Monday, March 23, 2009
Baxter Building Your Collection -- Tom Spurgeon has posted a terrific piece on alternatives to buying current serialized comic books. A couple of thoughts.
My first thought reading the piece was that when Frank Santoro recommends reading old issues of Marvel/Epic's Coyote, I suspect he is thinking of the sublimely illustrated first batch of issues drawn by Steve Leialoha. Then I started thinking about buying that series, which was on printed on something then referred to as "Baxter Paper," which got me to thinking about Tom's reference to old comics as a "tidal wave of decaying paper," which is not a characterization I'd argue with -- the deterioration of old comics is one reason I generally eschew buying them -- but that brings me back to Baxter Paper.
If you weren't there in the 1980s you probably don't remember what a big deal this particular paper stock was -- but it's become significant to me in recent years specifically because it doesn't seem to be decaying like regular newsprint comics of the same vintage.
I recently snapped up DC's six-issue New Gods special edition reprints for less than cover price. Sure, the hardcover Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus editions are great (if pricey, at 50 bucks a pop for four volumes), but I've been wanting a nice reprint of just the New Gods stories by themselves, and the Baxter Paper reprints fit the bill. Even after 25 years or so, the paper remains white and sturdy, the colours vibrant and bold, and far more pleasurable to me to read and experience than either the hardcovers or the original, decaying comics.
Both Marvel and DC published a lot of Baxter Paper projects -- Thriller, mentioned by Tom in the piece linked above, was another one (and well worth seeking out) -- and if, like me, you hate spending lots of money on flimsy old newsprint comics slowly turning into smelly cornflakes, then the Baxter Paper comics of the 1980s are a great place to look for some great reading. Here are seven titles you should be able to find cheap:
* Doctor Strange Classics -- Four double-sized issues collecting Lee and Ditko Dr. Strange stories.
* Thriller -- Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden's weird, wild adventure comic. Thrills somewhere between Lost and Twin Peaks.
* Captain America Special Edition -- I think there were three issues of this, vibrantly reprinting Jim Steranko's hyper-masculine, psychedelic Cap stories.
* Conan Special Edition: Red Nails -- Lacking the undesirable "remastering" of Dark Horse's recent Conan Marvel-era reprints, this double-sized one-shot has wall-to-wall gorgeous Barry Windsor-Smith art on probably the most acclaimed story of the Thomas/BWS Conan run.
* Deadman -- Seven issues collecting the gorgeous, mostly Neal Adams-drawn stories of ghostly circus performer Boston Brand and his afterlife adventures.
* Warlock Special Edition -- I forget if there were five or six of these, but they gathered together all the Jim Starlin Warlock stories, with their weird ideas and the stunning, guest-star-spangled two-part conclusion that originally crossed over between double-sized annuals of Marvel Two-in-One and Marvel Team-Up.
* The Elektra Saga -- Four issues resequencing Miller and Janson's most notable Daredevil storyline from its very beginning to its then-definitive end.
In keeping with the spirit of what Tom is talking about in his piece, these should all be available for not much more than cover price. I don't know why these and the other Baxter Paper books aren't more sought-after (and I'm not trying to start a run on the bank, believe me -- I want them for my collection much more than I want them for yours!), but given the quality of many of the titles, the way the paper they're printed on has held up over the years, how many of them were printed and how they're largely available dirt-cheap (I guess those last two points might be connected), I felt like it would be wrong not to point out to you how many great comics are out there not decaying and waiting to be rediscovered. If, like me, you lack the Collector Gene and just want to read the stories with good reproduction and without spending a fortune, with the Baxter Paper books, if you know what you're looking for, you can't go wrong.
The challenge lies in that phrase, "if you know what you're looking for." None of the Baxter Paper titles had the phrase "Baxter Paper" in the actual name of the book, but look for reprints from Marvel and DC circa 1984-1987, frequently slugged "Special Edition," almost always double-sized, and make sure you get a look at the insides to see if the paper is still white and the colours still vibrant and bold.
Just in the past year I've been seeking these books out, and reimmersing myself in the Conan: Red Nails and Kirby New Gods books -- for less than two bucks per issue -- has provided some of the most visceral comics-reading thrills I've had in a long time. Mister Baxter, whoever you were, I thank you.
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