Sunday, 17 January 2021

Shock and awe

Taschen continues its large-size comic history books with an excellent overview of the EC line. The 594 pages are a bit less than the 75-year history of DC (2010) and Marvel (2014) which both had 720 pages. Grant Geissman was a good choice as the writer, he's already done two books about EC comics: 'Tales of terror' (2002) and 'Foul play' (2005).

If you want to know about the text in the book have a read of the almost 2,000-word review by Runmentionable on this page. My review is more about the visual aspect of the book. The five chapters start with Max Gaines in 1933 and his comics which were very much like other titles on the newsstands, Bill Gaines took over EC titles in 1947 following the death of his father. The story really gets interesting with chapter four exploring the New Trend horror comics with editor/ illustrator Al Feldstein and artist Johnny Craig. He was joined on the horror titles by Graham Ingels (who signed his art as Ghastly) Harry Harrison, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Jack Kamen, Joe Orlando. The New Trend stories and art were far superior to others in the very crowded comics market and the book has plenty of color pages with huge blow-ups of covers and individual pages to reveal just how good they were though I always felt that Kurtzman's art was more lightweight because he never put in the detail like Davis, Orlando or Wood.

Gaine's 'Suspense stories' (the cover title said Suspenstories) with various titles get a good showing with several over-the-top covers by Johnny Craig which featured in Fredric Wertham's 1954 'Seduction of the innocent' book attacking the illustrated violence aspect of the industry. Looking at these covers now I wonder just what Gaines was thinking by publishing 'Crime Supenstories' December 1953/January 1954, (issue 20) with an immaculate Johnny Craig drawing showing the face of a dead man with a noose around his neck or another Craig cover for 'Crime Suspensense' May (issue 22) with a close-up of a severed female head held by a man and in his other hand a bloodied ax (though the blood was black). No wonder politicians and the public were alarmed at this material in the hands of children.

EC continued in the fifties with their 'Vault', 'Crime', 'Shock' and 'Weird' comics and in 1952 Gaines tried something new with first issue of the satirical 'Mad' and in 1954 the similar 'Panic', which lasted for twelve issues but 'Mad' continued on and on. Another Gaines and Feldstein idea was 'Picto-Fiction' magazines but like 'Panic' they didn't last. In the end, it was only 'Mad' that remained of EC publishing.

The book, with over a thousand illustrations, covers all the EC titles and the last seventy-eight pages has a complete cover gallery of them all, including the pulped 'Shock illustrated' issue three from May 1956 though 'Mad' covers only go up to issue thirty-five. Nicely some of the covers in this section are huge with the rest about playing card size so it's possible to see the detail. Another excellent feature in the book is the thirty-nine page size covers and splash pages in black and white so you can see just how great some of the artists were. Throughout the book all the illustrations have comprehensive captions.

Now that Taschen has published excellent histories of DC, Marvel and EC I wonder what is left? 

Monday, 11 January 2021

A model type of book

There doesn't seem to be many books about an interesting photographic artist. This thick monograph was published in 2011 and the Editor Okwui Enwezor also edited a 224-page title about the artist published by Prestel in 2016. I expect both books to have a lot of duplication.

The first fifty-two pages are text with thirty-five an illustrated Q and A between Casebere and Enwezor, a fascinating read as it places Casebere's work in a broad social and artist context. There follows 205 pages of photos and this is where I felt the book was a bit disappointing, too many of them seem to me more mono technical exercises and perhaps lacking in visual interest. However, this is an artist monograph and should rightly show how the creative endeavors progressed through the years, here, photos start in 1975.

Work from 2007 shows Casebere creating model tableaus of houses set in various landscapes. Some of these really look quite ambitious. Page 253 showing Landscape with houses #9, constructed in 2010. It has at least twenty-five houses on a slight hillside with a baseball and football pitch in the foreground. There are twelve photos in this series and it's possible to see how much detail Casebere puts into his model house and landscape construction for his photos. 

The book's last pages have an illustrated timeline listing of the artist's film, installation and sculpture work. This is an excellent Damiani production and a full record of Casebere's work from 1975 to 2010.