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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Black & White Images - A Suspended Animation Review From 2004

“A century ago,” claims author Jim Vadeboncoeur of Black & White Images, “artists were the media superstars.”

This statement from his magnificent collection of black and white drawings is true.

Wait! Isn’t this column limited to comic book and strip reviews?

These drawings influenced the first comic strip and book pencillers and inkers, and that is why Black & White Images is being lauded in Suspended Animation.

Inside his oversized collection are 300 magazine and book illustrations by over 60 amazing artists. The art inside is reprinted from “the golden era of pen and ink illustration: 1889-1922”. Before photographs were easily reproduced and the use of color in print publications was affordable, publishers were hungry for art to satisfy the demand for images, and “stylistic experimentation exploded”.

The human form was their dominant subject, but nature and architecture were important as well, as was an eye for meticulous detail missing from most of today’s print illustrations.

You may not recognize names like Charles Dana Gibson, Edwin Austin Abbey or N.C. Wyeth, but comics professionals like Jim Steranko, Alex Toth, and Neil Gaiman who also laud this collection, know them well. Why?

The reason these influential illustrators were superstars is their art is stunning, and wise cartoonists seek out the best to emulate.

Black & White Images is one of nine issues published to date. Artists and those who love art must own them all. They should not delay; early issues are growing scarce.

If enough back issues are sold, it is likely that a tenth will be published, and no other magazine deserves to continue more than this wonderful title. Buy today.

This marvelous collection and The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Images (its sister magazine featuring color illustrations) garner the highest recommendation.

Black & White Images: Second Annual Collection (Images from the Vadeboncoeur Collection) #2/102 pgs. & $20 from JVJ Publishing/various artists and writers with comments by Jim Vadeboncoeur/sold at book stores,, or comics shops.

Review by Michael Vance

The Beast of Chicago - A Suspended Animation Review From 2004

If you think Rick Geary's amazing "Treasury of Victorian Murder" series must be getting redundant, think again. They are getting serial.

Serial murderer H.H. Holmes lived in the 1800s and killed most of his victims in Chicago. He confessed to killing 27 people; he may have murdered hundreds. During Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893, his bizarre building called the "Castle" may have been a "murder factory". His motivations are as twisted as the maze of narrow hallways, trap doors, and airtight rooms of the Castle. Thought of as America's first serial killer, his life was marked with indifference to his murders.

Leave it to Geary and his sources to once again untangle Holmes' mystery. It is no secret that Geary is methodical and careful in his research, not only of the circumstances surrounding Holmes' crimes, but of the clothing, architecture, and events of his day. In addition, the author reports with crisp captions and dialog but does not sensationalize his subject. He creates a feeling of suspense and gnawing foreboding without profanity, nudity, or gore, proving once again that none of those things are necessary in horror. His subject sensationalizes itself.

It is also well-known that this reviewer is a great admirer of Geary's distinctive art. Using careful detail and feathering (parallel lines that create the illusion of gray tones), his thick-lined style is perfect for recreating the Victorian era. His characters are always distinct from one another, often bearing the little physical and unattractive nuances that make us all human. His internal, visual logic is perfect, and his anatomy believable.

So, here it comes, right? Now the great reviewer reveals what is wrong with Geary, his style, method and The Beast of Chicago.

May I have a drum roll, please?

There is nothing wrong.

The Beast of Chicago is highly recommended.

The Beast of Chicago: The Murderous Career of H. H. Holmes is 62 pages and priced at $15.95 from NBM Comics Lit. It is sold at and comics and book shops.

Review by Michael Vance

Basil Wolverton's Fantastic Fables - A Suspended Animation Review From 2004

One of the reasons I enjoy writing this column is that it allows me to share my excitement of a new discovery. I had long heard the name "Basil Wolverton," but never delved into his work, until a few weeks ago. Now, practically bursting at the thought of hunting down more Wolverton fare, I share my opinion with Suspended Animation readers.

Basil Wolverton, an illustrator from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, is under-appreciated. That is, arguably, a statement of opinion. The statement that some new readers still joyfully discover his work decades later, however, is one of fact. And with good reason; his highly-stylized illustrations range from the bizarre, to the surreal, to the ultra-realistic, and never fail to amaze the fan of comic art at how well his half-century-old work stands up to comic art of today.

This is proven, among other works, in Basil Wolverton's Fantastic Fables, published by Dark Horse Comics in 1993, and collected by the same company in the trade paperback, Basil Wolverton in Space.

Fantastic Fables reprints material from Wolverton's dramatic works, such as "Spacehawk," "Meteor Morgan," "Milt Archer," and "Shock Shannon," as well as humorous strips, "Rocket Rider," and "Jumpin' Jupiter." Also included in issue one is a 13-page spread of Bible-inspired illustrations the artist produced in the late 1950's, and an interview about that work from Graphic Story Magazine, issue 14, circa 1971. Whether "slappy," or stoically serious, Wolverton's work forces the eye to take heed with its depth, intricacy and amazing sense of textures and shades. To those who discovered him before me, I'm envious. To those who haven't...what are you waiting for?!!? Go! Hunt!

Fantastic Fables is recommended for older teen readers and up who enjoy fun science fiction stories, and slapstick humor. Find it at comic shops, online auctions, or conventions. For the comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook.

Basil Wolverton's Fantastic Fables, issues 1 and 2, published by Dark Horse Comics, 32 pages, $2.50.

Review by Mark Allen

Aquaman - A Suspended Animation Review From 2004

I believe it's saying something when a creative team can get you to take a long look at a character who has never intrigued you. As of issue 15, D.C.'s Aquaman has that distinction with me.

A devastating earthquake causes part of San Diego to break off into the ocean. Obviously, many are dead and injured...but, there's something else. Many survivors remain, not only on land, but in the sea, as well. People suddenly able to live and breathe under water? What's up with that? A conundrum, to be sure, but one which D.C.'s resident King of Atlantis sets out to solve, straight away.

What is entertaining about this series, begins with the daring disaster, itself. Pages two and three of issue 15 are pure shock value that I won't give away to potential readers; let's just say it gets things off to an interesting start. Not to mention that it takes nerve to instigate such a major change on our national map, even in comics. Second, said issue sets up a great mystery with the new water breathers, toward it's end. It's done in a very clever, entertaining fashion. My hat is off to writer Will Pfeifer, not just for the concept, but for Aquaman's "dark-for-a-reason" character. No longer a product of the '90's "antihero" craze, the lead character is understandably morose, in the face of real horror. A tearful "Oh, the humanity!" seems more than appropriate.

Artist Patrick Gleason's strength seems to be in expression. With a story that has such potential to elicit strong emotion, he has a fine grasp of the wide-eyed horror, grim-faced determination, pure shock, etc., the tale needs. Any artist who can make the reader feel what the character feels is good for the story. Patrick Gleason is good for Aquaman.

Aquaman is suggested for all but the youngest readers, and for those who like drama, disaster stories, and just a little super hero-type action tossed in.

Aquaman, published by D.C. Comics, 32 pages, $2.50.

Review by Mark Allen