I love reading old comics, which means I'm lucky to be a comic reader in 2013. There are so many amazing archival comics released on a monthly basis that a fan could go broke just from buying every interesting book that comes out. Last week I received a press release that talked about a collection of reprints of classic Airboy comics by a new reprinter of vintage comics, Canton Street Press. Intrigued by the latest entrant into this popular but crowded field, I had to take a minute to talk to the folks at Canton Street about Airboy and other upcoming projects.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Why Airboy? What about that comic makes you choose it as the first book released by Canton Street?
Joe Hovorka: There were a couple reasons for the Airboy collection. Probably the most important is that it is a personal favorite of mine. I was introduced to Airboy and Valkyrie in the 1980s with some of the black and white reprints that were done at the time. Valkyrie struck me as a very interesting character. This quality of material should certainly be available to modern readers. Plus, that Ken Pierce B&W Airboy/Valkyrie book from the 1980s didn't reproduce the last two Valkyrie stories. It was 15+ years later until I was able to read those stories.
Second, it was a "done in one" book that we could do. We could collect all appearances of the character in one volume. Readers would not have to wait for additional volumes.
CB: Who are some of your favorite creators on the Airboy stories?
Hovorka: Hands down it is Fred Kida. He drew some great covers and character designs. Look at the cover to Air Fighters V2 #2, the issue that introduced Valkyrie. Not only has it become an iconic cover from the period, but what boy in 1943 would not want to buy that comic? Beyond his covers, his interior work was dynamic and fun. He created a sense of movement and excitement with his use of blacks and whites to very effectively to convey action and the mood of the story.
CB: I notice that many of the books you currently release are around military history. Why did you decide to move into comics as well?
Hovorka: Military history (particularly WWII) and comic books have long been interests for me. It was the plan from the start to publish comic book collections – prose is just a lot easier to restore! Both areas have a large amount of material that has been out of print for decades that modern audiences should be reading. I find a lot of common themes between the two genres in the 1940s. Bill Knudsen (of our upcoming Knudsen: Biography) is an example. His life story is very compelling – coming to America as a poor immigrant and basically running our entire industrial production during WWII. He is probably the single most important man in getting the US productive capacity ready for the war effort. Throughout WWII, Knudsen battled sabotage in plants across America.
The loss of productive capacity to those instances arguably lengthened the war. Just the other day, I read Fighting Yank #15 and the story centered around (in this case) a group of Japanese attempting to bomb the TVA and flood the industrial plants downriver. Their mission was to take out two plants and impact the productive capacity of the USA. This might be more dramatic than what was happening in real life, but it certainly mirrored the circumstance of the time. WWII era comics are some of my favorite golden age books because of the historical context of when these books were published.
CB: I notice you have a book by Matt Baker coming up as your next release; what made you decide to collect some of his old comics?
Hovorka: Given Matt Baker's monumental talent, there is very little of his material in print today and that surprises me. His work deserves to be available and read by current audiences. If not for his untimely death, Matt Baker would be as well known and circulated today as Frank Frazetta, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, etc. Plus, his books are hard to find! It took more than a year to find all the comic books needed to produce the Canteen Kate book. The issues were simply not offered for sale. Baker is also known as a cheesecake/good girl artist, but he was much more than that. I think the Canteen Kate stories show that he was good at humor too. Baker was very good at drawing women, but he was also very good at drawing men and the emotions that his characters feel. Between the Canteen Kate book and other Matt Baker projects we have planned, readers will get to see his wide range of talent.
CB: What other books do you have lined up in the future? Did I hear something about a Ghost Rider book?
Hovorka: Our third book will be Ghost Rider from Magazine Enterprises. The restoration work is already complete, but we want to take a one month break before soliciting so that retailers and readers will get to see some of our output before placing an order for Ghost Rider. The first volume collects Ghost Rider #1-5 as well as the "Ghost Rider" stories from Tim Holt #11-14. The book is filled with wonderful art by Dick Ayers and four covers by Frank Frazetta. Tony Isabella has contributed the introduction to the book.
Beyond that, we will publish more Matt Baker material and future volumes of Ghost Rider. We have roughly 10 projects in various forms of development and expect to announce our next big initiative within the coming months. We believe it is a project that people have been clamoring for.
CB: There are so many publishers putting out reprints of archival comics these days – really too many to count. Why did you decide to enter this crowded field?
Hovorka: Mostly because I love the material. Maybe the other publishers would eventually get around to publishing Canteen Kate or Ghost Rider, but these are books I want to see in print. Also, I don't believe the field is crowded. As long as quality material is produced, I believe it will find an audience.
CB: What do you think sets Canton Street Press apart from the other publishers of archival comics?
Hovorka: I enjoy the archival books from other publishers. My library consists of volumes from just about every publisher. Many of them have set a high bar when it comes to the quality of the finished product. Canton Street Press will approach each project differently. We won't have a set format.
CB: What books are on your wishlist to revive in your book line?
Hovorka: Anything good from the 1940s-1950s.
We're working on a several projects now, but we are not ready to announce anything beyond the three books mentioned here. Our hope is to build to a publishing schedule of ~10 books per year. What we have in the pipeline now would get us through 2014.
CB: Is there a connection between Canton Street and the popular website Tales of Wonder?
Hovorka: There is. Canton Street Press was started out of TalesOfWonder.com, but the businesses are separate. They will be operated as separate entities going fo