Monday, November 18, 2013

A Western Round-up!

While shopping in my new favorite bookstore, Half-Price Books, I came across Golden Age Western Comics. It's a sturdy hardback from a publisher named Powerhouse Press. The cover is arresting in one way since those faux-bullet holes are actually holes in the front cover. This die-cut approach has been done on comics many a time before, but worked well in this particular instance I thought.

The book is collection of vintage 1950's western stories from an array of now defunct publishers like Avon, Fawcett,  Magazine Enterprises, and American Comics Group. But most of the stuff here comes from comics published by Derby's own Charlton Comics. The forward by Christopher Irving talks about the publishers, focusing properly on Charlton and repeating a lot of things most fans know already. Steve Ditko's name even gets a shout out despite the fact he has not story within a thousand miles of this collection. The editor Steven Brower gives us a few more details on the stories which populate this volume, but not enough for my tastes.

The stories are perfectly representative of the era, which means they vary in quality quite a bit. None are really bad, but many are tepid, produced by pros getting a paycheck and delivering work on a tight schedule. Some rise above this general standard, specifically those by Dick Giordano and Vince Alasica. They draw no fewer than three of the stories here and all are quite capably done. Doubtless these stories were written by Joe Gill but no record of that is given.

There are brave lawmen (Texas Tim Ranger), bold explorers (Daniel Boone and Kit Carson), lovely gun-toting dames (Annie Oakley and Buffalo Belle), familiar movie idols (Lash Larue and Tom Mix), and even a hefty batch of noble savages (Magic Arrow, Little Eagle, Young Falcon, Flying Eagle and Chief Black Hawk). It's a nice sampling of what was available in the comics of the day when westerns sold well and often.

The highlight of the collection for me though was a Masked Raider story by Mike Sekowsky which closes the collection. It's a great example of his supple art from this era and a pretty dang good story too.

I didn't pay full price for this book, nor would I advise anyone to do so. But if you find it heavily discounted like I did, I'd take a chance. There's some fun to be had.

Also on hand was a very pretty volume of more modern western tales from Graphic Classics. These books offer a wide variety of stories and art styles and are not for everyone. But I found myself hooked by this one because it offered up some very handsome artwork.

Riders of the Purple Sage is adapted with lovely artwork by Cynthia Martin who also supplied the cover. Zane Grey's vintage story seems to have been well treated in this colorful version. There are stories by Bret Harte, Willa Cather and even Robert E. Howard. Sadly I didn't much care for the art on the Howard story "Knife River Prodigal", not my style, but it was a pretty dandy story none the less.

The absolute highlight though of this volume is a new Hopalong Cassidy story by Dan Spiegle. Spiegle was the artist on many if not most of Hopalong's earliest adventures and his lush and comfortable artwork sets a very high bar in this collection. Spiegle is totally at home in the genre and offers up a story which would not have looked out of place in any standard collection. Spiegle gets some accolades, but is still not sufficiently appreciated to my mind. His artwork continues to impress and always has.

If you can find it cheap, I'd say this volume is worth the discounted price for Spiegle's work alone. I give this one a limited recommendation.

Be careful out there you owlhoots!

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