a character I couldn't really care less about to a one that stands tall in the saddle. Joe Casey and Bill Sienkiewicz took Flip Falcon in the Fifth Dimension and gave it a twist that gave the character a whole new dimension and Jim Rugg took Captain Kidd to new heights. Ashley Wood even manages to work in--

Okay, never mind, let's let that one be a surprise. Needless to say, his frantic fans will be floored!

I could go on -- I want to go on -- about Tom Sciolli's loopy Space Smith story and Fred Hembeck's dead-on Professor Fiend strip.

Everybody took the material that I gave them -- the jpegs that I made from the issues of "Fantastic Comics" I had at my disposal -- and ran with 'em. (And I'm going to confess right now that we didn't actually work from "Fantastic Comics" #23. we didn't have access to that issue. I had "Fantastic Comcis" #10 and I had access to a couple other issues, but #23 wasn't one of them. I figured that--since the stories in all other issues were self-contained, that it didn't really matter what issue we had. It would be like doing an issue of Archie comics without having read the preceding issue --not that hard a task, when you think about it).

B. Clay Moore wrote an old school two-page text story, illustrated by Jason Latour and they scored a homerun as well.

I know, I know. It sounds too good to be true. It sounds like I'm blowing hot air and dishing out hyperbole by the truckload but I can't help myself! The sight of this 64-page spectacular gets me going.

Seriously.

This is one that I'm particularly proud of.

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