REVIEW: The Art of Archie: The Covers
The Art of Archie, edited by Victor Gorelick and Craig Yoe, Archie Books, hardcover, 158 pages (oversize), $29.99 retail
O.K. I won’t mince words. This is one hell of a book.
Over the past 72 years there have been perhaps a dozen definitive Archie universe artists: Archie’s co-creator Bob Montana and teammates Bob Bolling, Dan DeCarlo, Joe Edwards, Al Fagaly, Harry Lucey, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Harry Sahle, Samm Schwartz, Bill Vigoda and Bob White. Unless you’re a dedicated fan it’s easy to take their work for granted, but each has his own distinctive style, a style that usually relates to the time of his tenure. If The Art of Archie: The Covers does nothing else, it teaches us each artist’s individual style and that goes a long, long way towards giving credit where credit is due. Which it is.
But the name of this book is The Art of Archie: The Covers, and as such these artists were challenged with a task that American super-hero artists really don’t have. Sure, sometimes they sell a story that’s inside the comic – although most “golden age” comics sported generic poster covers, a trait since imitated in the direct sales era of multiple, variant, gimmick covers. The Archie guys had to sell the comic by attracting the attention of the newsstand browser. Of course poster covers rapidly wear thin, and so the Archie artists usually had to sell a strong gag as well. The situation almost always had to be funny, often without dialog, and for the initial decades their space was limited by the largest banner logos in the history of the medium.
Of course, if they didn’t do a brilliant job of this the Archie line would have gone the way of the publisher’s super-hero line. You can open up to any two-page spread in The Art of Archie: The Covers (designed by co-editor Craig Yoe) and see wonderful examples of how the artists met this task. To any fan of the form, it is breathtaking.
There’s copy here, good stuff explaining who’s who and what’s what. But the overwhelming majority of space is devoted to the covers: full-page reproductions, quarter-page reproductions, and uncolored shots from original art. Whereas the entire panoply of Archie titles is not covered (it’s amazing how many individual Archie universe titles there have been; possibly even more than Richie Rich), many of the more obscure titles are represented. I would have had a serious attitude problem if they hadn’t included Archie’s Mechanics.
Reproductions run from the feature’s initial appearance in 1941 all the way though this year, and include a number of variant and hard-to-find covers. This is truly one comic book book where you can simply stare at the pictures. Any comics fan worthy of the label should have this one on his or her shelf.
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