Friday, 16 January 2009

[126] Kitchen Sink's The Spirit and Dark Horse's Dylan Dog

Currently (slowly) writing two reviews, so distracted from proper blogwork. Here's some diversionary nonsense about recent findings and purchases.

Yesterday, on my travels, I stumbled across the Book and Comic Exchange in Soho. They're part of a chain, and I've been in one in Birmingham before, but that one is more focused on music. I had a cursory browse, and quickly found some things to my taste, namely some issues of the Kitchen Sink Press reprints of Will Eisner's The Spirit from the 1980s and two books of Dark Horse's translated editions of the long-running Italian comic book Dylan Dog.

I've read about the Kitchen Sink Press reprints of The Spirit, although this was the first time I've seen them in the wild. My only experience with Eisner's most enduring series is through the DC collection The Best of The Spirit, which I picked up in summer 2008. Since then, without the money to buy the expensive hardback collected editions, I've only had the opportunity to read the recent reboot of the series, written by Darwyn Cooke, amongst others.

However, before DC gained the rights, publication of the Spirit comics were handled by Kitchen Sink Press, who also published works by Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Matt and James O'Barr. One of their approaches to putting the series out was an ongoing series which ran for over 80 issues, containing the Spirit comics Eisner produced after WW2.

I bought 3 issues in the end, for £1 each, which I considered quite a bargain. Each issue contains 4 of the 8-page stories, reprinted in black and white. The covers are lovely; drawn by Eisner, either totally original or based on previous artwork.

At the moment I have only dipped into one issue, #21, from July 1986. This issue collects a run of stories featuring the Spirit's nemesis Octopus, starting with August 1947's 'The Sign of the Octopus', which I had read before. Also included was a story called 'Showdown', which Frank Miller had publicly acknowledged as a huge inspiration on the tone and style of his recently-released big-screen adaptation of the comic. However, what really impresses me is that this is not just a straightforward, lazy reprint (I'm thinking of the recent DC one-shot floppy The Spirit Special). For example, Eisner re-drew both the beginning and end pages of 'Showdown' when it was reprinted in the 1970s for Warren Publishing, giving the whole story a different, metafictional feel, with the very pages curling before the reader's eyes. The issue reprints both (see above, click for larger image).

Also, there is a nice amount of front and back matter, which takes the form of a column called 'Stage Settings', written by the editor (in this case Dave Schreiner). These mini-essays provide background on the context, writing process and publication history, with a healthy dose of analysis and criticism, all with insight and from interviews with Will Eisner. It's interesting stuff, certainly, and makes the Kitchen Sink reprints much more respectful in tone and content, if not in terms of page-quality and binding.

In comparison, I have relatively little to say about Dylan Dog, as I've not read either of the two books I bought. A pseudo-Italian friend of mine is learning his ancestral language by reading these comics, which are big news stand sellers in Italy and in other areas of Europe. Dylan Dog in English isn't very widely available. Dark Horse translated and printed 6 stories in 1999 (with some horrible covers drawn by Mike Mignola); two of which, numbers four and five, I bought.

English translations are relatively hard to find, as these editions are out of print, although this situation is set to change in the not-too-distant future, as Dark Horse are reissuing the comics in a 600+ page omnibus edition (tip straight from the top-notch Gosh! mouthpiece).

I'll report more on these as I read them.

For more information on Dylan Dog, check out this article over at Coilhouse.

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