How The Artist’s Editions Won Comics – Wondercon

bone artist's editionPeter S. Svensson reports for Bleeding Cool.

Scott Dunbier is one of the best editors in comics. IDW is blessed with great editors, but Scott is probably the best of them all. He pioneered the Artist Edition, which prints the original art of a comic by esteemed creators, starting with Dave Stephen’s Rocketeer, continuing with Walt Simonson’s Thor and more to this date. These are gorgeous oversized hardcovers which show off the artwork as it was made for publication, warts and all.

Dunbier began the panel by going over recent and upcoming releases. The Best of EC Volume One will be coming out this year, with a cover by Frank Frazetta which has been called the best comics cover ever. I thought it was pretty dandy myself. It will be featuring the original art to stories by Harvey Kurtzman, Bernie Krigstein, Al Williamson, Alex Toth, Johnny Craig and the groundbreaking Judgment Day by Joe Orlando. Due to the sheer wealth of quality comics by EC that they were able to find the original artwork for, a second volume will be coming out next year with even more classic EC comic art.

Also coming soon:

The Spirit by Will Eisner Artist Edition.

A Jack Davis artist edition, with stories like Foul Play, Betsy and Stumped featured.

From the page of EC’s Ghastly, Graham Ingels Artist Edition. He was one of the greatest inspirations to Bernie Wrightson.

And then we get to the bittersweet news about Joe Kubert’s Tarzan. If you aren’t already familiar with it, Kubert’s Tarzan is pretty much definitive. It was a fantastic book, and perhaps the best match of creator to licensed character ever. This book had been in the works since last year, arising from discussions with Joe Kubert, and finally got approval from the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate. Dunbier related Kubert’s reaction to hearing that a book reprinting his original artwork from that series was greenlit “Joe sounded like a smile. Complete happiness.” This was apparently one of, if not the favorite comic that Joe Kubert worked on. He had been involved with the project from the beginning. At one point they needed to clean up a cover for use, which involved covering up the DC logo and stats that had been in the upper left corner. A design guy at IDW took a stab at it, and the results were shown to Kubert. He then said “Give me 15 minutes.” and then redrew that section of the background himself to be a seamless patch for the missing section.

As had been done in the past with other Artist Editions, there were going to be several copies of the book with blank covers that the artist would illustrate individually. But tragically, we lost Joe Kubert. So instead, the 26 blank cover volumes will now be illustrated by a who’s who of comic greats, donating their work, while IDW and the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate waive their share of the money so that 100% of the profit made by auctioning off these editions will go to the Joe Kubert Scholarship fund to send deserving creators to the school Kubert founded.

Mike Mignola. Jim Lee. Alex Ross, painting over a Kubert piece. Jeff Smith. Lee Bermejo. Kevin Nowlen. Art Adams. Mark Schultz. Andy Kubert. Adam Kubert. These should be available around San Diego Comic Con, and will be highly desirable collector’s editions.

Also in the works from IDW is an Artists Edition of Joe Kubert’s Tor. A character dear to Kubert, who he created in the 50s, the series kept being revived over the years by him.

As well, we’ll be seeing a John Byrne’s Fantastic Four Artists edition, reprinting 6 and a half issues of his seminal work on the FF. (The half represents a short story done by Byrne.)

At this point, Scott Dunbier trod water as he waited for his surprise special guest to arrive. Trivia questions were asked, with giveaway promos of proofs and prints from upcoming Artists Editions given out to people who could answer questions like “Who was Neal Adam’s greatest comic strip inspiration?” (Stan Drake) or “Which EC artist was colored by his sister?” (John Severin, colored by Marie.)

Jeff Smith finally arrived, the audience gasping as they realized what this must entail. (I jokingly cried out RASL ARTISTS EDITION!? And got a snarky response from Smith. I’m a dork.) Yes, a Bone Artists Edition reprinting the Great Cow Race and other stories will be forthcoming. Indeed “The Great Cow Race And Other Stories” will probably be the subtitle to the volume. The biggest question raised was whether or not this would be the first of many volumes reprinting Bone, and while Smith was skeptical about whether or not there would be interest in it, Dunbier did not seem adverse to the concept.

Smith pointed out that these Artists Editions are fantastic because they let you see the original art, how the comic is made, and even the work in progress and corrected mistakes on the pages. Also, that you can expect to see many, many mistakes on the Bone original pages. He donated the entire original artwork to a library at Ohio State, which has been serving as a repository for classic comic art, both book and strip. As a kid, he had seen some original Walt Kelly Pogo art there, and had become engrossed by the potential, and wanted to give that joy to future generations.

I asked what volume IDW would love to do but can’t because the pages can’t be found. Dunbier admitted the list is gigantic, but that at the top is Neal Adams Batman, because the original art is scattered to the wind. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man or his True Crime comics would be fantastic. It was at this point that Jeff Smith jumped in and said that it’d be fantastic if there could be a collection of the early Mad comics in the Artist Edition format, but alas, that would never happen.

“Did you not see it?!” replied Dunbier, who had just finished that collection which is gorgeous and amazing, reprinting 21 stories from the original run of Mad back when it was a comic and not a magazine. Smith was shocked.

Once upon a time, Scott Dunbier was a dork. It’s okay, we all are as well, but he belonged to one of the dorkier pasttimes. The APA. “The goofiest fan thing” as Dunbier explained. The conceit is that you’d have a group of fans who would all contribute an article to a magazine, by sending copies of their entry to one member who would collate all of the entries into a single volume, and then mail copies of that volume out to all the members. The APA he was involved in the early 90s dealt with comic art, and he realized that sending black and white photocopies of original art, such as the Neal Adams Batman cover he owned with the original penciled background, never looked as good. But color photocopies were dreadfully expensive! So he bit the bullet and did it anyway, making everyone else involved believe he was insane. And thus the seed was planted for the Artist Edition to mature, fertilized by his time serving as Steve Dillon’s art dealer and getting the entire original artwork for issues delivered to him, and by seeing a Chip Kidd book on Batman beautifully reprinting pages. If IDW hadn’t allowed him to publish this, (and had the wonderful cooperation of DC and Marvel for the Mad, Spirit and Thor and FF volumes) he would have self-published it because he believed that this is something that the comics community needed.

He’s right.

There are plans for Kirby pages to be done in the future, but nothing concrete. Dan Slott, attending this panel as just a fan asked if any Bill Sienkiewicz work would be done. Dunbier responded that he’d love to do the late Moon Knight work by him, which Slott wholeheartedly agreed would be fantastic. The main problem is simply not having access to the original art, and the idea of a website where art collectors could list what they had and check it against a list of what is missing was brought up. It’ll probably happen eventually.

A G.I. Joe Artists Edition Portfolio by Michael Golden was shown to the panel. When they have interest in doing an Artists Edition but lack sufficient pages to do a full book, a portfolio is done instead. This one focuses on a comic done by Golden in which he ended up being very late, something which fans of the seminal artist will know is completely unprecedented. *cough cough* Because of that delay, the word balloons were pasted directly onto the original art during publication. The gentleman who bought the originals decided to invest in having an art restorer remove the lettering, and then place it on an acetate overlay. As such, this Artists Edition will have double-sided prints of the original art, one side featuring the artwork with the lettering, and the other side featuring the clean originals. It looks gorgeous.

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