Saturday, September 24, 2005

COMICS: Comics Creators on Fantastic Four

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I love books of all shapes and sizes, but I'm a total sucker for the behind-the-scenes comic book-history nonfiction genre. So I got a nice kick out of "Comics Creators on Fantastic Four," a book collecting a slew of interviews with writers and artists on Marvel's "Fantastic Four" series over the years, led by longtime comic writer and editor Tom DeFalco. This volume's a rewarding follow-up to last year's "Comics Creators on Spider-Man," which I also enjoyed a great deal.

The hefty tome goes from talks with co-creator Stan Lee, now in his 80s but still spunky, all the way up to recently departed writer Mark Waid, with stops at just about every era of the FF's 40+ year history. Like the "Spider-Man" tome, it's revealing, candid and trivia-packed stuff, full of both gossip and genuine insight into the creative process. The late Jack Kirby's talents are appreciated again and again, which makes up for him not being around to interview. Although John Byrne's been rather, um, temperamental in recent years, his interview on his excellent 1980s run on the comic is informative and good reading. I also really enjoyed Mark Waid's interview; the most recent great FF writer really goes into his storytelling process, and the controversial "firing and re-hiring" by former publisher Bill Jemas. The book isn't afraid to point out flaws in the comics or weak patches, which I also appreciate. It's a balanced look at the evolution of these four fascinating characters who helped start a revolution in comic books.

There's a few minor flaws -- sometimes the interviews do get repetitive (Each creator is asked what they think the Fantastic Four are about, and nearly to a man, they respond, "family."). And not every FF writer or artist is represented, although some were in the "Spider-Man" book as the introduction notes, and at closing in on 300 pages, there's only so many DeFalco could fit in here.

But overall, "Comics Creators on the Fantastic Four" is another sterling success by DeFalco and Titan Books, packed full of rare art and cover reproductions to break up all the words. Rumor has it next year's tome will be an "X-Men" volume to tie in with the release of "X-Men 3." If it's as good fun as these two, I can't wait.

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