I'm reading Fantagraphics' compilation book Bomb Run, which collects Harvey Kurtzman / John Severin EC war comics stories from the early 1950s (some of which were inked by Bill Elder).
First, a few quibbles. When it comes to reprinted comics, I'm a fan of keeping them as close to the format in which they were originally published as possible. I like it when the entire comic book is republished, with the full cover followed by stories, exactly as it first appeared on the newstands. I like seeing the context of the stories in the larger comic book, and I think the comic book covers were an integral part of the reading experience as intended by the creators. (I also admit I get something of a collector's thrill when I buy one of these and can say that I now own certain coveted, and sequentially numbered comic book issues.)
The other approach is to reprint stories, not comic books. Fantagraphics has taken that approach here, stripping the John Severin-pencilled stories out of issues of the comic books Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat of 1951 - 1953, and collecting them. Further, these stories were originally published in color, and here they are presented in black and white.
Even though Fantagraphics has taken the exact opposite approach from the comic book reprint philosophy I prefer, this is a beautifully crafted book, showcasing some truly amazing stories. Kurtzman's tales will surprise a lot of readers who may think that early 50s war comics would have been simplistic shoot-em-ups. These are complex, touching, psychologically rich stories with moral ambiguity.
And Severin, whose humor work I always found a notch below his stellar contemporaries, absolutely shines here. His careful and methodical drawings are perfect for portraying the planes, tanks and war machinery, but he also depicts the soldiers with clarity and great emotion.
Espcially when they're dying. There is a lot of dying here, and Severin, perhaps with help from Kurtzman's layout-sketches, draws these soldiers, suddenly gunned down or caught in an explosion, with a poignant brilliance. While alive, his figures can seem stiff, but in the throes of death, he draws them in naturalistic, realistic poses that make them come... alive.
Compare the stiff figures of living soldiers above to the dramatic pose of the dying soldier below.
And despite my objection that it was the expectation and intention of the creators that the comics be printed in color, I didn't even mind much that they are published here in black and white, because I do admit it highlights the linework.
In short, while I've got some reservations about the presentation, which I admit is beautifully done, these are some of the best comics I've ever read.
Click here to buy Bomb Run.
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