Author: Ed Catto

Ed Catto is an entrepreneur and educator. As the founder of Agendae, Ed helps mid-size companies, start-ups and big brands with innovative strategy and marketing initiatives. As an educator, Ed teaches entrepreneurship at Ithaca College. In the world of Pop Culture, Ed wears many hats: a speaker at comic-conventions, a retropreneur for Captain Action and a manager for Ithacon, the nation’s second longest running comic-con. As an illustrator, he was named 2019 Interior Illustrator of the Year in the Pulp Factory Awards and named a 2019 CNY Emerging Artist. Ed and his family have recently returned to the Finger Lakes.
Review: The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta
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Review: The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta

The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta
By J. David Spurlock
Vanguard Press

Trade HC ISBN13: 9781934331811 Retail $39.95 • 120 pgs
DX LE ISBN13: 9781934331828 Retail $69.95 • 138 pgs plus slipcase

When we were kids in the 70s, my pals and I hung around a great comic shop, Kim’s Collectible Comics & Records.  Owner Kim Draheim loved comics, but he helped expand the horizons of our small worlds – letting us discover wonders beyond the standard Marvel and DC comics that defined our comfort zones. In his shop, we stumbled upon older comics, vinyl records and comic-adjacent artists…like Frank Frazetta. It was all pretty mind-blowing.

We quickly realized there was a time and place for each creator’s talents and gifts.  When one of my gang was searching for a Fantastic Four issue illustrated by Frank Frazetta, we all chuckled. Even back then we knew that Frazetta was beyond all that.

When I took a college-level painting class while still in high school, there came that point to choose one artist for the term paper.  I chose Frank Frazetta. My professor kind of frowned and suggested I instead research and write about Salvador Dali.  I told my professor that Dali was a fine artist…but in my mind, Dali was no Frazetta.

If Spurlock was in my class, maybe he would have said the same thing.

Even back then I would have been excited by the new book, The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta. This is another gem from J. David Spurlock’s Vanguard Publishing. It’s a thoughtful, loving celebration of a genre master that is both a first-class introduction to Frazetta and a long-awaited treat to every reader/fan/collector that has already has an appreciation for Frazetta.

From the first page, Spurlock takes the reader on a journey that includes “greatest hits” and “lost treasures”.

Well-loved paintings fill the pages – but often with a twist. Either there’s additional materials or alternate versions included. Spurlock includes great stories that pull back the curtain for us, illuminating the process behind Frazetta’s artistry.

I really enjoyed the many surprises. There’s Frazetta barbarian art from before Conan. There is a 60s spy movie poster.  I was especially surprised to learn that in one case, when Frazetta got an original painting back, he made some changes.  And although I’d seen the Luana piece many times, but I didn’t realize that there was more to it.It’s no secret that Frazetta inspired so many other creators. But I didn’t realize the extent of the George Lucas connections until reading this book.  When I watch Star Wars movies,  I’ll never look at Chewbacca or the Death Star the same way again.

Many of the paintings reproduced here are larger than they’ve been printed before. This allows us to really see the nuances – brush strokes, paint etc. on these beauties.

Here’s the official description:

Discover, or return to, the world’s greatest heroic fantasy artist, Frank Frazetta, in this landmark art collection entitled, Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta. The New York Times said, “Frazetta helped define fantasy heroes like Conan, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars with signature images of strikingly fierce, hard-bodied heroes and bosomy, callipygian damsels” Frazetta took the sex and violence of the pulp fiction of his youth and added even more action, fantasy and potency, but rendered with a panache seldom seen outside of major works of Fine Art. Despite his fantastic subject matter, the quality of Frazetta’s work has not only drawn comparisons to the most brilliant of illustrators, Maxfield Parrish, Frederic Remington, Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth but, even to the most brilliant of fine artists including Rembrandt and Michelangelo and, major Frazetta works sell for millions of dollars, breaking numerous records.

 

And Spurlock has pulled out all the stops with this one. This book has definitely crossed the line to be a full-fledged celebration. Here’s the bells & whistles:

  • PAPER: Thicker, quality art-book paper than ever used in any prior Frazetta collection. This firmer paper helps achieve the highest quality of reproduction.
  • PROTECTIVE LAMINATION: Lavish combination of both matte & gloss cover laminations to dazzle the senses. While many top publishers scrimp by not providing ANY lamination, the new Frazetta collection doubles down to protect every cover smartly and with panache.
  • SIZE: 10.5 x 14.6 with spreads as wide as 21 inches: Larger pages and images than any previous Frazetta art book.
  • INDIVIDUALLY SIGNED: Even deluxe books rarely come signed but, this has not one, but TWO signatures; author J. David Spurlock and Frank Frazetta Jr, Director of The Frazetta Art Museum in East Stroudsburg PA.
  • VELUM PAGE “TIPPED-IN” BY HAND: When Vanguard does produce signed books, it is regularly on the front endpapers which is mounted to the inside front cover. But for Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta, the signature page was printed separately on a translucent velum parchment and bound, one at a time, into each book, by hand.
  • NEW LIGHTWEIGHT SLIPCASE: Vanguard’s new lighter-weight laminated slipcase keeps the deluxe book protected in style while conserving shelf space and minimizing shipping costs to retailers and Frazetta aficionados.
  • BONUS FOLIO: Sixteen extra pages of art including some very rare images, a newly discovered previously unknown and unpublished 1960s Frazetta movie poster run at a whopping 21 inches wide and, rare mid-1960s Creepy magazine art as never seen before, perfectly reproduced at full, Original Art Size!

Every year at San Diego Comic-Con, I tend to buy at least one book from the Vanguard booth. The at-the-booth conversations with J. David Spurlock are part of the fun.  And if I miss him, I always get my pal Steve Rotterdam to do his Spurlock imitation.  This year, of course, none of us will be stopping by San Diego Comic-Con. But there’s plenty of ways to buy this – and I always suggest going through your local comic shop or local indy book store.  I was surprised to see that a book of this quality doesn’t have a $100+ price tag, and is reasonably priced at $39.95 The deluxe version, with extra pages and a slipcase, is $69.95.

The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta would make any coffee table proud. And if your coffee table is too full, maybe it’s time to get another coffee table.

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Aftershock Comics sends out an S.O.S.: Support Our Shops!

There’s a lot of change in the air, and in so many cases, it’s nice to see how the COVID crisis is bringing out our better angels – especially when it comes to publishers and retailers.

Inc. Magazine recently called Independent Bookstores “the baby seals of commerce–at once universally beloved and endangered.” The same could be said for comic shops, except for the universally loved part. Here’s an innovative ideas from forward-thinking entrepreneurs designed to create something positive for both these retailer channels.

Aftershock Comics has a program designed to help comic shops. It’s called S.O.S. which stands for “Support Our Shops”.  This is a cool program that’s elegant in its simplicity. Aftershock created & printed a one-shot anthology comic, S.O.S., and is giving copies of it to comic shops that have been supporting their line, no strings attached!  Comic shops can sell their copies at whatever price they set (it feels like at least a $5.99 comic to me), offer it as buy-one-get-one with other Aftershock comics, or just give it away to reward customers.

The comic itself is gorgeous! Painter David Mack delivers yet another hauntingly beautiful cover, full of hope and brightness, just like the comic itself.  The issue is packed full of short stories from top creators wistfully celebrating fans’ interactions with and appreciation of comic shops.

Editor Joe Pruett has pulled together an impressive list of talents for this funny-book version of a charity concert. Contributors include Cullen Bunn, Steve Orlando, Leila Leiz, Stephanie Phillips, Marshall Dillon and more.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find Jerry Ordway’s story here, as I don’t associate him with Aftershock.  But wow – he delivered in spades.

Look for S.O.S. at your local comic shop, ask them to get it for you if they don’t have it, and if they give it to you for free, give them a generous tip.  It’s a fantastic book and worth every penny you can spare.  And we want to encourage innovative thinking like this, as well as help comic shops and bookstores, don’t we?

If retailers don’t already have a relationship with Aftershock, they can go to the site where all the staff is listed. https://aftershockcomics.com
Review: The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #1 Facsimile Edition

Review: Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #1 Facsimile Edition

Finally, a time machine for me!

Most folks visiting this site know about Dr. Doom’s Time Machine, the Guardian of Forever from Star Trek or that little book written by Herbert George Wells called The Time Machine.  Or at least they know about that fantastic DeLorean that Marty McFly drove.

Well, there’s one more Time Machine to add to the list – Gemstone Publishing’s The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #1 Facsimile Edition, a reproduction of the very first Overstreet’s Price Guide published in the fall of 1970. What a treat it is! This book is, at the core of it all, a snapshot of old comic book prices.  But faster than you can say “Why, oh, why didn’t I buy multiple copies of Fantastic Four #1 for $30.00 back in 70?”, you realize it’s so much more.

This is also a celebration of fan-focused entrepreneurs (Fantropreneurs?) grabbing the reins of their industry. This was the time when fans, and especially one fan named Robert M. Overstreet, rolled up their sleeves, researched meticulously and published an industry bible that would become both a tradition and the foundation upon which a million collections were built.

There’s an important thing to remember. Back in the “old days”, when you finished with something, it was discarded. As a society, we didn’t collect or save magazines or comics.  My Italian relatives would save bottles and paper bags, but comics didn’t quite fit into that category. There were collectors, but they were either breathing rarefied air (e.g. Art Collectors) or they were weirdos… who’s maturity was obviously stunted.

But the Guide, in assigning values to comics in such an authoritative way, publicly established economic value for comics. The outside world could respect that. Society back in the sixties or seventies might not have cared if Captain Marvel debuted in Whiz Comics #1 but they did care if an old funny book, with a newsstand value of 10 cents, was suddenly worth $235.00.

“Oh, if only my mother hadn’t thrown them out!” laments every non-collector.

(Note to my mom -thanks for never throwing out my comics. But I am still bummed you sold my Major Matt Mason Space Station at a garage sale.)

Beyond the prices, this facsimile edition also showcases ads that, once ubiquitous, have now morphed into curiosities. Passaic Book & Comic Center has the first ad in the book. And it’s fun to recall when Big Little Books were an adjacent collectible. (There don’t seem to be too many collectors any more, but I hope I am wrong.) And surely mail order legend Robert Bell deserves his time in the historical spotlight.

I’m so glad Gemstone’s VP of Publishing J.C. Vaughn and his team pushed for this delightful reproduction. Flipping through it sends me back in time, back when the world was shiny and new and full of potential. Or at least comic collecting was.

Ed Catto’s Black Friday Gift Guide!

Ed Catto’s Black Friday Gift Guide!

Beyond the toys, eggnog and family time, a nostalgic part the Yuletide season for me are books about comics.  When I was growing up, there were just a few : Batman from the 30s to the 70s, Les Daniels’ Comix, Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics.  But boy, did they make an impression on me.  Today there’s a plethora of spectacular books available. Here’s a few of the best ones for your gift list consideration:

KIRBY & LEE: STUF’ SAID! : THE COMPLEX GENESIS of the MARVEL UNIVERSE 

by John Morrow and Jon B. Cooke, Twomorrows

I really enjoyed A MARVELOUS LIFE: THE AMAZING STORY OF STAN LEE by Danny Fingeroth. Somehow, Fingeroth seemed to thread the needle to deliver a fascinating book and thoroughly explores the myth versus the man.

But there’s two sides to every story, and that’s the approach that John Morrow took in this brilliant book, STUF’ SAID.  This book serves up a detailed step-by-step, quote-by-quote walk through the early days (and beyond) of the Marvel Universe. Morrow analyzes the roles of not only Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but so many of the creators involved with the birth of Marvel.

For longtime fans, there’s a lot of nostalgia and new information. For new fans, it’s a balanced look at the real-life characters behind the fictional characters they love.

STAR TREK SHIPYARDS STARFLEET STARSHIPS: The Encyclopedia of Starfleet Ships Plus NCC1701 Enterprise

by Ben Robinson and Marcus Reilly, Eaglemoss

Books are great, but when you throw in a toy or two they are even better. Eaglemoss’ thorough book, STAR TREK SHIPYARDS  is a chronological history (even though it’s all about the future) of the Starfleet starshipsThis edition includes a specially packaged with a die-cast collectible, the iconic U.S.S. Enterprise.

This book has it all – from the most obscure ships to the recent additions to the mythology from the STAR TREK: DISCOVERY series.

HASHTAG: DANGER: PANIC ON DINOSAUR MOUNTAIN!

Written by Tom Peyer, Art by Chris Giarrusso and Richard Case.  Cover by Richard Williams, AHOY! Comics

As Tom Peyer says, this collected edition is “Twice the colons! Half the Thrills”. HASHTAG: DANGER is a wickedly funny take on adventurer comics, like Fantastic Four or Challengers of the Unknown. Peyer, always acerbic and witty, starts at “11” and turns up the dial from there.  At the same time, he is somehow able to let his authentic love of the source material shine though. The humor never seems mean-spirited.

Richard Williams, the celebrated MAD artist, brings an element of pseudo realism liberally mixed with kooky absurdity to the covers.

This trade paperback collects all the irreverent HASHTAG: DANGER stories from issues #1-5 of the AHOY! Comics series, plus the back-features from other AHOY! titles like HIGH HEAVEN and CAPTAIN GINGER.

ROD SERLING: HIS LIFE, WORK AND IMAGINATION

by Nick Parisi, University of Mississippi Press

Nick Parisi’s Rod Serling biography isn’t only for fans of The Twilight Zone. It’s also for fans of early television,  scriptwriting and Planet of the Apes. And somehow, Parisi finds a way to celebrate Serling as a persistent entrepreneur – both winning and losing creative and economic battles.  A great read!

STRONGHOLD Vol. 1

Written by Phil Hester Art by Ryan Kelly, Aftershock

Phil Hester’s written a lot of great comics over the years, and Stronghold is another great one. It’s a quirky, creepy take on the Superman legend. This thriller reveals a clandestine organization that monitors the world’s most powerful man. This series blends a conspiracy feel mixed with an us-against-the-world vibe to create a compelling series.

FRESH HELL IN FITS

by Steve Cerio, Psychofon Records

Steve Cerio, a creative innovator and gallery artist who blossomed as part of the old NYC Comix scene, is back with another trippy book.  His newest  is subtitled “A False History of The Residents”, but the imaginative illustrations appeal to art lovers beyond that band’s fan base.  Fresh Hell in Fits is also  available as a special signed collector’s edition (only 33 copies) complete with extra goodies.

This book is best found at the Psychofon Records site: https://www.psychofonrecords.com

BATMAN: THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF THE DARK KNIGHT IN COMICS, FILM AND BEYOND

by Andrew Farago and Gina McIntyre, Insight Editions

This is the type of the book that you start in the morning, and when you look up again it’s getting close to bedtime.  This lovingly thorough history of Batman touches all the bases, provides new information and is loaded with goodies.  I must admit it’s a thrill to be reading about the Batman mobile from 1950s comics, and then to fold-out a set of blueprints.

$75.00 various levels 400 pp. • hardcover  • ISBN-10: 1683834372


Have a fantastic Yuletide season, everyone!

Review: Graham Nolan’s “Monster Island” 20th Anniversary Edition

Review: Graham Nolan’s “Monster Island” 20th Anniversary Edition

I’ve recently spent some time in the Syracuse University Archives researching old comic strips. It turns out they have an incredible collection of original artwork by top tier comic artists – everyone from Hal Foster to Frank Robbins.  It’s quite a thrill and every time I view these originals I feel like a kid who’s successfully raided the cookie jar – and got away with it.

That’s how the new Monster Island book made me feel.  You might remember Graham Nolan’s independent comic from about 20 years ago.  It was a kick to follow along as two military folks fight their way across an island full of monsters.  And it’s not Frankenstein or the Wolfman – these are monsters in the classic Kirby-Atlas Comics or Godzilla-TOHO studios mold. Big and scary and nutty and goofy and fun. My kinda monsters.

You’ve seen this format before. Scott Dunbier and IDW have essentially created the category we all call Artist’s Editions. These books are shot from the original pages complete with production notes, blemishes, corrections and handwritten scrawls. Reading one of these is the closest most of us will ever come to holding the original art in our hands for one sitting.

Graham Nolan is a strong artist, and he’s also a strong storyteller. He’s got a vibrant visual sense (I’ve been a fan since the old Hawkword series) and here, as the writer, he’s able to introduce big concepts and keep the story moving, all the while helping readers get to know the cute couple at the center of the story.

This volume is even more fun as it includes extras. Some as you’d expect, like the character sketches, are wonderful and whimsical. Of note are the comic strip versions of Monster Island. Years ago, Graham Nolan had repackaged the strip to sell to a newspaper syndication. His efforts never went anywhere (it’s a shame, as this thriller lends itself to this format), but it did lead to him getting the gig penciling the Phantom for several years.

The story is fun, but beyond that, I find Nolan’s efforts inspirational. He comes across as the kind of guy who has a vision and puts in the hours to see if he can make it a reality.

Kudos to him -and I am sure he has inspired up and coming creatives over the years.

Mix Picks: Mountainhead #1

Up in the corner of every IDW cover, the corporate brand image has been temporarily modified to help celebrate the company’s (impressive) 20 years in business. The iconic IDW lightbulb icon implies a level of creativity and fresh ideas. And their new comic Mountainhead lives up to that – it’s fresh, different and gripping.

This series starts out telling the story of the Stubbs family – a father and son team who are always on the run and living off the grid. They break into houses and burglarize them.  It’s not quite as straightforward as all that, though. One key tenet of their modus operandi is to not get sucked into the never-ending messaging of our consumer-focused society.  The father reminds the son, Abraham, during a break-in, that “it’s all just stuff”.   Additionally, the father reinforces the concept of not defining oneself by one’s possessions.   That’s a great message, but when Abraham comes a across an electric guitar, the reader can see it gets more difficult to hang onto these highfalutin ideals.

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Mix Picks: Star Wars Adventures Annual 2019

IDW
FC • 48 pages • $7.99

For long-time comic readers, Summer also means Annuals. Clearly, they are no longer confined to only summer.  The Star Wars Adventures Annual is full of all-ages adventures and is published by IDW. I love this idea and as a mature reader (i.e. older) I can both appreciate them… and then enjoy passing them along to younger readers.  (I should use the hashtag #LetTheBrainwashingBegin).

Stan Sakai provides such a delightful cover that you might want to keep it in your collection. Oh, and look out for that other Star Wars character everyone loves to hate (I think he’s number 2 after Jar-Jar), Jaxxon the big green bunny.

It seems like yesterday to me when Marvel’s original Star Wars wrapped up, and the next story arc featured Han and Chewie on a Magnificent Seven-esque quest with various characters, including Jaxxon. He didn’t seem so bad back then, but, hey, what did we know?

Mix Picks: Star Trek: Year Five #4

IDW
FC • 32 pages • $3.99

I’m a sucker for travel posters, especially at the end of summer. In spring I always plan more summer trips than we can possibly fit in.  Around the time when Kohl’s and Target’s back-to-school ads start showing up, I get that “we didn’t do enough” pang of regret.

That’s probably while I was drawn to IDW’s Star Trek: Year Five variant cover by artist J.J. Lendel.  It’s brilliantly executed and evocative of one of those classic travel posters.

This Star Trek series tells the story of the original crew’s missions during the “unchronicled” final year of the original mission.  This issue brings back some favorite characters, and that’s always half the fun with revisiting TOS, isn’t it?

Review: Oberon #1

You might already know that Aftershock Comics is on a roll. In just three years, they’ve won Diamond’s Publisher of the Year award (for publishers under a certain market share) and have pushed several properties forward to media deals.  It’s a publisher that seems to attract smart talent and then provides the support and freedom to create strong work.

Aftershock Comics’ tagline is “The Year of Reading Dangerously.”  That has the sense of urgency and the zing that the entire industry needs.  In fact, I’ve been hearing John Siuntres talk about Aftershock on his excellent Word Balloon podcast (Aftershock is a sponsor).  An interview with creator of Moth & Whisper inspired me to pick up a series I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, in fact.

One of Aftershock’s most recent debuts was Oberon #1.   The king of the fairies, Oberon, may be best known for his role in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, but it turns out the character was a part of mythology long before that.  

This story is about the journey of a smart young girl, Molly, who is introduced to the world of fairies and finds an alternative to her humdrum life.  But all isn’t as it seems, as both Molly and the readers struggle to understand the truth and the reasons behind all the character’s seemingly-sinister motivations.

Writer Ryan Parrott weaves an adventure that has the threads of many tales.  But with his urgent pacing and true-to-the-ear dialog, he never lets the reader feel as if it’s simply a rehash of anything we’ve read before.

The art is compelling and fresh.  Serbian artist Milos Slavkovic employs a breezy, engaging style that propels the story along and is gorgeous to view. He’s not much on inky blacks, but his various line weights delight the eye. He offers a varied visual texture for fans who want to either rush through the adventure or just leisurely linger. It’s all evocative of Michael Kaluta, Walter Simonson and J.H. Williams, with a veneer of Terry and Rachel Dodson to give it all a silky smoothness.

Slakovic also provides innovative panel layouts, without being overwhelming. He also offers a lovely pallet of colors, especially leveraging a lot of purples, and oranges to set Oberon apart from the crowd.

Of note: Aftershock provides several pages of their next series, Stronghold, as a preview so it feels as if there’s a back-up story in this comic.   This marketing tool gives the whole thing a little more substance and value to the reader.

All in all – a compelling first issue. I’m a bit worried about Molly and will keep reading to ensure she’s all right. But I’m not entirely sure she will be.