CREEPING DEATH FROM NEPTUNE: THE LIFE AND COMICS OF BASIL WOLVERTON VOL. 1 Hardcover – Dec 30 2014
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What at first was going to be a relatively quick job, akin to FOUR COLOR FEAR - a collection of complete stories, with minimal but edifying notes - morphed into the DEFINITIVE book on Wolverton. As work progressed, Sadowski was given access by the artist's estate to over 30 years of BW's diaries and correspondence, and he also began discovering the impressive amount of unpublished art in the hands of the world’s foremost Wolverton collectors. The time spent on this first volume stretched to over two years, due to Greg's gathering of research, writing the biography and hunting down whatever unpublished art he could find. With much of the legwork now behind him, Greg tells me volume two should arrive in about a year’s time.
The reader will still get all of the SF and horror stories as originally planned, but now in two volumes with a full biography, plus abundant examples of the artist’s complete oeuvre. Volume one displays virtually every known piece of early serious art BW created, from illos for unsold pulp SF features, to early syndicated strip attempts, to preliminary pencil roughs, to wonderful unpublished Golden Age comic book covers. Much has never been presented before, with much of it shot from the original art, and it is great to have it all in one place. Aside from the voluminous art, the reader is told the peculiar story of this unconventional American master, and in this first volume is given a behind-the-scenes look into early years of the nascent comic book industry, thanks to never-before-seen correspondence from some of its original editors and publishers, such as Monte Bourjaily, Lloyd Jacquet, and Joe Simon.
There are 18 pages of early SF strips, 11 pages of Steve Grover, 12 of Spacehawks (plural- not SPACEHAWK), 8 of Milt Archer & Vultures of the Void, 12 of the Meteors Morgan & Murphy, 40 pages of Space Patrol, 16 pages of Rockman, and 19 of Meteor Martin. (Wolverton hit his stride quickly - most of these are a match for his greatest SPACEHAWK stuff, and some are even BETTER.) That's almost 140 pages of comic book stories. On top of that you get the best of Wolverton's humorous comics (much of which contain elements of horror & SF), including a fascinating 1937 Mickey Mouse tryout strip for the Disney studio, and a nearly complete run of his 1927-28 unsold daily strip, WOOZY WOOFER. With the arrival of POWERHOUSE PEPPER in volume two, it will become obvious what a major influence BW’s humorous work had on Robert Crumb and the underground artists.
The stories reprinted from comic books have been labored over for color-correction and to fix any printing problems. They are the most beautiful versions of these stories imaginable. The printing throughout is superb. While the easier task would have been to release a collection of reprints with minimal text, what Sadowski HAS delivered is the first volume of the most comprehensive and authoritative book on one of the medium's most unique artists. If people are still reading books 100 years from now, this is the one they will read on Basil Wolverton
The biography is blended with tons of accompanying artwork on every page...and the artwork is carefully captioned to help understand Wolverton's development in context of the times. There are also big sections devoted to super-rare comics that I've never seen before. This book truly shows the development of a unique cartoon genius!
Some of the comics that are included give a revealing glimpse into Wolverton's creative process, his development and his artistic response to constructive feedback. We are able to see early comic strips that were rejected, along with the very detailed rejection letters that were filled with sage advice from various editors. We also get to see the same stories as redrawn in response to the critiques. I've never seen anything like this in any book, and since Wolverton is such a huge inspiration for me, "Creeping Death from Neptune" is a delightful treat.
As much a biography as an art collection, "Creeping Death..." is an exhaustive history on Basil Wolverton's early career. This volume is an excellent companion to Spacehawk - there are only two pages of Spacehawk included here and the sole Target Comics cover done by Wolverton. There are several precursor series in "Creeping Death..." to Spacehawk, including a strip entitled Spacehawks, Space Patrol, Meteor Martin and Meteor Murphy. It's interesting to see the trial-and-error in hi story development over this time and read about the numerous conflicting editorial critiques and guidance, depending on the editor that was reviewing his material. Target Comics wanted the grotesque creatures and outer space settings reigned in for earthbound villains and storylines, while Timely (Marvel) wanted him to push his imagination, both with the settings and the panel layouts. Earlier editors had asked him to use more traditional panel layouts when he tried to experiment.
My takeaway from his early history was his perseverance amidst this mixed opinions and calamitous early industry. Basil was helped tremendously by his wife, who had steady employment while he struggled to find the right story combination to the right publisher.
Basil's bizarre creatures are on display in several episodes of Space Patrol. Humor strips like Dr. Dimwit and Disk-Eyes are also included in this volume, but the Sci-Fi series far outnumber. Seeing the common elements between the various strips and the minor tweaks he made as his skill continued to evolve was really unique and interesting. I was also amazed at some of the science facts as well as the fiction he described in such early work. He referenced atom bombs in stories published six years before the development of the first atom bomb. He talked about air pressure and the lack of oxygen in the stratosphere. Awesome inventions are described such as anti-gravity belts and atomic needle guns, which cause organic lifeforms to explode from the inside, robot pilots and electroscopes (or telectroscopes, depending on the story).
I think the most surprising element to me in reading both these art books is the vibrant colors used in these stories, after seeing so much Wolverton art in black and white. Speaking of, several caricatures are included in this volume as well.
The comic stories and the biography were well-written and enjoyable to read. Any Wolverton fan should read this volume. Hopefully a second volume is on the way.
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