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Comic Book Artist, vol.2, #1

For anyone who was a fan of volume one of the magazine Comic Book Artist, the news that the magazine was moving from TwoMorrows Publishing to Top Shelf Productions was mixed.

On one hand, the series was leaving a publisher created to preserve comics fandom and history. On the other hand the magazine was moving to a publisher that was intensely devoted to quality production and thoughtful content. Based on the first issue from Top Shelf, the results are varied but very promising.

One of the most controversial aspects of volume one was the "carpet bombing" way editor Jon Cooke approached history. The magazine devoted whole issues to publishers such as Warren Magazines, Tower Comics, and, most notoriously, two issues to Charlton Comics. Many readers hated these issues and it's easy to see why. If you're not already interested in Charlton Comics, how much interest would the average reader have for a long interview with Pete Morisi or Joe Staton?

I think I represented the minority in this case. I loved the long interviews and the carpet-bombing approach. The exhaustive interviews enabled readers to really understand a subject thoroughly and get a full view of the topic. For instance, the issue devoted to Warren Magazines, through exhaustive interviews, helped me to understand that company much more deeply than I did before.

There were other sorts of issues in the run as well, less comprehensive issues devoted to long interviews with the likes of Adam Hughes, John Romita Jr. and Sr., and Alex Ross. Apparently those issues sold much better than the historical issues.

The new CBA is kind of a blend of the old with the new. There are return interviews with Alex Ross and Neal Adams, along with a shorter section looking at the Cascade underground magazine and a gorgeous color section. That represents the old. For the new, we get a short interview with artist Michael Lark, a chat with Michael Moorcock, an excerpt from the new book about Stan Lee, and a discussion with Peter Bagge about the now-cancelled comic Sweatshop. It's clearly a transitional issue - editor Cooke promises more unique content in the future - but still has much of interest.

The most unique features in the issue, and one I hope Cooke will emphasize in the future, are two articles about comics that never saw the light of day. In the "Khoury's Corner" column, writer George Khoury explores Batman/Gen 13, a comic that never saw release. Those sorts of peeks into alternate comics history are always fascinating.

Even more interesting is an article called "Backstory" in which Barry Windsor-Smith essentially accuses Marvel of plagiarizing a Hulk story he wrote and drew for the company in the mid-1980s. Cooke does an outstanding job of not taking sides between Smith, Jim Shooter and the other parties involved in the controversy. Without surveillance systems we can never absolutely know what the truth about this controversy but can make educated guesses from the evidence nevertheless. Instead, through interviews, Cooke is able to present a vivid picture that nevertheless allows the reader to make up his or her mind.

One other aspect of volume two has to be mentioned: in moving to Top Shelf, a publishing house that is well-known for its very high production values, Cooke has dramatically upgraded his presentation. The new CBA reminds me of an issue of Wired with its thick cardstock cover and gorgeous color work. Even the black-and-white pages are printed on a thicker paper stock that frames the artwork much more attractively than was the case in the TwoMorrows issues.

In the Batman/Gen 13 and Windsor-Smith articles lay the germs of what I think will make CBA vol. 2 into a special magazine. Volume one successfully played to readers' love of trivia and comics history. Now that that vein has been mined pretty thoroughly, it will be fun to see the new direction that Cooke takes his magazine.

For more articles by Jason Sacks, check out his personal web site.

Jason Sacks

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