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Remember CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED? They were comic book adaptations of great works of literature. Ideal for doing book reports without reading the book; shorter than Cliff Notes and with pretty pictures to boot. Despite good art, most CLASSICS were comics kids read more out of necessity than desire: but there were a few you would read for fun. The gory ones, the ones that adapted Frankenstein and other spine-chilling tales. You know, the good stuff. ROSEBUD GRAPHIC CLASSICS is a CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED for the modern era: they only give you the good stuff.
ROSEBUD GRAPHIC CLASSICS is the umbrella title for a series of trade paperbacks, each of which will present illustrated adaptations of the works of a great author. Here's the kicker: at least so far, the subjects have all been horror, sci-fi and mystery writers. Future issues will focus on H.G. Wells and H. P. Lovecraft. The publisher, Eureka Productions, also produces ROSEBUD, a magazine of fiction, poetry and illustration (rsbd.net).
I'll be honest with you: despite being a comics geek, I knew nothing about these books until the publisher, Tom Pomplun, sent me review copies. They've received little, if any, coverage in the comics press, which is a shame, because these are some well put together books. The prices are quite reasonable ($7.95 for the 136-page Poe volume, $9.95 for the 144-page Doyle volume), and the art is by accomplished illustrators like Gahan Wilson, Spain Rodriguez, Maxon Crumb (Robert's brother), and Nestor Redondo. (HOLY SHIT! I'm there, dude! I'm there! -feo) Some of the work is original to these volumes, whereas some has appeared before, but usually in overseas or underground publications, so it's not likely readers will have seen it.
VOLUME ONE: EDGAR ALLAN POE contains an introduction by horror writer Joe R. Landsdale and thirteen (how appropriate) stories, ranging from the well-known (The Tell-Tale Heart) to the less famous (Hop Frog). Not all are comic book stories; some reprint Poe's prose tales with illustrations accompanying them. I have to confess I was a bit disappointed by what I felt were too many "prose stories with illustrations" as opposed to straight comic book adaptations: call me doctrinaire, but I can get the stories themselves in any Poe collection: I want a book like this to be chock full of art!
But if I'm sounding like I didn't like this book, that's not the case; I liked it quite a bit. Gahan Wilson's art accompanying "The Conqueror Worm" just oozes classic Wilson, and Rick Geary's work on The Tell-Tale Heart has a nice trippy quality that mirrors the madness of the main character. Since Poe is a familiar subject to me, my favorite moments in this collection came when I encountered something I didn't expect. For the poem Annabel Lee, a typically depressing account of Poe's favorite subject - a lover lost to the icy touch of death - illustrator Toni Pawlowsky chooses to focus on the kingdom of the sea refrain and re-imagines the title character as a mermaid reclining happily in an underwater realm.
Also included is Clive Barker's prose sequel to Poe's seminal detective yarn "Murders In The Rue Morgue", entitled "New Murders In The Rue Morgue". This is the only piece I'd read before, in Barker's THE BOOKS OF BLOOD, back in the mid-80's, when I was a big-hair-havin', Iron Maiden t-shirt-wearin', bad-teenage-mustache sportin' -ass kid seduced by Stephen King's proclamation that "I have seen the future of horror: and his name is Clive Barker!" (Steve was right, too.) It's been a good fifteen years since I last saw it, and if it's been as long for you, you'll enjoy the trip down memory lane, as well as the evocative, new illustrations by Mark A. Nelson that accompany it.
As competently rendered as the stories in here are, I couldn't help but compare them to the spectacular work done in CREEPY and EERIE by the likes of Bernie Wrightson, Richard Corben, and Reed Crandall. These men are icons of the art world, and it's hard to compete with them. So, while I enjoyed this book, I couldn't help thinking that I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't seen it done better before. A promising start to the series, but one that leaves room for improvement.
I'm pleased to report that the problems I had with Volume One were gone by VOLUME TWO: ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE. This book is nearly all comics, and has a greater proportion of non-reprint stories than the first one. Editor Tom Pomplun has wisely chosen not to focus entirely on Doyle's most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. There are three Holmes tales ("The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" by Rick Geary, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" by the late Nestor Redondo, and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" by Tim Quinn and George Sears); enough to please fans of the great detective, but not so many as to go overboard. Donald Marquez, whose FANTASTIC STORIES comic I reviewed not long ago, provides an adaptation of the novel "The Lost World", featuring Doyle's other recurring character, Professor Challenger, in an Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque tale of hidden realms and dinosaurs.
There's an interesting reproduction of a preface written by Doyle for his 1922 book "The Coming Of The Fairies," which described the real-life case of the Cottingley Fairy Photographs, in which two young girls claimed to have photographed real forest sprites at play. Doyle, who spent the latter part of his life as a devotee of Spiritualism, believed in the photos' authenticity: a striking contrast to the skepticism of his literary creations, Holmes and Challenger; and died trusting that they were real (the girls confessed it was a hoax in 1983). All in all, a highly enjoyable package that shows that Doyle's work still holds up today, and reveals where a lot of the mystery genre's archetypes originated.
The one problem I had with this second volume is that two of the stories, "The Lost World" and "The Hound Of The Baskervilles", previously appeared elsewhere in longer form, and have been abridged for inclusion here. In both cases, while you can still follow the stories, they feel choppy and do not flow as well as they should. I realize it's tough to condense what were originally quite lengthy tales, but I would have left out the Hound story (which everyone knows anyway) and reprinted The Lost World in full. Or better yet, increased the page count: you could add a couple bucks to the cover price and still stay competitive with most other TPBs on the market.
The overall quality of this series and the improvement from one issue to the next are remarkable, considering that this is Tom Pomplun's first foray into comics publishing (though he has worked extensively with illustrators in his magazine work). Volume 3, due out in July, covers H.G. Wells, with art by the likes of Alex Nino (doing "The Invisible Man") and Skip Williamson.
Volume 4, slated for November, spotlights the Rhode Island Madman, H. P. Lovecraft, and promises work from Richard Corben, Rick Geary, and Tom Sutton, with an introduction by Gahan Wilson. If future editions continue along the path begun by the first two volumes, they'll be well worth seeking out.
ROSEBUD GRAPHIC CLASSICS is a great idea, executed in a professional, attractive package. I wish the publishers great success, and wait with bated breath for the Lovecraft volume! What I've seen so far rates three rabid fanboys, and I have every expectation that the level of quality will continue to rise.
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