Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Where's the First Graphic Novels?

Okay, I need help.

I just got outbid on eBay for an old Marvel graphic novel I've been wanting for years now -- Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom: Triumph and Torment. Art by Mike Mignola (you may have heard of him). Story by Roger Stern (this guy -- not so much, which is a real shame, but that's another column). Anyway, if I remember the story right, Dr. Doom blackmails Dr. Strange into helping him on his quest to go into Hell and save his mother's soul from Mephisto, blah blah blah, they battle some really cool looking demons (Mignola, remember?), yadda yadda yadda, and the two learn valuable lessons about each other. The End.

But that's not important right now. No, what's important is the fact that I had to go online to try and buy this fondly remembered comic from my adolescence, because it -- and almost every other Marvel Graphic Novel from its period -- is out of print. Which is another shame, and the point of all this.

You see, the comics cognoscenti can debate all they want about what the first graphic novel was: Will Eisner's A Contract with God? Gil Kane and Archie Goodwin's Blackmark? For me, the words "graphic novel" will always be partly associated with the first comics I ever saw bear that label -- Marvel Comics' oversized, 64-page extravaganzas from the 1980s. We kids thought they were something special. Lookit how big they are! Whoa, they cost like, $5.95!

Looking back, there were probably a lot more misses than hits. (I mean, Super Boxers? For real?) But the hits were good ones, and hold up surprisingly well today. The aforementioned Strange/Doom team-up. The Death of Captain Marvel, which started it all. Spider-Man: Hooky. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. And so on. But most of these stories are long out of print, victims of the mainstream comics industry's unique sense of self-loathing that says, "Hey, this stuff is just disposable entertainment anyway! Who's going to want to read this in five years?" The answer? A lot of us.

Now, comics have left some of that self-loathing behind, and the trade paperback programs of publishers are light years ahead of what they were even 5 or 10 years ago, but there are still some holes to fill. For me, this is one of them. It's an absolute crime that there is work out there by creators like Mike Mignola, Bernie Wrightson, Charles Vess, John Byrne, Bill Sienkewicz, etc. that is mostly unseen. So like I said at the start of this, I need your help. If you want to read these stories, or if you want to read them again, let Marvel know. Their address is in their comics. Address it to Jennifer Grunwald, Collection Editor. Tell her you think the comic that oh, X-Men 2 was based on should be in print. Tell her that you and your grandmother who loved X2 want to read it.

Hell, tell her you want to read Super Boxers. It couldn't hurt.

- Ken Ip



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