Friday, January 31, 2014

Morning Wood


Came the Dawn and Other Stories (The Fantagraphics EC Comics Library): written by Al Feldstein, Gardner Fox, and others; illustrated by Wally Wood and Harry Harrison (1951-53; 2012): These recent Fantagraphics volumes of legendary EC Comics material arranged by writer, editor, and/or artist are absolutely splendid. The black-and-white reproduction is crisp, allowing the details of the artwork to stand out. And detail is one of the keys to the greatness of that tragic giant Wally Wood.

This volume presents Wood's horror and suspense work for EC Comics, the 1950's American comic-book publisher that towered above all others in terms of the quality of its writing and art. Over the course of about three years represented in this volume, Wood rapidly becomes the detailed, evocative artist he would remain for the rest of his career. It's a stunningly fast development of an artist.

Despite the appearance of a few werewolves and ghosts early on, the volume mostly focuses on Wood at his most realistic. The lion's share of the stories come from EC's Shock Suspens-Stories title, which offered thrillers and pointed social critiques which often resembled the Warner Brother agit-prop movies of the 1930's. And while Wood was a gifted science-fiction and superhero artist, he really shines in rendering the (relatively) ordinary in all its detailed, shadowy, and often big-bosomed glory. No one drew women like Wood.

Many of the stories here are what the writers and artists and editors of EC themselves referred to as "preachies", stories meant to teach a point. The handful of anti-racism stories still pack one hell of a wallop because of both the writing and Wood's exquisite artwork, capable of both beauty and brutality in the same panel. The editors are correct in noting that EC did stories that television and movies wouldn't tell, at least in such graphic and wrenching detail.

In all, this volume is a wonder, as was Wood when he was operating at full capacity. This is marvelous stuff, and a revelation to anyone who believes that all American comic books ever did or can ever do is superheroes. Highly recommended.

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