Jul 14, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 140: The Illustrated Dore: The Book of Apocrypha, 1991 (Two Weeks From The Dollar Bin - Day 4)

A while back I was reading Thierry Smolderen's The Origins of Comics. It's a really cool history of the comics medium. One of the artists that he touches upon is Gustav Dore. You've probably seen his artwork before. If you're from Canada, I can almost guarantee that the last time you were in a Chapters bookstore and looked at the Bargain Art Books, there was a book featuring illustrations by Dore. This comic is a presentation of his work illustrating events from the Apocrypha. I have a soft spot for the books that were left out of the canon. Call it a comics scholar thing.

The other cool thing about this comic is that it's the first one that I've run across that isn't in the Grand Comics Database. When I was recently looking up the old Marvel Age news magazines, I discovered that they're listed, but only as shells, and that a comic has to have more than 10% comics content to be included in the database (that was my understanding of it. Please don't quote me). So I wonder if that's why this one's not in there.

The comic was published by Caliber, an indie-publisher from the 90s, under their "Tome Press" imprint. Caliber are known for.....actually, I don't really know what they're known for. There's a couple of minor Warren Ellis works that came out in Caliber publications. Bendis did some really dreadful Lovecraft adaptation work for them. I think. What I do know is that I have a number of comics like this one, all reprints of Victorian artwork, or writing, with contemporary art. Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark will come up some time in this project. And the first issue of a Jack London adaptation. It's a weird little corner of the comics world, but I respect the idea that words and pictures have always worked in tandem. It's nice to see the history.

But that brings up the question of what a comic is. For me, Marvel Age might not have had a large comics content, but pre-Wizard Magazine, that's how I stayed in touch with developments in that small part of the industry. Are they comics? Yes, if we consider comics a descriptor for the larger culture that has grown up around graphic narratives. Similarly, though this is illustration and prose, not necessarily comics, the fact that it is a juxtaposition of the two, arranged in a sequence by someone, published in a format and through a market that caters to comics people, makes it a comic.

These, I think, are really the sort of thing you're only going to find in a dollar bin. People don't keep mint condition, bagged versions of these comics, because no one wants them. But, in a way, that's what makes them cool.

But back to Dore. His artwork's super cool. He's thought of as one of the important artists in the development the comics medium. He's worth a look. As for the Apocrypha, I think they're something that superhero scholars need to consider, as our field is littered with apocryphal texts. Every reboot, every character revamp creates apocryphal works. I think it's worth considering what role those texts play in the canonical stories.

Enough of that. See you tomorrow.


Gary Reed said...

Hi, someone sent me a link to your look at The Book of Apocrypha and yeah, it was a little odd corner of the comics market. But the Tome Press line which had about 70 issues of art profiles, adaptations, history, and reference was quite successful in its day. We even had Wal-Mart order 1,000s of various issues which swamped the orders in the comics market.

I get that you don't know what Caliber was known for but just wanted to correct you on a couple of things. Warren Ellis did a Sherlock Holmes adaptation (for Tome Press) and some shorts in an anthology. Bendis did quite a few books with us but the Lovecraft adaptation was NOT from Caliber (I think it was Millenium). Caliber was known for launching titles such as Garth Ennis' Dicks, David Mack's Kabuki, Jim O'Barr's The Crow, plus was the place where creators such as Bendis, Michael Allred, Mike Perkins, Stuart Immomen, and dozens of today's creators got their start or learned their craft. We also published larger names such as Ellis, Moebius, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, John McCrae, and dozens of others.

Just FYI...especially on the Lovecraft book. We did do a lot of Lovecraft but not that one.

Gary Reed, Publisher

Tom Miller said...

Gary, thanks so much for getting in touch. I'll fully admit that I don't have a lot of Caliber stuff, but I think a lot of the company's production was at a moment in my life when I'd given up comics. What I have read has always been boundary pushing, and I hope you don't take my comment as disparaging in any way. Thanks for the correction about the Bendis stuff. I did know it was Millennium, I'm not sure why I assumed it was yours. The Caliber adaptations are far more faithful to the source material as far as I can recall. The one thing I do recall really loving from your company was the Lori Lovecraft stuff. Cheesecake and the occult. How can you go wrong?