- Posted by Johanna on July 4, 2010 at 7:57 am
- Category: Archie Comics
- CREDITS: by Dan DeCarlo
- PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing; $24.99 US
I’m conflicted. Let’s break it down by lists. Good things about Archie: The Best of Dan DeCarlo:
It’s oversized, so the art is shown to advantage. And the nice hardcover presentation makes it pleasant and easy to read.
The cover design, inspired by traditional Archie comic trade dress, is amusing and nostalgic. (Note that the one shown here is an early design; on the final, the “Dan DeCarlo” is smaller, in a different typeface, and harder to read.)
I hadn’t seen most of the stories before, so many of them are fresh and entertaining. Several focus on fashion, one of DeCarlo’s many strengths, and all are visually interesting. There’s plenty of dynamic action, and it’s a hoot to see how the characters used to behave (including Veronica trying out for cheerleading on a whim, turning cartwheels in high heels). DeCarlo’s grasp of action and expression is second-to-none.
The table of contents includes full credits, including where and when the stories first appeared and the creators who put them together. (DeCarlo didn’t write his own stories.)
Now, unfortunately, the bad things: This is an approved presentation from the Archie publisher, so you get such details as the Archie logo appearing larger than the artist’s name, who is the real reason anyone is buying this book.
We were told in solicits that this would be the “very best”, but there is no explanation of why the stories were selected, although they were said to be “handpicked by DeCarlo connoisseurs”. I really wanted to know what made them stand out to those doing the choosing, or why these particular stories were significant. Without some guidance, I can’t learn more about the details of DeCarlo’s art, the reason I’m buying this book.
All of the stories here are taken from the Betty and Veronica comic. Those are some of his best, true, but there are equally strong works he did in Laugh, Pep, and Archie’s Joke Book which are lesser-known and would have been excellent contributions. There were also Betty and Veronica stories that ran as backups in the Archie title he did. Where are any of those?
One glaring omission is the lack of any pin-up pages. DeCarlo was a master of the single-page fashion shot, and to leave out one of the things he was best known for completely is odd. There was some mention of the stories being shot from original art, which may have limited the selection to stories where the art was available. I don’t know, I’m only speculating; as I said, it would have been nice to have read more about it in the book itself.
There is, in fact, only one page of text, a last-page “about the author” that says nothing meaningful. In some cases,
Additionally, DeCarlo is also known as the first artist to visualize Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina the Teenage Witch on the printed page.
as you can see, it’s downright misleading, since he created Josie based on his wife, and Archie’s treatment of him and their theft of his creation is a scandal and a shame. But again, this is an approved, licensed presentation, so we’re going to hear the corporate whitewash.
Given that, maybe it’s a good thing that there’s no other text material, no introduction explaining DeCarlo’s skills and artistic strengths or going into his life, because the way it would end up being written would likely not be good for my blood pressure. And frankly, anyone who knows enough to appreciate DeCarlo has likely read the story before elsewhere, from better sources. Anyone who doesn’t already know who he is and why he’s significant won’t learn anything here. For more information, if you’re an adult reader, a better source is Bill Morrison’s Innocence and Seduction: The Art of Dan DeCarlo.
DeCarlo has passed, so it wouldn’t be possible to get an interview, but there are existing ones that could have been excerpted, or it would have been great to have gotten some artist testimonials. A number of current professionals adore DeCarlo’s work, and such comments would have helped answer the question, “Why is this guy important?” Heck, why isn’t there any statement from anyone from Archie? I don’t mean to turn this review into “how I would have done the book differently”, but that’s what happened when I started thinking about the chasm between what I expected and what I actually got. These kinds of suggestions are what I expect from a book sold on an artist’s name as a retrospective of his work. Any such volume should provide, in my opinion, an answer to the question of “Why does this artist deserve this book?”
What this ends up being, in contrast, is a glossy anthology of random Betty & Veronica stories. I enjoy reading those, but selling it on Dan DeCarlo’s name is a bit of a bait-and-switch. It’s a nice collection of his art, and fans will appreciate having these stories available in such a lovely presentation, but there’s no information on the man himself, a strange choice for a book titled “The Best of Dan DeCarlo”.
Once upon a time, we had to rely on fan journalism to uncover, name, and explain “the good Archie artist” (similar to what happened with Carl Barks, “the good duck artist”). I had thought, these days, we were beyond having to pass the information around underground. I understand Archie’s unwillingness to sing his praises, given the business complications his lawsuit late in his life caused them, but then why highlight his work based on his name? (And how is his widow being compensated?) This could have been a really neat general interest book, but so much is lacking in what we actually got. The title implies that there will be additional books coming; maybe this will all be rectified in future volumes.