BEST CRIME COMICS
A Review By: Eddie Campbell
Eddie Campbell is the writer/artist of the Bacchus and Alec stories, and co-creator (with Alan Moore) of From Hell. His most recent book The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard has just been released by First Second Books. The follow review appeared on the Eddie Campbell Blog on August 20, 2008.
Time to have a look at the books I brought home with me from my travels. The first event out of San Diego was that I had to take them all out of my case, as it was overweight, and make them my hand luggage. All twenty lbs of them.
First up, The Mammoth Book Of Best Crime Comics, edited by my dear old pal Paul Gravett, so you’ll get no unprejudiced view from me. In fact I just found, and am stealing, this handsome photo of the wee chap.
Best Crime Comics: I don’t enjoy having comics broken up into genres like this, though if I was in Paul’s shoes I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to get a gig contributing to the ‘mammoth book series.’ I would say that comic books as a subject in itself is the genre, and anything else is a subdivision of that. In the world of popular fiction it makes more sense to categorise things by genre, where you have writers devoting entire careers to one idiom, whether it’s fantasy or crime or science fiction etc. and you can trace clear lines through time. There isn’t as much mixing it up in that domain as there is in our comic book world.
The most notable things: the book is in black and white and Paul had access to some crisp black and white British reprints of a lot of American stuff, for instance the 30 page cockeyed 87th Precinct story that Krigstein illustrated in 1962.
There’s a 120 day run of Secret Agent X-9 from near the beginning in 1934 when Hammett was still writing it. One appeal of this selection is to show what action strip cartoons looked like before cinematic style was introduced. Everything is staged at medium distance. It’s good tough stuff, though lacking the invention of Hammett’s best short stories.
While the book overall is of the type that I usually feel tempted to cut up and rearrange according to my own principles, one other thing I found exciting. A sixteen week run of Mike Hammer Sunday pages from 1953/54. The page for Jan 31 has piqued my curiosity. In his introductory note Paul tells us that the bound and gagged girl in the negligee, being tortured with cigarettes to the feet, attracted moral indignation that led to the title’s cancellation. The page he reproduces is different from the version of the same page that appeared in The Comic Century (KSP 1995). I show the upper halves of both (The lower parts are identical). In Paul’s version, the black and white, the panel seen in the colour version has been replaced by an enlargement of the final panel of the previous week’s instalment and the torture is hidden behind the title box. I would tend to think that an individual newspaper had taken the liberty of making the change except that panel 4 in the altered version (the b&W) doesn’t appear at all in the other. Could the syndicate have asked the artist to supply two different versions of the page? Can anybody shed light on the matter?
Paul tells us that a diappointed artist, Ed Robbins, quit the comic strip business. His Hammer boldly anticipates the graphic style and permissiveness of the hard-edged British strips of the sixties, of Holdaway on Modesy Blaise and Horak on James Bond.