Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Maximum FF by Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee &...Walter Mosley (?!?!?!!!!)


(Marvel, 2005) For the pandemic my big reading projects were consuming the entire series of Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins books, and launching a read through of the full run of Jack Kirby Collector. So far I finished Rawlins (and started on the Leonid books), and I am up to issue 50 of the amazing JKC (hoping the pandemic ends before I get up to issue 80). Anyhow, with the only good parts of 2020 brain bouncing between in in Easyland and Kirbyville it was kind of jarring to discover the existence of this book. Upon first inspection this book-length reproduction of Kirby and Stan Lee's industry shifting Fantastic Four #1 seems to have some kinship with the Chip Kidd-desinged comics books which take familiar Snoopy or Batman imagery and embrace the familiarity while recontextualizing as art and cool and artifact and beautiful by making them bigger and bolder and newer and realer than we are used to seeing them on newsprint. However, the most important (to me, at least) element of Kidd's design is celebrating the printed comic or toy or board game as object, and luxuriating in the yellowing decay and wear and tear of enthusiastic spectatorship (I credit Kidd's influence with the public domain/easily licensed reprint boom that lets old comics look like old comics rather than washed out photoshopped messes or gaudily recolored anachronisms). Anyhow, the only place we get that element in this beautiful book is in the dustjacket which folds out to a poster of the FF#1 cover roughly the size of an Winnebego, which features on the flip side a reproduction of a complete, decayed, taped, yellowed copy of issue #1 (I had actually never seen all the ads despite reading a thousand reprints). Other than that designer Paul Sahre is taking the individual panels with crisp new coloring and blowing them up so that each page has has just half a, or one, or two panels. This is not a Pop Art excision, as the story is still to be read, but I definitely found myself reading it more slowly and appreciating the Kirby art's power much more than on previous readings. But what walloped me was the essay by Mosley. Granted, his 50+ books go beyond mysteries, with nonfiction, sci fi, cultural criticism, etc, and he made a couple comic book references in the Rawlins books, but this still took me by surprise. It seems that Mosley bought an early FF issue in the 60s as a kid and has been devoted since (the crappy copy on the inside dustjacket is his), but in recent years felt a disconnection which he defeated when he began scanning and blowing up panels to a huge size which opened his comic fan third eye and let him see his old favorites in a profound new dimension. This book was his concept and it is a triumph. The other essay in the book is JKC star columnist (and Kirby assistant and Garfield cartoon kingpin) Mark Evanier, recounting his detective work about the FF#1 inker (which he'd been working out in Collector issues). I may have never stumbled upon a book as in tune to my converging interests as this one. The book cost $50 originally, is easily worth $100, and I got it for $20, so please find yourself a copy, you will treasure it. Possibly not as much as me after consuming 14 detective books and 4000 pages of Kirby worship, but maybe next pandemic you could go my route.

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