Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review- ACG COLLECTED WORKS: ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN VOL. 1

ACG COLLECTED WORKS: ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN VOL. 1 (PS Artbooks, 2011; Hardcover)
Collects Adventures Into The Unknown Nos. 1-5 (cover dates Fall, 1948- June/July, 1949)
Writers: Unknown.
Artists: Edvard Moritz, Fred Guardineer, Max Elkan, Al Ulmer, King Ward, Ed Good, Paul Reinman, John Blummer, Leonard Starr, Charlie Sultan, Pete Riss, and John Celardo.
I and many others have said this repeatedly over the years but it bears repeating: we are truly living in the Golden Age of collected editions. These are the good old days. This title is historically significant because it was the first Horror anthology, pre-dating even EC's legendary titles by years. ACG stands for American Comic Group, a company that sort of spun out of other companies from the '30s. They lasted until 1967, when they switched to doing commercial comic supplements into the 1980s.
As is the case with all Golden Age comics, these are dated by modern standards and require the reader to take into context the era in which they were originally published. If you expect 2013 “sophistication” then you will be disappointed. If you, like me, are a lover of all comics from all eras then you will find yourself drooling over these obscure, expensive old comics. Just getting an opportunity to pore over these treasures is a joy.

I love the rawness of the writing and especially the artwork of old comic books. No photoshop back then! Art supplies were expensive and these guys had to be fast and good in order to make the meager, near-poverty level living that they did back then. I must give a shout out to the work of Edvard Moritz, a lost great if ever there was one. Great craftsmanship and storytelling ability, he is one of the countless old school artists whose names are lost to the mists of time. If these collections serve any purpose, it is to help modern comic fans remember the contributions of these pioneers. While, say, Mike Deodato might not claim Moritz as an influence, those who influenced him (or those who influenced the artists that influenced them) undoubtedly were impacted by the work of these cats. In short, it's important for fans to know about this stuff.
Storywise, these are all charming and loveable, with topics ranging from things that go bump in the night to ghosts, haunted castles, pirate ghosts (or is it ghost pirates?), mirrors, paintings, haunted houses, haunted ships, vampires, so on and so forth. There is zero gore in these comics, although it is not uncommon for murders to occur. 
Issue 1's The Living Ghost has a set of characters which were obviously intended to be an ongoing feature. The silly nonsense continues in Issue 2 with Out of the Unknown, where the faux Horror/ occult overtones continue as Tony once again consult Dr. Vandyke at the Institute for Psychic Research. The Living Ghost has captured Gail, but Dr. Vandyke once again has an answer: conjuring the Dark Phantom, the hated enemy of the Living Ghost. Gail and Tony pull a double cross and the Phantom beats the Ghost...only the Phantom's spell which captured the Ghost fails when he lives the mortal world. There was a blurb at the bottom of the last panel which stated that it would continue with issue 3, but like many old comics, things came to an abrupt halt and we are left hanging. Was this storyline continued in future issues? It wasn't continued as of the end of issue 5.
Issue 2's Kill, Puppets, Kill! is one of those stories that has been told and ripped off so many times that you feel like you've read it a dozen times before. Someone should do some research and find out where this whole killer puppet thing started. We get treated to some early Al Feldstein artwork in Issue 3's The Creekmore Curse. His craft was already fully developed, with Feldstein creating a proper creepy mood with his finely detailed artwork. 
Issue 4's The Affair of Room 1313 blazes a trail that The Twilight Zone would follow a decade later. Issue 5's The Ghostly Crew features amazing artwork by Jon Blummer, whose work resembles ol' Ghastly Graham Ingels of EC Comics fame. A search reveals that he did a ton of comic work in this era, mostly for DC. His claim to fame is creating the mostly forgotten Golden Age hero the Fighting Yank. Readers of Dynamite's Project Superpowers will recognize that character.
I have the first four volumes of this line, and 5 should be out shortly while 6 is slated for an early 2014 release. PS pumps these books out, which is good and bad. Good because we will all live to see the completion of all 21 volumes. Bad because we have to pay for them. Oh well, it's like I always say: who needs food when we can have comic books?
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.75 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Dark Horse has since released their own line of Adventures Into The Unknown Archives. The difference between their version and the PS Artbooks line is that Dark Horse offers full blown restoration, whereas PS uses scans. PS has an extra issue (and higher page count) than the Dark Horse book as well as all of the original ads. I am sure that the Dark Horse one is nice too, but I had the PS one first and am perfectly happy with it. So which way is the right way to go? That is up to you. I am just throwing the information out there. I am all about the consumer/fan having access to as much information as possible, which is part of this blog's “mission”, if it has such a thing.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: No extras unless you count all of the ads and letter pages. There are a few short introductions which give some valuable background information on the title.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 4 out of 5. These are high resolution scans, a warts and all approach. You get to see these comics as they were originally printed, dots, line bleed, and off registration color in all of it's glory. One or two of the scans seem fuzzy, and few of them are a tad murkier than the others. There is little done to correct the yellowing of the source material. Having said that, I am perfectly fine with the way that the material is presented in this book, and I tend to skew uber-anal retentive. Your mileage may vary.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Beautiful thick uncoated stock paper with zero glare under any light. Believe me, I have tried reading it under the following light sources: natural sunlight, incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs, halogen bulbs, and even LED. Yes, I use all of the above sources in my house for such experiments.
This book smells fantastic, the result of glorious, toxic Chinese ink printed on virgin Amazon rainforest trees. The unique smell is a mixture of lead paint chips, asbestos from broken and crumbling tiles, mercury from recalled thermometers, and the final magical ingredient: the blood, sweat, and tears of the Chinese children working the sweatshop printing presses!
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. PS makes OCD friendly and OCD approved books, so it should come as little surprise that this book has sewn binding and a casing not glued square to the spine, allowing the book to lay completely flat from the first page to the last as Godzilla intended.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. PS does not use dustjackets on their books. The image is screen printed on the hardback itself with a glossy coating. The blue portion of the cover has a dull matte finish and is resistant to scuffing with reasonable handling. If you throw your books around like the Samsonite gorilla then you might be able to do some damage.



3 comments:

  1. I don't think comic book artists were living "near poverty level." A lot of these guys were actually supporting a family off their wages. It wasn't lucrative, but most jobs aren't. Comic book artists probably slotted in at lower middle class on the economics scale.

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    1. Interesting. I was always under the impression that these guys got the shaft until the '80s.

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  2. From 1952 'til 1955 I was an avid reader and collector of the 3 big ACG titles: Adventures into the Unknown, Forbidden Worlds and Out of the Night. When learning of the PS reprints, I began to acquire them. (I have all 5 AitU volumes and eagerly await #6 due at the start of 2014, LOL) Applauding the quality of PS production .... as an old codger who well remembers the appearance of comic books 60 years ago, I'm very pleased with the level of the scanning resolution ... it makes one feel like he's fallen into a treasure stack of comic reprints. Hard to believe these comics terrorized parents into believing they'd destroy their children's mental development when they first appeared. (A pal who lived up the street had a collection of EC comics which provided me with many nightmarish shivers after secretly visiting the Crypt Keeper and her two cohorts who were forbidden in my household! ROF) The PS reprints are super cool and all horror comics lovers should add them immediately to their library as they become available. JMHO

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