Thursday, December 01, 2011

Harry and Sam

Arguably the best thing about IDW and Archie comics releasing "Best of Harry Lucey" and "Best of Samm Schwartz" hardcover collection can be seen at the Amazon page for the Lucey collection, which has customer reviews from Lucey's daughter Barbara as well as his nephew. The Schwartz book also has an afterword by his daughter, Joanne. These artists, like many comic book artists, were mostly unappreciated and uncredited in their own time, so it's pleasing to see their family members taking some pride in this new recognition. (It would be more pleasing if their estates got royalties for some of these reprints, of course, but this is the comics industry we're talking about here.)

The Lucey and especially the Schwartz books both have their flaws. Fundamentally, we're not talking about "best of" collections exactly, but more a selection of stories for which original art was available. (Some of the best comics stories from this don't seem to exist in art that can be reproduced in a high-quality fashion; some of the stories in the "Best of Archie Comics" book the publisher put out -- a good cross-section of its work, by the way -- are just scanned from comic books.) Granted, there's no scholarship on Archie the way there is for other comics, and therefore there's no panel of experts to consult on the best stories; granted too, most of these stories are pretty similar, and choosing a "best" can be difficult. But there are some stories I would like to have seen in there, like "Actions Speak Louder Than Words."

Also, with Lucey, the book suffers from being only five and six-page stories (plus a few one-page gags). A lot of the work that endeared him to readers occurred not only in covers, but -- maybe most of all -- in the in-house ads. He was Archie's primary in-house ad man until the early '70s, continuing with it even a few years after he was no longer allowed to do covers. And as an Amazon reviewer notes, maybe in too much detail, Lucey's work on the girls was particularly memorable in those ads, since he was dressing and posing them to maximize sales. I hope volume 2, if they are able to do one, has a section for ad pages and covers.

The Lucey volume is still a good deal for Lucey stories from a particular period (1959 through 1965), and has several famous ones including "Woman Scorned," the story that has contributed the most to the "Betty is crazy and murderous" meme, mostly because it portrays Betty as crazy and murderous.

The Schwartz volume covers the same period, and is therefore less essential. This is actually a period when Schwartz often wasn't doing his own inking and lettering, presumably because of the volume of work he was taking on -- he and his friend Bob White had editorial responsibilities at the company in addition to doing a huge amount of drawing work. The stories in this volume are often inked by Marty Epp (one of Lucey's regular inkers into the '70s) and Dan DeCarlo's brother Vince. The stories that Schwartz did ink and letter himself stand out by comparison and make it clear why he was always his own best inker; his Jughead just doesn't have quite the same magic in anyone else's hands. If volume 2 comes out I hope it focuses more on Schwartz's work on Jughead in the '70s and '80s, when he adopted his sparer style and mostly stopped working with other inkers.

The majority of the stories are once again by Frank Doyle, with a few George Gladir scripts thrown in (Gladir's work on Jughead was always some of his best, with monsters and witches and pop-culture spoofs in the spirit of his Mad House and Bats material). I was one of the first to write about what a work horse he was, but even I sometimes understated the case: the amazing thing to me is not just that he wrote so many, but that so few of them are out-and-out remakes of previous stories. They're working within a narrow range, of course, but there's usually some sort of angle that gives the artist something fresh to work with.

Here, for example, is a story that is not in the Lucey book, but which would have been on my "best-of" list just because it's one of those stories that sticks in one's mind as a kid and never goes away. From Pep # 134, it's called "On the Trolley," and has a premise Doyle used a number of times in a number of ways: some phrase or idea gets stuck in people's heads and drives them crazy. This allows various characters to react in different ways, and keeps the story moving as one character after another is pulled into it. And it provides Lucey with an opportunity to do the strong posing and comic emoting that he's now known for -- and should have been known for at the time.

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1 comment:

Salim said...

OOOO..I remember this one! I am especially partial to Harry Lucey's work.