Sunday, 25 August 2013

Corpse on The Imjin! & Other Stories


One of the glaring absences from my comics knowledge has been the EC comics of the fifties. Any comics fan worth their salt knows about them and how their envelope-pushing material was at least partly responsible for the establishment of the Comics Code.

But I've never really found a way in - there have been reprints but, whenever I've looked, they've all been expensive and far too comprehensive. I don't need to read it all - I just need the good stuff.

Since last year, Fantagraphics have been reprinting the pick of the archive in a more accessible fashion. With it's nascent 'EC Comics Library' they've been publishing attractive hardback collections, themed by artist. So far, there are four books, collecting work by Harvey Kurtzman, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis and Al Williamson, with more to follow. The book above collects Harvey Kurtzman's war comics from the fifties.

Here's another glaring absence. I've never really read war comics. Sure, I read Battle as a kid, and the occasional issue of Commando, but I couldn't claim to have a knowledge of the genre. So, when the introduction claims that Kurtzman's stories are different because they treat the combatants on both side of the conflict as human, I guess I have to accept the point.

These stories are outstanding. Time and again, he illustrates the futility of war, whilst treating the North Koreans as just the same as the brave Americans. Most of the war comics that I read as a kid had very strict dividing lines. Our guys = good. Germans = bad. Even with the benefit of hindsight, these stories, 60 years old seem extraordinary.

There is an economy to his art - his pen is vivid and animated, giving the stories an expressionistic feel, even whilst the stories are grim and depressing. The second half of the book sees him paired with the likes of Wood and Alex Toth, and whilst these stories are still enjoyable, it's the first half of the book that I'll be going back to. I'm a little embarrassed it's taken me so long to get to these stories, and if the rest of the 'EC Comics Library' comes anywhere near this quality, I'm in for the long haul.

Cost : Cover price for each of these books is $28.99. However, they have a thing called the 20/20 club whereby you sign up for $20 and then take 20% off any order that you make. They also had a package deal of this book and the Wallace Wood one for about $40, which after the 20% came down to $32. However, earlier this year they also had a thing called Fantabucks where you could buy an $80 gift voucher for $40. I bought a few of these, intending to use them for future Pogo volumes or for some of these EC books. Which means that, including postage, this book cost me around $19,  or just over £12. That's probably the best value purchase of my life in comics.

4 comments:

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this book! The diversity of stories Kurtzman is able to tell under the general banner of "war stories" is really pretty astounding. The other EC creators most worthy of checking out, in my opinion, are Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig.

    I'll be interested to see what you think of Fantagraphics' future volumes. Sounds like you got a great deal, too!

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  2. Thanks both.

    Marc - I find it amazing how sophisticated these stories are, bearing in mind they're over 60 years old. I guess it helps to illustrate how suffocating the CCA was. I've got the first four volumes lined up and am halfway through the Wally Wood one. Although I don't think the standard is as high as the Kurtzman and the stories fit the EC 'twist' template more obviously, it's still a fascinating read.

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  3. The Wally Wood volume is science fiction-centered, right? EC was somewhat narrower in its approach toward those comics (relying mostly on the same tropes common to 1950s sci-fi movies), but the result was still hearty genre entertainment. I think you're right, though, that Kurtzman was operating at a different (which isn't necessarily to say "higher") level; if EC produced a single "comics auteur," it would undoubtedly be Kurtzman. That's something I'm not sure I could say even about Feldstein, who I consider EC's next-best creator.

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