Eisner-winning editor Scott Dunbier has helped put together some of the coolest comic collections ever with DC’s Absolute Editions, and now the Artist’s Editions at IDW – stunning large-format work that reprints the original artwork for classic stories and creators, allowing fans to get a sense of the creative process behind some of comics’ greatest stories.
These volumes have become a huge hit, winning widespread acclaim and even becoming sought-after collector’s items on the secondary market.
The Best of EC reprints a sampler of some of the best stories from the era of horror and SF comics that started a sensation – not to mention an outrage over their violent content. It’s a collection that spotlights tales by the likes of Wally Wood, Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Johnny Craig and many more – the artists who’ve inspired generation after generation of comics creators. We talked with Dunbier about this new Artist’s Edition, how it’s unique from the others – and what creators he’d love to work with in the future.
Newsarama: Scott, I talked to you way back when you did the Walter Simonson Mighty Thor Artist’s Edition, and since then, the line has really taken off, earning widespread acclaim and with many volumes becoming collector’s items. How do you feel about this success?
Scott Dunbier: This is a project that I’ve wanted to do for many, many years, and I always felt that there would be a market for art books that really showed people what original art looks like, so I’m very happy, of course. I’m just lucky that both Ted (Adams, IDW CEO) and Greg (Goldstein, IDW President) were hugely encouraging before these books started to come out. I can’t tell you what a difference something like that makes.
Nrama: It’s a rarefied area.
Dunbier: It is, because very few people get a chance to see original art. And being able to enjoy it outside of going to a museum exhibit is very difficult. So the idea of doing a book that presents as closely as possible a page of original art or a cover or a story on paper that’s close to the original, with all the blue pencil, pasteovers and corrections…you’re looking at something in an entirely different way. You’re seeing the process the artist worked through. And that, I feel, is an incredible thing.
Nrama: Original art is something that’s been floating around for decades, but now it seems like there’s a much greater appreciation for it, as these artists are recognized for their work and their contributions to the medium. What’s interesting to me about this new collection is that you must have had to gather together complete stories from several different artists, which must have been a very difficult task.
Dunbier: Well, the thing with EC original art is that the stories are all 6-8 pages, which means that there is a much greater likelihood that stories are kept together, rather than being broken up and sold page-by-page. When you have a standard comic at about 22-24 pages, that’s a large investment – a complete issue could cost you a pretty penny, but a 6-8-page story isn’t as expensive. Depending on the artist and vintage.
Luckily, for the most part – though not always – the better EC stories tended to stay together as original art, which made my job a lot easier.
Nrama: Were there any stories you were surprised to find?
Dunbier: No, not surprised – I’ve been involved in original art for a long time. I was selling art by the time I was 17, and became an art dealer by my 20s, so a lot has passed through my hands. Some things are hard to track down, or require detective work going back decades to when the artwork was originally sold, and some things have still eluded me. But what surprises me is when I find a really great EC story that’s been broken up, that’s been sold page-by-page. I understand the thought behind that, but to break up a truly great story almost feels like heresy to me.
Nrama: Were most of the pages retained by the company, or by the artists?
Dunbier: Back in the old days, artwork wasn’t returned to the artists – EC Comics kept the original artwork, as was the norm at the time. And thank God Bill Gaines had an appreciation for the artwork! You had some companies that looked at art, these beautiful pages, as an end product that just took up valuable space. Some companies would even shred original pages.
I’ve heard of original art from the 1950s used as packing material in the 1970s…and in other cases, it was just thrown away, lost to the ages. Luckily, Bill Gaines was a completely different type of animal.
He found the artwork beautiful, kept it all with very minor exceptions – there was a Frank Frazetta cover that Frazetta insisted on keeping, and Gaines paid Frazetta a lower page rate so he could justify in his head not getting the original. That was Weird Science-Fantasy #29, which is the cover of the Best of EC Artist’s Edition.
In the 1980s, Gaines, through his agent Russ Cochran, sold all the EC material. They were sold as complete stories, and that’s the reason we have so much beautiful EC art in the hands of collectors. Gaines also paid the artists a portion of the money that was accrued from the auctions, which is pretty unprecedented.
Nrama: Was this around the time there was that controversy over Marvel not returning Jack Kirby’s original pages?
Dunbier: That came a few years later. The timeline is that in the late 1970s, the definitive EC collection began to be published, “The Russ Cochran EC Library,” which to this day is the best publishing effort by anybody for the entire EC line.
As the volumes were published, Russ would begin to sell the artwork. I believe the first pages became available at auction around 1980. Those were exciting times for original art fans!
Nrama: What are some of the stories you have included?
Dunbier: We’re not including some of the classics that are in the other Artist’s Editions we’ve done before – for example, there’s Wally Wood stories we’re doing in the book on him that aren’t in here. We don’t think it’s fair to fans to make them pay more than once for something.
And if you look at the cover to this book, you might notice that it says “Volume One…”
Dunbier: That’s because there will be two volumes of the best of EC. Right now, for instance, I have eight gorgeous Al Williamson stories, some of his absolute best in my opinion, like “50 Girls 50” and “A Sound of Thunder.” it’s an embarrassment of riches. I have the classic Toth story “Thunder Jet,” a number of Kurtzman stories and Krigstein stories like. there’ll also be covers by guys like Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig, many others…we’ve got that classic Johnny Craig cover with the severed head. (laughs)
Nrama: The one they brought before the Senate subcommittee during the hearings!
What will be the final lineup in volume one?
Dunbier: There are two classics from Johnny Craig, including “Touch and Go”, Roy Krenkel’s only EC story, Alex Toth’s “Thunderjet”, four Krigstein jobs, including “The Flying Machine” and “Catacombs.” The classic “Judgment Day” by Joe Orlando is in there. Several Kurtzman stories, including “Corpse on the Imjin.” Five classic Williamson jobs. Plus, lots of great covers!
Nrama: And when will the next volume be out?
Dunbier: We’re looking at about a year later – though there’s a number of other projects on our plate we have to get through first.
Nrama: Are there any projects you’d like to do as Artist’s Editions, but can’t right now?
Dunbier: Oh, so many projects! To me, if I could do a Jack Cole Plastic Man book, that would be phenomenal. If I could do a book of early Mac Raboy stuff from the Fawcett days. There’s too much stuff I want to do! How about a Robert Crumb book? Jaime Hernandez, a Love & Rockets book? Hopefully I’ll eventually be able to convince him to let me do that. That would be great, wouldn’t it?
IDW’s Best of EC: Artist’s Edition is available now