Opus Eleven:

1.  Doubles: Toth's Zorro, Simonson and Goodwin's Manhunter, Cho's Liberty Meadows (10/20)

2.  Another Anniversary (Garfield's) (10/20)


1.  Doubles.  We've been blessed, recently, with "second editions" of
some memorable comics productions, and that gives rise to a
overwhelmingly logical question: if I own the first edition, why
should I buy the second? Good question.  Let me try to answer,
title-by-title.
     Last spring, Image brought out The Complete Classic Adventures of
Zorro by Alex Toth, putting into one volume the two-volume contents
that Eclipse produced in 1988.  I have the first volume of the latter
but not the second.  The Image edition includes everything that is in
Volume One of the Eclipse edition--plus a "Forward" (the term,
tovarich, is "Foreword") by Toth himself, which must've appeared in
Eclipse's Volume Two.  The Image book also has more Toth Zorro
stories, presumably the contents of the Eclipse second volume.
     I'm delighted to have the Image book because I never ran down
Eclipse's Volume Two; and now, for all practice purposes, I have it.
But I'm going to hang on to Eclipse's Volume One anyhow.  It's a
better printing job.  But before I explain that, a little more
background.
     In an article about Jesse Marsh, who did Tarzan comics for
Whitman/Western (Panels, No. 2; Spring 1981), Toth alludes to the
difficulties he had with the Zorro scripts.  In his 1988 Foreword, he
explains that the scripts were too talky, but he loved the character
and so wanted to alter the scripts to get more swashbuckling action
into the stories.  But "the cards were stacked" against him: the
comic book scripts were done by the same blokes who did the TV
series, and no one was permitted to change a word of the sacred writ.
     Toth, apparently, tried.  He says he cut captions and other verbal
excesses, but the struggle against the Powers was, it seems, too
much.  In his Jesse Marsh piece, Toth writes: "After two or three
issues, I surrendered and just hacked the rest until I got out from
under."
     Toth's hacking is still the work of a genius in the medium.  (He
also says he has trouble drawing horses, but you wouldn't know it
from these pages with Zorro on horseback as often as not.)
     Both Image and Eclipse editions are essentially black-and-white
productions with a gray tone that enhances the art.  The gray tone
was added by the master himself for the Eclipse edition.  And the
final effect is stunning.  But the gray is a little darker--even
somewhat muddy on occasion--in the Image book than in the Eclipse
production, which leads me to suppose that the Image book was shot
from pages of the Eclipse book rather than the stats of the artwork
that Toth used for Eclipse.  
     The Image book is still an excellent book--mostly because Toth is an
excellent cartoonist.  And if you don't have Toth's Zorro, you should
have.  Meanwhile, I'm holding on to my Eclipse edition, too.
     The Image book also includes a Zorro story by Nadaud and Carlo
Mercello--with no explanation: where did this appear and when and why
is it in a Toth book? Well, it first appeared as part of a series in
France, but that doesn't answer the last question.  And there's a
week's worth of the new Zorro comic strip by Don McGregor and Tom
Yeates (to promote interest in the strip, clearly).  But neither of
these appendages adds much to the book.
     A couple other quibbles: the Image book has a table of contents, but
it is virtually meaningless because they forgot to put page numbers
on the pages.  And I wish they'd identified the dates of the stories,
story-by-story, instead of leaving us with the foggy notion Toth
himself conveys that they were done in "the late fifties."
     DC has re-issued the Manhunter stories done by Archie Goodwin and
Walt Simonson in the back pages of Detective Comics Nos.437-443 in
1973-74.  This is not the first time this celebrated series has been
reprinted.  Excalibur Enterprises did it in 1979, but it was in
black-and-white, and DC's current Special Edition is in color, albeit
in a smaller size format.  Moreover, DC has included "The Final
Chapter," one last Manhunter story that Goodwin proposed and Simonson
roughed out before Goodwin died.  
     Goodwin and Simonson had been urged to do one more story about Paul
Kirk, the authentic Manhunter, but the problem was, as Simonson says
in a afterword in this new edition, "Manhunter's end [he died in the
original series] was not only spectacularly final but structurally
crucial to the realization of the character of Paul Kirk, reclaiming
as he did both his own identity and his past." Moreover, since Kirk
had been resurrected once already, they were loathe to try it again.
     But eventually, Goodwin had an idea--one that would leave the
original series intact and whole--and Simonson went off to lay out
the story.  Then Goodwin died, and that should have ended the
project.  But Simonson's wife Louise, an editor at DC, suggested that
he do the Goodwin story as a "silent" comic.  No words.  
     And that's the 22-page story that comes at the end of the book.  A
story Goodwin plotted but didn't live to script and so is published
here without his words, a visual poem paying tribute to his genius.  
     Simonson did the story in the same highly innovative mode as the
original tales, deploying layout to emphasize the tale, often with
spectacular effects.
     DC's re-issue includes everything that was in the Excalibur edition
except some of Simonson's roughs for the Manhunter costume, so if you
have that book, you'll probably want to hang onto it.  But if you
don't have it, you should pick up a copy of this new edition.  Not
only is the saga of Manhunter one of the best series of tales in the
medium, but it was published during a period of extravagant visual
experimentation in comics, and Simonson's work herein is some of the
very best--the most effective--done during those very inventive
years.
     Finally, we have a new edition of Frank Cho's University2
(University Squared):    The Angry Years.    This 80-page paperback
reprints the comic strip Frank did for the University of Maryland's
campus newspaper while he was a student there.  Liberty Meadows, the
strip he does now with Creators Syndicate, is derived from
University2: in fact, the cast is virtually the same except that
Frank, who yearns for the toothsome Brandy, Cho's heroine, is a human
in Liberty Meadows instead of a duck.  (As a duck, he lived with
Brandy; as a human, he can barely summon up the nerve to ask her for
a date.  He's been summoning for over two years and has had only one
disastrous date with her.)
     If you missed this book in its first edition in 1996, now's the time
to remedy that towering oversight.  Just send $15 to Insight Studios
Group, 7844 Saint Thomas Dr., Baltimore, MD 21236.  You won't regret
it.
     Not only is this a handsome production that prints three strips to
each 9x12" page, thus giving them the ample display they deserve, but
it's Liberty Meadows in the raw, untamed.  Uncensored.  The book is
full of the kind of frat-boy hilarity (sex and alcohol) that enlivens
most college campuses.  I laughed out loud at this one when I first
read it; and I'm still laughing out loud at its reincarnation as
Liberty Meadows, even though it is admittedly a little tamer that
University2.  (The guffaws, however, are still uncontrollable.)
     Finally, the book is a treat because it's refreshing to see a comic
strip that is masterfully drawn for a change, a performance Cho
continues in Liberty Meadows.  On Sundays in LM, Cho often parodies
other strips from the history of the medium, and he can draw Prince
Valiant as well as Hal Foster did--and then Cho tosses in an
anthropomorphic pig and a midget circus bear right out of Tex Avery
and the humor never misses a beat.
     If you bought the book when it first came out, you might not need
this edition: it has new covers, front and back, but only two new
pages of strips.  These are "extra," not part of the inherent
continuity; and to make room for them, Cho dropped out a two-page
monster strip (which had no connection to the campus gig).
     But if you want to see what became of Brandy and Frank and Dean the
(chauvinist) Pig and Leslie the Lima Bean (he became a frog) when
they left the University and went to the Meadows, you can do that,
too.  You could be reading about them in your daily newspaper if
you're among the lucky, but, alas, this excellent comic strip is not
in wide circulation (for some completely unfathomable reason), so the
chances are that your paper doesn't carry it.  
     But do not despair.  Frank Cho has thought of you and has
anticipated your need.  Insight Studios Group is producing a comic
book that reprints the syndicated strip: the first issue has the
first eight weeks of the run, beginning with March 30, 1997.
     Frank became a human being because Cho didn't think the general
population would accept a duck as Brandy's boyfriend as readily as
his college cohorts did.  And Brandy--who is stunningly beautiful in
face and spectacular in figure--has lost some of her embonpoint in
syndication.  Too much bosom, the syndicate operatives felt, would
alarm soccer moms who let their infants read Liberty Meadows
believing it was about cutesy animals.  Somewhere in this vicinity
are panels from Liberty Meadows that reveal how just how serious the
surgery was that Frank was forced to perform.
     The comic book Liberty Meadows is available from Insight Studios,
too, just add $2.95 to your check; or subscribe to the first six
issues for merely $20.  Or--even better--start sending cranky letters
to the editor of your local paper, demanding that he or she install
Liberty Meadows in the funnies forthwith.  And not only that, tout
suite.

return to top of page

     
2.  Another Anniversary.  In case you missed it, Garfield's
anniversary last year was appropriately celebrated with a big, fat
paperback tome (192 8x10" pages; $14.95) that was more than just
another reprint book.  Entitled 20 Years and Still Kicking, this one
includes a short biography of the cat's creator, Jim Davis, a
discussion (by Davis) of the cat's genesis and evolution, a
description of how the strip is produced by Davis and his assistants
(with illustrative doodles, showing the development of gag ideas),
and numerous color sections, insinuated into the book purely for
amusement.  And that they do, indeed.
     The essential organization of the book is two sections--one for the
first decade of the strip's run; the other, for the second.  The
reprinted strips have been carefully selected to cover key moments in
the strip's development (and the cat's).  The first week of Garfield
is reprinted so you can see what he looked like then as compared to
what he looks like now.  (Now, he's cuter; then, he was big and fat
and ugly, seems to me.) 
     As always in a Garfield reprint book, all the strips are dated.  Why
other reprint houses don't do this is a bafflement: printing the
tiny copyright/distribution information and the month and date of
issue (8/8) surely can't interfere with a reader's enjoyment of the
strips, and it increases the value of the book by making it a
historical document as well as an entertaining one.
     Davis set comic strip reprint fashion in another way, too.  The
narrow (5x8 inch), two-strips to a page format (in strict
chronological order of initial publication) for all previous reprint
volumes was unprecedented when Davis insisted that was the way to do
it.  So successful has the format been that it is now an industry
term--"Garfield format" describes the narrow-bound-on-the-short-side
design.  By the way, all these books have been reissued, three to a
volume, as a birthday present to Garfield fans and collectors.
     Most of the pages in the anniversary anthology carry assorted
amusements in the margins--annotations commenting on one of the
accompanying strips or referring to some aspect of the strip's
evolution that is illustrated on that page.  Or just being funny.
     A frequent intrusion of the latter kind are sidebars on various
aspects of life in Garfield.  One on "diet tips," for example,
includes the following advice: Never go back for seconds; get it all
the first time.  Try to cut back; leave the cherry off your hot fudge
sundae.  Hang around people who are fat.
     "Garfield's Sleeping Tips" advise that "midnight snacks keep you
awake, so stuff yourself at 11:50 p.m." And "nap often so you'll be
completely relaxed at bedtime."
     "Garfield on Mornings" includes such gems as "I'd like mornings
better if they started later" and "Good morning is a contradiction in
terms."
     All of these little side trips are illustrated by a couple telling
strips.
     There are sections that describe each of the principals in the
strip.  There are "intermissions" in the narrative flow of the
chronology that show Garfield references in other strips, that
recapitulate all the previous "birthday" strips (every year on June
19), that collect the best of the Sunday strip "logo" panels, and,
finally, that present Davis' favorite twenty strips.  
     There are Sunday pages in color, and color splashed hither and yon
with many many funny pictures that aren't "in" the strip, so to
speak.  
     All in all, it's a fun read, a genuine pleasure.  Warms you with
contentment.  Anniversary collections ought to be like this one.


return to top of page

Return to Archive Index
return to archive main page


To find out about Harv's books, click here.

 
send e-mail to R.C. Harvey
art of the comic book - art of the funnies - reviews - order form - main page