Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Brian Bolland's First Joker Cover

Something I neglected to mention in my piece on Brian Bolland's Joker comic book covers in the back of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection edition of Joker: Last Laugh – which has just been published – is that Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) wasn't really Bolland's first Joker cover. That honour arguably belongs to his cover for the British Batman Annual 1982, published by London Editions in 1981. Bolland did a number of covers – and the odd interior page or endpapers – for the Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman annuals published by London Editions in the early 1980s (as did Garry Leach, Bryan Talbot and other stalwarts of the British comics scene), around the time he was breaking into US comics at DC. His Batman Annual cover naturally has the Dark Knight front and centre in the composition, but in Batman's hand is a Joker playing card, and there, behind him in the background, is the Joker himself, pointing a pistol at Batman's back. So even though the Joker's not the star of the cover, I suppose it probably does qualify as a Joker cover, and therefore Bolland's first Joker cover.

You can read more about Bolland's cover work – Joker and otherwise – in Joker: Last Laugh (available now via Hachette and at all good newsagents and supermarkets), but I'll just note here that, like many of the British superhero annuals published back then, the Batman Annual 1982 – which isn't easy to come by these days (my copy was a very lucky recent-ish eBay find) – has a text story nestled in amongst the reprinted comics stories (one of which is Len Wein, Walt Simonson and Dick Giordano's terrific 'Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker...!' from 1980's Batman #321). Written by 2000 AD and Starlord editor Kelvin Gosnell, it boasts splendid illustrations by Anderson: Psi Division/Button Man artist Arthur Ranson, who also illustrates the annual's endpapers. Well worth the price of admission alone... assuming you can find a copy in the first place.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Free Stuff! The DC Heroes & Villains Collection Subscription Gifts

A little remarked-upon aspect of the graphic novel partwork I'm editing, the DC Heroes & Villains Collection – well, little remarked-upon by me, anyway – is that if you subscribe to the collection you get free stuff! I've had absolutely no input into the free gifts that have been arranged for subscribers – my purview is the graphic novels themselves – so I'm not really beholden to anyone when I say that the two I've received thus far (you get four altogether – plus a free volume – spaced out across a few deliveries) have been bloody great.

The first one, a metal Batman bottle opener keyring, turned out to be surprisingly sizeable and hefty, with the potential to be used as an actual shuriken-style Batarang once your beverage of choice has been de-lidded (perhaps to fend off anyone foolish enough to try and steal your beer). 

Just as surprising was the second gift, a heat-changing mug sporting the Andy Kubert image from the cover of our debut release Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? I did dimly recall it was heat sensitive as I dropped in a teabag and filled the mug up with hot water, but it was still a delight to behold the villains behind Batman – Penguin, Joker, Two-Face and Catwoman – being slowly revealed. 
The next free gift I'll be getting should be a metal version of Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke cover art (look out for the inside story of that cover's creation in the bonus feature in our tenth release, Joker: Last Laugh), followed by potentially the best of the lot, a pair of metal Batman and Joker bookends to keep the gradually growing collection upright and together. 
The DC Heroes & Villains Collection is a genuine labour of love for me – something I plan on expanding upon in a future post – and it's been a pleasure seeing the reactions of readers in the Facebook subscribers' group to the books we've been putting together; but these free gifts have been an unexpected added joy – something I get to to share in common with everyone else who's along for the ride on this collection.

Friday, 19 March 2021

Testing, Testing... Coming Soon in the DC Heroes & Villains Collection

Further to this post on the graphic novel partwork I'm editing, the DC Heroes & Villains Collection: I've noticed in the Facebook member's group (there's also a public Facebook page) that some subscribers are receiving the sixth volume now, The Flash: Rebirth, which means we're reaching the end of the 'test' volumes. What the dickens are the test volumes, I hear you cry? Allow me to elucidate – and to offer a preview of upcoming volumes into the bargain.

Partworks go through a pretty long process before they go on sale. In the case of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection, I started putting ideas together for it – possible approaches and potential contents – at the tail end of 2019, followed by some firmer ideas for direction and an initial list of titles (which, looking back now, I realise wasn't a million miles from the final list) at the start of 2020. After some back and forth between myself, Hachette and DC and some further refining of the list and contents, we moved on to the test stage. 

This is the stage of a partwork's development where the initial instalments of the proposed collection are released in a particular part of the country to see what the response is. In our case, this entailed myself and the collection's ace designers, Amazing15, putting together the first four volumes, and then Hachette publishing those volumes... somewhere; don't ask me where because I still don't know (and even if I did I wouldn't be able to tell you; the world of partworks is shrouded in mystery and subterfuge). Complicating this – well, besides the pandemic, that is, which has introduced an extra element of complexity throughout – was the fact that alongside the UK test there was a Spanish test, which comprised some different volumes to the UK one.

I don't think I'm revealing anything terribly sensitive here by saying that the tests went well: the evidence for that is that the collection proper has now launched. But with The Flash: Rebirth arriving in some folks' hands, we've essentially reached the end of the volumes we assembled for either the UK or Spanish tests. From this point on, nobody (other than myself, Amazing15, Hachette and DC, obviously) will know for sure what lies ahead. So let me give you a flavour of what's coming up in the next few volumes:

Infinite Crisis: The OMAC Project: As part of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection we'll be collecting the entire 2005–2006 Infinite Crisis saga, including miniseries, specials and key tie-in issues – some of which have never been included in previous collected editions – with commentary and behind-the-scenes insights setting it all in context. This is the start of that.

Aquaman: The Trench: A story that was a big inspiration for the 2018 Aquaman movie, and one of the big successes of the 2011 New 52 relaunch – not to mention a taster for what was to come in the 2016 Rebirth initiative...

World's Finest: Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude's splendid 1990 Superman/Batman team-up tale, which comes accompanied by an exclusive new interview with Mr Gibbons, plus his original outline, and lots of sketches and designs by Mr Rude.

Joker: Last Laugh: Out of print for over a decade, this 2001 miniseries event is finally reissued as part of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection, complete with its essential first chapter, which has never been reprinted since originally appearing in the 2001 Joker: Last Laugh Secret Files and Origins one-shot. In addition, there's a bonus feature exploring Brian Bolland's iconic Joker covers.
Beyond those, you can expect more Rebirth volumes (following on from our fifth release, Batman: I Am Gotham), more brand new creator interviews... and a story which has never before been collected in graphic novel form.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Introducing the DC Heroes & Villains Collection: the Ultimate DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection

Here's something I've been working on for well over a year now. The DC Heroes & Villains Collection is a fortnightly partwork comprising 100 hardback graphic novels, collecting comics stories from across the DC Universe. I've been shaping the rationale and approach, putting together the content – including writing many of the editorials and bonus features that will appear in each volume – and generally reworking and refining it all since October 2019, and now the first issue, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, is finally on sale in the UK, from WHSmith, newsagents, comic shops, and direct from publishers Hachete Partworks. I'll try and write some more about the collection – the idea behind it, the process of making it (in the midst of a pandemic no less), what's in it – soon, but for now, I'll just say that everyone involved is dead chuffed with how it's turned out so far, and that if you happen to buy it, and like the first few volumes... the best is yet to come.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

DC Comics Cover Art by Nick Jones – Out Now!

I'm breaking my blogging silence (blame the pandemic for the lack of blog posts this year – it's as good an excuse as any... and it actually has been a tough year in some respects, as it has for many of us) to note that my new book, DC Comics Cover Art, is available now from all the usual places, published by DK. As the title suggests, it's a showcase of some of the best DC Comics covers of the past 80 or so years, selected by me (largely; a few other folk had input), with commentary also by me. Naturally I stuffed it full of as many of my favourite DC covers as I could, but that's not to say I wasn't also employing my critical faculties. Criteria for selection included bold, striking, or unusual designs; notable issues (i.e. first appearances, deaths and the like); unusual layouts and logo treatments, and of course just knockout art – all arranged under the recognised eras (Golden Age, Silver Age, and so on).

I think it's come together really nicely. I haven't seen a final printed copy yet*, but I did see layouts all the way through, and the juxtaposition of covers on spreads is very pleasing. As for the text, I worked hard to make it as informative and insightful as I could – a lot of research went into how and why covers were created – but how successful I was will, in the end, be determined by the reader. Obviously there are bigger things to worry about at the moment than a book about comic book covers, but maybe this book about comic book covers will bring some pleasure into someone's life. 

Incidentally, I'm working on a couple of other DC-related projects at the moment; still a little early to say anything more about them, but I should be able to share some info soon.

* Update 5/10/20: my author copies arrived today, and I'm delighted to report that the final printed book looks lovely.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

A Ripley's Game Reprise: 1974 US Knopf First Edition of Patricia Highsmith's Third Tom Ripley Novel

What scant posts there have been on here of late have been to do with comics – those are, after all, what have been preoccupying me both personally and professionally over the past year or so – but I have been picking up the odd book here and there too, and among those have been a number by another perennial preoccupation of mine, Patricia Highsmith. Just the other day I came into possession of this:

An American first edition of Ripley's Game, published by Knopf in 1974, dust jacket design by Janet Halverson (whose other jackets include the 1970 and 1978 US firsts of Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt and The Human Factor, and the 1981 US first of Ross Thomas's The Mordida Man). You may recall... actually at this point I doubt anyone recalls anything I've written on Existential Ennui, but anyway: Ripley's Game, the third book in the Ripliad (soon to become a TV show, with Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley – intriguing and encouraging casting there), is not only my favourite Highsmith novel, but my favourite novel full stop, and it was the acquisition of a 1974 Heinemann first a dozen years ago (in a long-since-vanished Cecil Court bookshop) that first got me into book collecting. As such, it's a totemic book for me.

I had my eye on a Knopf first six years ago, but it slipped through my fingers (as compensation I settled instead for a 1989 Heinemann Uniform Edition). The notion of getting my filthy mitts on a Knopf (ooer) has floated in and out of my head ever since then, but just the other day it seemed the fates had finally aligned when I was in Lewes's Bow Windows Bookshop and co-proprietor (and friend of mine) Ric mentioned he'd come into possession of one as part of a box of books – mostly crime fiction and spy fiction – he'd bought from a local. Or at least he thought he had: when we looked in said box, there was no sign of Ripley's Game. Bugger.

I'd pretty much resigned myself to the fact that once again the Knopf first had eluded my grasp when two days later Ric sent me a message saying he'd found it. And it turned out that not only was it a first edition (not a later printing – the Knopf edition went through a few), but it was once owned by local author John Pearson, he of James Bond: The Authorized Biography and The Life of Ian Fleming fame.

So I'm very happy with my copy (even though the dust jacket is a little battered: the sign of a well-read book, whether by Mr. Pearson or whoever it was Ric bought it off – and quite right too), not least because it affords me the opportunity to compare the US and UK first editions. The text in the Knopf edition, which was published in May of '74, a few months after the Heinemann edition, has been Americanised, or I suppose – depending on whether Highsmith, who was American, wrote the manuscript in American English – re-Americanised: within the first few sentences, there's a "parlor game" as opposed to "parlour game" in the Heinemann edition.

The Knopf has deckled edges, as is often the case with American editions, and a red-stained top block. I also rather like the jacket flap description of Tom Ripley as "energetic, amoral, overcivilized" and "undersensitized".

Now I suppose I'll have to write something abut the other Highsmith books I've picked up – especially as they're all signed.