Thursday, March 11, 2010

1000 Comic Books You Must Read: A Review by Heritage Auctions' own Barry Sandoval

March 11, 2010
Written by Barry

I’m not sure if you can afford to buy Tony Isabella’s new book, 1000 Comic Books You Must Read.

Oh, you won’t have a problem paying the price on the back cover, a very reasonable $29.99. (In fact, follow this link to snag it for the pittance that is $19.79). I’m talking about the price of all of the comics you’ll end up buying after you read the book.

“Luckily for you, many of the issues chosen are now available in reprint form,” the afterword says.

Yeah, that’s fine if you want to read Fantastic Four #1, but you’re out of luck when it comes to the likes of Jumbo Comics #1, Silver Streak #7, or Crime Does Not Pay #22.

Let’s say you wanted to buy every comic in the book, with no compunctions about substituting reprints to save money and no qualms about buying the lowest of low-grade copies to save dough. Even with those compromises, getting all of the comics couldn’t possibly cost less than $20,000. If you left the Golden Age out of it, you could probably do it for $5,000. Thanks a lot, Isabella!

Well, the fact that so many great comics exist isn’t the author’s problem (Tony Isabella is a veteran comic writer/editor, who among other things has my undying gratitude for giving John Byrne his big break at Marvel). The wealth of material in this book is amazing, with cover scans generously laid out four-to-a-page. What a treasure trove! Many of the scans were taken from Heritage’s own Permanent Auction Archives, with our blessing of course.

Before I get to the positives, there is one thing I would “zing” the author or his publisher about: some of the scans shown in the book don’t show the original comics but rather reprints, including Action #1, Whiz #2, and Tales of Suspense #39. What’s up with that?

That mini-abomination aside, let me tell you what I loved about the book: the author avoided falling into the three traps that compilers of similar (if less ambitious) lists have fallen into.

Trap 1: Making the list too personal, and by that I mean personal in a way that’s boring for the reader. The choices are personal all right, but in a way that’s interesting for the reader, a very difficult feat to pull off.

Trap 2: Focusing too much on “key” issues. Any comic collector already knows what those are. Thankfully, Isabella neither ignores them nor spends too much time on them.

Trap 3: Focusing too much on covers. Lists of the best covers are fun, but anyone with two eyes can easily make his or her own. Admirably, this book is about comics you must read, not covers you must look at.

The result is a book equally fascinating for the beginning comic fan or the advanced collector. I consider myself the latter, but have I ever read Wings #1, All-Winners #9, or Two-Gun Kid #60? No, but I want to now. I think this book will make some collectors rediscover what got them interested in comics in the first place.

Here again the author goes beyond the usual suspects. Everyone knows Fantastic Four #51 has the classic “This Man, This Monster” yarn. But Kookie? Konga’s Revenge? Super Green Beret? Who knew these series even existed, much less that the stories in them were worth seeking out?

Also, the author includes all genres of comics, as well as Spirit sections, promotional comics, Undergrounds, Independents, Warren mags, and even a few non-U.S. classics like Asterix and Tintin.

I’m loath to use that reviewer’s cliché, “A must for any [whatever]’s library,” but this book will certainly be a fixture in mine.

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- Barry Sandoval

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