As everyone knows, vintage comic book reprints are a big part of our business. We’ve been at it for decades now, and I don’t think anyone does a better job of it than we do. But, when I see a product of this kind of real note, even from a company other than ours, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. So, I’ve got to rave about Marvel’s Essential Rawhide Kid Volume 1.Now, as a kid growing up, I was the quintessential Marvel Zombie. My whole comic book experience was informed by reading the creative output of Stan Lee and the original Mighty Marvel Bullpen in the early-to-mid 1960′s. Every reader has a favorite time or run in there comic- buying days, that one is mine. Marvel has done a really good job of making so much of their classic superhero stuff available in reprint packages of all shapes and sizes, which I laud them for. But, to a die-hard like myself, who has already GOT all that stuff from the original run, it has been sort of bittersweet. I picked up a few Essentials some years back, so I have reading copies of old favorite stories to flip through and can leave the actual vintage books safely stored. What I’d usually wish for, once I’d spend an hour or two rereading early Hulk, Iron Man or Spidey stories (which I’ve just about got memorized after all these years), is that I could read MORE of those kind of stories, by those great creators. That got me thinking about the Marvel Age books I DIDN’T read or collect as a kid- the Westerns, the titles aimed at girls- I don’t really remember even seeing them on the racks where I bought my Fantastic Fours, Daredevils and Avengers; and if they were there, I never bought them. I – comic book history guy that I am- had hardly even looked at more than a handful of these particular books. But I knew they were done by the same crew that did the adventure/action stuff I loved, and that got my interest piqued. Wouldn’t there be other jaded old fogeys like me out there that would NOW want to buy and read this stuff? When would Marvel reprint THESE classics; Marvel Age books that I DIDN’T have stored in long boxes in my Mom’s basement? This thought occured to me several years ago, and I went searching for collections of this stuff in the economical Essentials format, but at that point, none of it existed. Cut to our holiday trip to see family just a few weeks ago. We walk into a comic book store on the South Side of Milwaukee, and what do I see on their shelf of Marvel Essentials volumes but The Essential Rawhide Kid Volume 1!!! Actually, it was published in 2011, but somehow I missed it until now. Classic Marvel stories I’ve never read!! Showing fiduciary responsibility, I did NOT buy it then and there, but when we got back home to Florida, my lovely wife Stephanie found a discounted copy online, and I got it in the mail just a few days ago, and I’m even more thrilled with it than I expected I would be. As all the Essentials are, this is a compilation of black & white reprints. The quality of the line art varies somewhat, but by and large it is quite good. Some people won’t look at anything out of a comic book that doesn’t have color on it, but in this sort of collection, I prefer the black and white. It shows you something much closer to the look of the original art, without all the muddiness and distortion you get from scanning/rescanning, digitizing and redigitizing color art reproduced from letterpress printing that is on yellowed newsprint and used dot-screened color to begin with. Black and white is the route we take on AC Comics reprint books, and I for one like that aspect of the Marvel Essentials- and for that matter, the DC Showcase volumes, as well. But back to this Rawhide Kid collection- it covers Rawhide Kid #17-35, books that were initially published between August of 1960 and mid-1963, so RK would’ve been a bimonthly book at that point. Why didn’t they start with issue #1? Well, the first 16 issues of RK were published under the Atlas imprint, between 1955-57. When the title was restarted in 1960, after a three-year hiatus, Jack Kirby was brought on as the penciler, which is probably the main selling point of this collection. The overwhelming majority of the lead stories in the book during this period were penciled by Kirby and inked by Dick Ayers, and make no mistake, they did a GREAT job on this material. As good as- maybe BETTER than the work those two greats did on the early superhero stories of the same era. No one was short-cutting on THIS stuff. And the stories are not bad- typical of Stan’s stuff of the era. The Rawhide Kid is a little guy, constantly coming up against bigger, stronger bad guys that need to be taken down a notch. Both Stan and the artists were pretty consistant in working with the David and Goliath kind of approach, but they still packed a lot of story in each adventure.The Kid is presumed by most to be an outlaw and badman, but of course he isn’t- and rides across the Western frontier on his horse Nightwind, helping the innocent and the put-upon in taught little tales with equal helpings of action and heart, focusing on love and responsibility. If you like Stan Lee’s approach during this era- you’ll love these little gems as I do. If not- this is NOT your cup of tea. I cannot rave enough about the quality of Jack Kirby’s work on this series. I myself am NOT the biggest Kirby fan in the world, but here, working with Dick Ayers (and I STILL sometimes find it hard to believe I was lucky enough to ink as much of Dick’s pencilling as I did on The FEMFORCE in the 1990′s- and better yet- get to know Dick himself. Bill just got an email from Dick’s wife Lindy the other day, and she and Dick are doing fine. ) Kirby’s design, dynamism and storytelling are nothing short of masterful. All the back-up stories from those RK issues are here, too- as drawn by an impressive array of my artistic favorites, including Dick himself; Don Heck, Gene Colan, Paul Reinman, Al Hartley and Sol Brodsky, all of whom turn in impressive work- too. As good as- or better than ANY I’ve seen from these guys at that point in their carrers. I get the idea these guys LIKED working on this title. There are a couple of uncredited back-up stories by other artists- too- one I would identify as being by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. But the biggest surprise to ME was what I saw in the last three issues in the collection, from Rawhide Kid #’s 33-35, and that is six stories penciled and inked by Jack Davis! Now, I knew he had done some stuff for a number of comics companies throughout the industry from the late ‘fifties into the early ‘sixties, but I didn’t realize he did this much at Marvel, right at about the time that their major super-hero titles were taking off. This would’ve been contemporary with maybe the first 3-4 issues of The Avengers, Tales to Astonish 44-48, Tales of Suspense 42-46, Spiderman 4-8, that point in time. I might’ve guessed Davis was already too busy getting big-money advertising art jobs to bother with comics then, but apparently not. And he does a great job on The Kid, too. ‘Makes me wonder what a Jack Davis Ant-Man or Hulk might’ve looked like. All in all, the Rawhide Kid Essentials Volume 1 was great fun to read- and to me, well worth the price. If you have never seen these books and love early Marvel, buy this. You won’t be disappointed. Now I’m hoping for Essential collections on Kid Colt, The Two-Gun Kid, and (God help me!) Millie The Model and Patsy Walker!! Mind you, here at AC Comics, we’ve done MORE than our share of classic Western reprints, too- from a variety of now-defunct publishers. If you like the Western genre in general, you’d love any of them. Browse the Westerns section of our shop, if you are unfamilar with what we’ve done in that direction. Other than our Best of the West anthology, a LOT of our Western reprints are now sold out, though. Perhaps MY favorite, though; is still available. That would be Young Gun #1, featuring some spectacular artwork by John Severin on three Billy The Kid stories originally published by Charlton. Along with Dick Ayers, Severin was one of the best comic book artists ever to work in the Western motif, and he was never better than in this trio of tales. His spotting of blacks, use of lighting effects and approach to characters was amazing- and at the time he originally drew these stories, Charlton was paying the LOWEST rates in the industry- but John obviosly did not skimping here, either. During the early-’50′s Atlas Comics bullpen, Severin worked side-by-side with the late, great Joe Maneely; and you can see a number of similarities in the work of the two men. Both had the wonderful ability to DRAW in a very exaggerated and cartoony way, but then render out the art with very realistic lighting and detail, making for very lively comics work. Very engaging reading.
– January 11, 2013