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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Squa Tront #12 -- I first encountered John Benson's Squa Tront in the 1980s, most likely in the pages of Bud Plant's paradigm-shifting catalog of comics, graphic novels and artbooks. What's amazing to me all these years later is that, as much as has changed in the past 20 or 25 years in the industry and artform of comics, Squa Tront hasn't changed at all. It's focused solely on cataloging as much of the history of EC Comics as possible, and is one of the most valuable comics-related magazines ever produced.

This issue is mostly interviews, generously illustrated as always. Artist Jack Kamen reminisces about his EC days and we learn that he did quite well for himself in advertising art and investing after he left comics (his son Dean is noteworthy for creating the Segway personal transport device, although this interview doesn't mention that, having been conducted some years back). Kamen tells an amusing anecdote of EC publisher Bill Gaines accusing Kamen's monsters of all looking like fish, and despite a page of panels designed to prove otherwise, you know, a lot of them do look like fish.

Possibly the highlight of the issue is a decades-old interview with Harvey Kurtzman, who pulls few punches in talking about his frustrations while at EC; he especially despised Lyle Stuart, and lo and behold, we also find an interview with Stuart in which we find the feeling was mutual. Given Kurtzman's description of Stuart's belligerent manner while a guest in Kurtzman's home, I'll side with Kurtzman here. Especially since Stuart, in his interview, also fails to recognize the genius of Bernard Krigstein, and makes it clear that he felt the best comics were the ones prepared for the least amount of money. So Stuart comes off as a bit of a jerk and with zero capacity for art in his soul, but as is usual for Squa Tront, his interview is still required reading for anyone interested in EC.

This issue has two spectacular covers -- a horror-themed painting on the front by Johnny Craig, and perhaps best of all, a Kurtzman-illustrated portrait of the entire EC bullpen, hats in hand and looking quite contrite. A lengthy article inside explains the whys and hows this piece was deemed necessary to create, yet another amazing piece of previously-unknown EC history.

Production values on Squa Tront are unquestionably gorgeous, thanks to editor John Benson and designer Greg Sadowski (author/designer of two fantastic books on the afore-mentioned Krigstein). For a mere $9.95, Squa Tront provides hours of fascinating reading about one of the most unique and interesting comics publishing houses in the history of the artform. Along with The Comics Journal and Comic Art, it has to be said that Squa Tront is a treasure trove of information and entertainment for people who love to read about comics as much as they love to read them.



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