This 270-page trade paperback traces the history of Warren Publishing from its inception, through its golden era, to its decline, rise again and then final fall.
Creepy. Eerie. Blazing Combat. Famous Monsters. Vampirella. The titles are legendary among comic fans. In those and other titles, Jim Warren’s little publishing company presented some of the most amazing horror, science fiction and war comics of the 1960s and 70s. What’s astonishing is that the story behind these titles is as surprising and interesting as the comics themselves, full of bizarre and unique characters.
At the front of the line is Jim Warren himself, a true raconteur who clearly loves telling stories of the days when he was running an upstart company that enjoyed tweaking the mainstream publishers by presenting his own unique stories in their own unique ways. If Warren’s stories sometimes seem a bit over the top and hard to believe, his stories are always correlated by the people who worked for him. Warren was a true iconoclast. He loved to push his editors and creators to within an inch of their creative lives and sometimes over, reveling in the resulting creative chaos that would result. For example, each spring for many years brought the “big push”, which would force Warren’s staff to work 18-hour days while releasing a new magazine each week. The workload was extreme and chaotic, but Warren always bragged that the resulting magazines were the best of the year, resulting from the dramatic creative tension. Once the “big push” was over, Warren would reward his editors, especially Bill DuBay, with lavish gifts as thanks for their hard work.
Whether the quality was worth the pain, it seems that Warren was a wild and wooly place to work for most of its existence. Unlike Marvel and DC, Warren Magazines were in large part the product of one driving force – Jim Warren himself. One contributor after another – writers and artists like Don McGregor, Bernie Wrightson and Rich Corben recall with a mix of love and hate their time working for Warren, while former editors like DuBay and Louise Simonson seem to be more fond than frustrated with Warren’s occasional excesses. Only the great Will Eisner, whom Warren admits to idolizing, seems to have been immune from Jim Warren’s unique mix of abuse and love.
What’s really special about “The Warren Companion” is that it celebrates a truly remarkable line of comics. For nearly twenty years, Warren presented work by some of the greatest artists and writers in comic book history. In the first several years of the company, editor Archie Goodwin presented such gems as the final comics story by Frank Frazetta, arguably the finest comics of Steve Ditko’s career, the finest war comics since the EC days with Blazing Combat, and work by such greats as Reed Crandall, Gene Colan, Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel. In the following years, Warren would present material by such greats as Richard Corben, Jeff Jones, Terry Austin, Russ Heath, Steve Englehart and Don McGregor. The book presents a representative sample of art by an incredible diversity of creators. The effect is to completely whet a reader’s appetite for back issues of the Warren mags. There is so much great content in the back issue bins that it’s almost difficult to know where to start with it.
The only flaw in the book is that one prominent magazine is neglected. Along with the great comic magazines, Warren published one of the most influential magazines in history with Famous Monsters magazine. Famous Monsters is mentioned several times in the book, but the editors don’t go into depth on it. It’s a shame – the magazine apparently strongly influenced people such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and was the forerunner of magazines such as Starlog and Fangoria. Of course, a whole book could be written about FM only, so maybe the editors are saving that for a future volume.
In the back of the book is a complete, and exhaustive, index to the Warren magazines, along with no fewer than ten appendices. The quality and breadth of the information presented is overwhelming, and is almost worth the price of admission by itself.
Warren presented some of the finest comics of their era, and this collection is a worthy celebration of those comics. I only hope that this book will help lead to collections of the material. They would be perfect for the hardcover deluxe collections that are so popular today.