- Posted by Johanna on December 23, 2011 at 7:55 am
- Category: Books and Prose, KC
- CREDITS: by Mike Kooiman and Jim Amash
- PUBLISHER: TwoMorrows Publishing; $31.95 US
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.)