The Quality Companion

Review by KC Carlson

Out this week from TwoMorrows is The Quality Companion, an extremely detailed retrospective covering the long-defunct Golden Age publisher whose characters live on today via DC Comics. It’s a long-overdue look at a publishing house that at the time didn’t seem much different from most of their peers, but with today’s advantages of hindsight, we now know was the “real deal”, both with the quality of the creators that they employed (Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Reed Crandall, Matt Baker, and many others) as well as the timeless characters they produced (Uncle Sam, Plastic Man, Blackhawk, Phantom Lady, and more). Even Will Eisner’s The Spirit has connections to Quality Comics, as you’ll learn in this fantastic history of Quality’s publications, characters, and creators by authors Mike Kooiman and Jim Amash.

Normally, I dislike reviewing things before reading the entire book, but after spending a couple of hours spot-reading and flipping though its 288 pages (224 pages of detailed history, with 64 pages of full-color reproductions of vintage Quality stories), I decided that I wanted to take my time and savor every page. I haven’t seen an in-depth history of a deserving company like this in quite a while. I’ll be reading this well into January — and probably re-read it later in the year.

Not counting the story reproductions, The Quality Companion is split into four major sections, beginning with an amazingly detailed history of the company itself. There I learned that Quality Comics wasn’t the company’s real name, and that no one ever called Quality publisher Everett M. “Busy” Arnold by his real name, Everett. Plus, I found out why he was “Busy”. I’m very much looking forward to digging-in on the sections detailing Quality’s relationship with the famous Eisner-Iger Studio.

Next up is the history of how some of the Quality characters and concepts ended up at DC Comics after Quality folded. Bonus material here includes a handy sidebar on copyrights and public domain (as other Quality characters sometimes appeared at different publishers, usually unauthorized) and short, but informative, interviews with four DC writers who worked with the Quality heroes — Len Wein (creator of the Freedom Fighters), Roy Thomas (All-Star Squadron), James Robinson (Starman), and John Arcudi (JLA: Destiny). Early on, the Quality/DC agreement was so little known that even DC Editor Julie Schwartz wasn’t aware of it when he was assisting John Broome and Carmine Infantino on the creation of Elongated Man in 1960. The original elastic character Plastic Man didn’t show up as a DC character until 1966.

Following the chronological history are galleries (Who’s Who-style) on all of Quality’s major creators and all of Quality’s greatest characters, A to Z. All are fully annotated with selected comicographies for the creators and complete checklists of appearances (both Quality and DC) for the characters. Finally, there is an extensive Endnotes section for all you documentation geeks (like me) out there. I especially appreciated the in-depth breakdowns of Quality’s anthology titles, which were some of the best — and best titled — in comics! They include Smash Comics, Crack Comics, Hit Comics, National Comics, Military Comics, and Police Comics.

Part of why I’m gushing about this book is the incredible detective work put into it by Kooiman and Amash, who gratefully acknowledge earlier works by Jerry Bails and Hames Ware (The Who’s Who of American Comics) and Jim Steranko (The Steranko History of Comics). Very few original Quality staffers and creators are still living, so the authors have put together perhaps the definitive history of a “lost” comics publisher from very little to work from, besides the comics themselves.

Speaking of the comics, the book reprints nine classic stories, in full color, featuring The Ray (art by Lou Fine), Phantom Lady (Frank Borth), The Black Condor (Fine), The Human Bomb (Paul Gustavson), Uncle Sam (Reed Crandall), Midnight (Jack Cole), Firebrand (Lee J. Ames), Wildfire (Jim Mooney), and Madam Fatal (Art Pinajian), all scanned from the original comics. Dick Giordano provides the cover, one of his last published pieces. In fact, the publishers wanted an art correction that went undone due to the artist’s passing. (Full story on the copyright page of the book.) It’s still a great cover, and it looks fine uncorrected!

TwoMorrows has built a business upon uncovering and telling the history of the comic book medium. The Quality Companion looks to be one of their best, and most eagerly awaited, projects. It is available in print at your local comic store (ask if you don’t see it!), or digital copies are available at www.twomorrows.com. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


5 Responses to “The Quality Companion”

  1. Thad Says:

    Wow, looks great.

    I read Spiegelman and Kidd’s book about Jack Cole and Plastic Man a couple of years back and fell in love with Cole’s work (and with the presentation). This sounds like another great work in the same vein, and I may have to give it a look.

    A couple related links:
    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1999/04/19/1999_04_19_076_TNY_LIBRY_000018012?currentPage=all — Spiegelman’s original New Yorker article that formed the basis for the book I mentioned
    http://product.half.ebay.com/_W0QQprZ1924913 — the book itself, cheap! at half.com
    And a lot of the old Quality stuff is public domain and available at digitalcomicmuseum.com .

  2. Thad Says:

    Meant to add: I read that Spiegelman was working on a followup to the Cole book, focusing on Lev Gleason Publications and Crime Does Not Pay. He said that the most amazing artifact he’d uncovered as part of his research was Bob Wood’s confession (Wood was convicted of manslaughter after beating a woman to death — I’ve read in some accounts that it was his wife but the details have varied according to different sources).

  3. James Schee Says:

    HuhI may have to check this out, as I’ve been interested in The Ray character since I read the Harris and Queseda mini in the 90s with his son.

    I’d also like to see something with Phantom Lady that doesn’t involve her dying too.:) (I’ve only seen the character in 2 stories and both the woman calling herself PL dies)

    Is it odd that I always get these characters and the Charlton characters mixed up? Well not in terms of characters, ut who fits with who, etc.

  4. Eric Gimlin Says:

    Just grabbed the Digital version of this; I might not have $32+ of interest in it but $11? Sure!

    I’m not sure TwoMorrows digital policies would work for the bigger companies, but they’re certainly close to a model for what I like as a buyer: Much cheaper from day one, no special software required, no problems moving from one computer to another.

  5. Grant Says:

    Great review. My wife got this for me for Christmas so can’t wait for tommorow to open it. I always enjoy reading about these characters. Quality, Charlton and Atlas/Seaboard are three companies whose histories I have always been fascinated by.

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