4.5 / 5 – Strongly recommended with rare exceptions as listed
IDW has recently initiated the “Artist Edition” series featuring reproductions of original comic book art gathered into either several issues collected into one edition (as this example) or single stories (called Portfolio editions and priced much cheaper accordingly). All these collections are generally themed on one artist working on one property.
For those of you unaware, we shall take a brief detour to discuss comic book art and production to understand what these collections represent. For the eras involved with the previously released Artist Editions, the original art was drawn unto oversized pages. The exact oversized page size depends on the artist and for the Gil Kane edition, the book is 12″ x 17″. After the art was drawn (usually a process involving pencil work laid down and an second artist inking over those pencils providing detail and fleshing out the pencils), the letterer would add the necessary dialogue, narration, thought balloons and sound effects. Any minor corrections would be applied directly to these pages. The pages are then photographed/scanned to create a master. In that process the fine pencil lines not erased and minor corrections are generally obscured. The coloring process is then applied to the artwork, but not to the original pages. So each page of the comic book had one original, oversized art page with everything but the colors applied. In the beginning, these pages were merely seen as a means to an end for production but now there is a vigorous secondary market involving the buying and selling of these original pages, often for thousands of dollars apiece or more. Some of these pages are secured away in unknown private collections or previously destroyed. As the publisher retains the stored master copy, further reprints/editions can be issued. Additionally, the publisher will frequently apply modern coloring techniques in such newer reproductions.
Here we have Gil Kane’s excellent depictions from the Amazing Spider-man title originally issued by Marvel comics. This editions contains issues 96 through 102 and 121. At the back end they include a few additional pages and covers. These are quality full color reproductions of the original pages. Those of you may be wondering why “full color” when the artwork itself is black & white. The color reproduction is needed to see the different implements used on the pages. They were often penciled in blue (which would not be picked up by the photographing/scanning process). The different corrections appear more readily in the varying shades of colors.
Many of you may be dissuaded by the steep cover price, but these editions are more than worth it. Any single original page of this work would be in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Occasionally, an original page would not be available to IDW. In those instances they made the decision to provide a black and white copy. This, and the decision of IDW to choose related issues to bind together, make these collections still at their heart, comic books. While you can enjoy the process and the art, you can also read these as giant black and white comic books which is generally how I prefer to view them. Additionally, the color process of comic books has undergone several transformations since the inception of the comic book. While I enjoy the original editions, at times it can obscure some of the finer details of the underlying artwork. These books let one appreciate the fine detail and really examine how the art works.
For this tale we have a sad Spider-Man just back from London trying to reconcile with the love of his life, Gwen Stacy. He is going to college and still taking pictures for the Daily Bugle. Gwen returns and we seen the introduction of a new character, Morbius, the vampire like creature created by science. Peter ends up taking a serum that gives him four extra arms, turning him into a true Spider-Man. I won’t spoil how this is resolved. The jump to Amazing Spider-man #121 is one of the more famous issues which involves a climactic battle with the Green Goblin and terrible collateral damage. Is it safe to spoil a book from 1973? Better safe than sorry but you will see one of the most iconic panels in Spider-man history.
As you can tell, I positively in love with this series and have most of the editions. I wish this edition included more covers, as some of the past editions did, but the bonus pages at the back were a pleasant surprise so it is tough to put up too much of an argument. What prevents this from being a 5 out of 5 is the consideration of two types of individuals:
First are those who only wish to see the final product as intended. I certainly enjoy that but I feel that the limits of the technology (while still making the comics commercially viable) mean that one is missing too much great artwork and storytelling merely relying on those copies. Still if that is your philosophy, that is your philosophy.
The second type I may be able to persuade a bit, and those are people who do not care for older comic books. I can certainly empathize because I often have difficulty with some of the narrative conventions of the older stories as well. There is not much in the Golden Age that I really enjoy due to the dated nature of not only the dialog itself but the storytelling itself. However, at a minimum there is still an appreciation of the artwork that remains. I would also let people know that not all stories are created equally. There is gold to be mined for any era of comics. More particularly, the exposure to different stories and art can help hone your appreciation. In some ways, these editions represent a way that has passed. Since the 90’s, the vast majority of lettering is added digitally so the originally art pages are now free from any dialogue, caption or sound effect. They still retain their power but the narrative thread is lost. Currently many artists now work entirely digital which means there are not original art pages to collect, we only have the pristine computer generated and printed copies which do not convey the same feel.
Even if Gil Kane is not to your liking, I would strongly advise you seek out to and try one of these editions. The portfolios are much cheaper if price is your main reservation. Generally the print runs are small and the secondary market for these is often marked up. IDW will usually release an even more limited edition that features a sketch, autograph or some other added value which results in a price tag that is more or less double the original. They have issued second printings on two of these editions so far, but I do not think you can rely on 2nd printings for everything. get them while they are available if they catch your eye.
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture
5 / 5 – Must Read for Spider-Man fans!!
This volume reprints comics from within the 1st year that I was reading comics “off the rack” and what I was reading back then was primarily The Amazing Spider-Man. I can’t describe the mind-blowing awe of a 9-year old flipping to the last page of ASM #100 in days before the internet. Nowadays almost every storyline is spoiled before you have a chance to experience it 1st hand if you are prowling around the web (or even pick up USA Today) when Marvel/DC get some press by revealing a key story point for publicity the day or day before a book hits the stands.
In any event, seeing these pages reproduced full size is a treat beyond compare. For me it’s primarily seeing the original art in all it’s glory. I’d never be able to afford even a single page from one of these books so seeing them all here is a thrill. My hat is off to Scott Dunbier for bringing these Artist’s Editions to the fans!
I’d like to point out that (as of this writing) there are still copies of this fabulous tome available on the IDW web-site:
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture