Art In Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
This is the most wonderful time to be a fan of classic comics. Hundreds of reprints of amazing and long-forgotten comics are in print these days, and chances are that if your favorite comic was published by Marvel, it's either been reprinted or will be reprinted soon.

But there are hundreds of comics that fall into a strange sort of twilight category. Those comics present interesting and compelling work, but it’s work that's obscure, or published by a long-forgotten publisher, or features long-forgotten characters.

Art In Time is an attempt to fill that publishing gap, presenting amazing and obscure comics work by 13 different cartoonists on gorgeous paper between hard covers. I think every lover of great comics will have much the same reaction that I did to this book: pretty much absolute delight. While there are some stories that might not appeal to you, the stories are well selected and all interesting at the very least.

My favorite story in this book is the classic "Children of Doom,” by Denny O'Neil and Pat Boyette, edited by Dick Giordano. This story is a surrealistic masterpiece of comics art, the story of what happens when the government creates the ultimate weapon for use in nuclear war while not considering the consequences of such a weapon.

Boyette's art has a brooding intensity to it in this story. The characters in “Children of Doom” are haunted by the events they have witnessed, and are living lives of unending terror. Boyette conveys this terror not just though his use of deliberately-drawn facial features. He also deliberately uses strange panel arrangements and odd angles to make the reader feel uneasy as he reads this story. This 25-page story takes the reader through a seemingly endless set of twists and turns, and by the end we can't help to feel as overwhelmed as the the characters depicted in the story.

The other real standout of this book for me was another amazingly intense story, this time from a series I had never read, Kona by Sam Glanzman.

Glanzman's Kona story is the tale of a white-haired Tarzan type attempting to save a group of ordinary people from an unrelenting set of horrific menaces. The story involves giant sharks, a set of mutated animals, a flooding cave, and a near existential sense of crisis and concern on the part of Kona.

The story never relents for a moment during its 31 pages; every page brings new crisis, new worry, new horrors that must be attended. The whole piece is written in the third person, which seems to pile on a sense of dreadfulness that is already almost overwhelming. By page 17 – only halfway through this story – we're greeted with a full-page depiction of Kona overlaid against the wars happening all around him. Kona's face is overwhelmed with fear and exhaustion, as the panels declare "NOBODY… WINS… WARS… LIKE THESE!"

This book is absolutely worth its $40 cover price for just "Children and Doom" and the Kona story. These are both real classics of comics art, and I found myself completely captivated by both stories. Heck, I now am praying for Dark Horse to discover Kona and start reprinting it; if all issues are nearly as great as this one, I've been missing out on some spectacular reading.

But of course that's not all we get in this book. A long lost underground comic from 1980, "The Adventures of Crystal Night" by Sharon Rudahl, is another highlight of the book.

Rudahl's story is a serious look at a future world in which there are two castes. A woman, ironically named Crystal Night after the horrific events of the Holocaust, works hard to lift the lower caste out of their wretched lives. But Night faces terrible opposition in her efforts.

This story is a fascinating piece of art, definitely the sort of uncompromising vision that can often be very hard to find in stores. Rudahl's art is equally as uncompromising as her writing, seeming very loose while also being beguilingly complex. While I didn't love Rudahl's comic, I found it a perfect fit for this book.

Two hard-boiled stories of Pete Morisi's "Johnny Dynamite" are featured in this book, and the stories present really terrific two-fisted noir type tales of angry men, beautiful woman and deadly double-crosses. Johnny is called "the wild man from Chicago", and his adventures more than live up to that nickname. Morisi's flat art style works well in these stories, giving his tales a kind of bland energy that's quite compelling.

Harry Lucey's "Sam Hill" detective adventures also present dark and intense stories. They're just slightly less intense than Morisi's stories but are also more nicely drawn. If Morisi's stories remind me of those black and white films noir of the '40s and '50s, Lucey's stories read like early TV shows – just a little safer and a little nicer, but still with lots of interesting depth directly below the surface.

We get two sets of horror stories in this book, by artists who provide as much of a contrast as Morisi's and Lucey's do to each other.

Two horror stories by the great John Stanley are included in this book. Stanley is justifiably famous for his amazing work on series like Little Lulu, Thirteen Going on Eighteen and Melvin Monster. However, Stanley also drew a pair of horror comics in the early 1960s that are quite memorable.

In the two stories presented in this book, Stanley uses a much more realistic style than he used in his humor books, a style in which in which every crack in a wall screams of decrepitude, and in which emotions can effortlessly be read on the lines of a character's face. Stanley’s horror stories are wonderfully broad and cartoonish while keeping up a certain level of intensity. Unfortunately the endings on both of the stories presented here are stupid and juvenile. The journey is fun, but the destination is frustrating.

The second set of horror stories are drawn by Matt Fox. Fox's style feels intensely detailed and amazingly stiff. Where Stanley's characters have a naturalness about them, Fox goes the opposite direction, delivering characters that almost look like abstractions of people. His vampire in "I Was a Vampire" looks like a moustache-twisting refugee from silent movies.

But Fox's stories work better as horror stories for me, as they have a kind of visceral intensity that makes them compelling. The wretched fates that these wretched characters meet seem really well-deserved and thoroughly entertaining.

Art in Time also gives readers a couple of solo "Man O'Metal" stories by Wonder Woman co-creator H.G. Peter that are fascinating for their artifice and strange homo-erotic attitude. You know those comics that seem to be all about female characters losing their clothes? This one seems to be all about a man losing his shirt. This is some weird comics.

And wait, there's more comics here, too! Mort Meskin's "Golden Lad" story is wonderful, and betrays its influence on Steve Ditko in nearly every panel. Michael McMillan's "Captain Flashlight" didn't excite me, but I saw why it was chosen for this book. The same goes for John Thompson's surreal story. Great comics are great comics, but not all of them will get me excited.

Bill Everett's "Venus" story was gorgeous (hey, that's a Marvel story – there's a good chance that more of this work will be collected one day!) Jesse Marsh's western "Johnny Mack Brown" was interesting but didn't excite me much aside from its obvious influences on Gilbert Hernandez. And Willy Mendes's hippie utopia story was a nostalgic vestige from the flower child era.

I was completely excited to read this book. The selection of stories presented in Art In Time was perfectly chosen, and introduced me to many stories and creators that I otherwise would never have read. Any fan of classic comic book art would be delighted to read this book. I know I was.

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