I just hope I live long enough. And I hope that Peter Crowther of PS Art Publishing lives long enough. For what, I hear you ask? Why, to complete what Mr Crowther probably doesn’t regard as his most significant publishing endeavour, but I do – to put into our hands the handsome hardback editions he’s been issuing of a comics industry ‘Little Giant’: the complete runs of the books produced by the wonderful American Comics Group. These titles – principally anthology titles Adventures into the Unknown and Forbidden Worlds — have been truly objects of desire, beautifully reproduced (if a shade darker than the originals) in hardback editions and on paper of far better quality than the original comics ever were.
Not, however, that I don’t have a bone to pick with Mr Crowther. He commissioned me to write the introductions for several of the earlier volumes (along with Kim Newman, Christopher Fowler and Stephen Jones) when ACG was specialising in horror, and I was more than happy to do that – he even allowed me to mention that this was not the company’s best period. As a purveyor of horror (under the energetic stewardship of Editor Emeritus Richard Hughes), the tales from this period had their virtues, although they were not the equal of the similar great work being done by EC Comics. In fact, Hughes’ writing blossomed brilliantly after the introduction of the Comics Code in the books’ later runs – precisely the period now being covered by the reissues. And those were the books that I really wanted to enthuse about – but the books no longer have introductions! Ah, well…
Pete Crowther and myself grew up on the British versions of these subtle and atmospheric tales in which the now forbidden horror was replaced by superbly written supernatural fantasy tales and science-fiction pieces with the emphasis very much on the human element rather than on the shaky science underpinning them. The varied stories in these three volumes are among the glories of the comics medium, but Hughes’ work has yet to receive the acclaim that the work of such editors as DC’s Julius Schwartz and Marvel’s Stan Lee routinely does, and hopefully books such as those in this batch will remedy that. But just in case you think this piece is too generous to PS publishing (though I find it hard not to be), I should add another caveat: and most of the credits pages say ‘script unknown’ for the tales. But in almost every case, the writer was (as is well known) the protean, hard-working Richard Hughes and his fingerprints are all over the stories. Credit where it’s due!
But as caveats go, this is a small one — and the reader is strongly advised to pick up (for instance), Forbidden Worlds Volume 11 with its striking Ogden Whitney illustration of a young man looking at a shop window to see an aged reflection of himself. The celebrated first story, ‘There’s a New Moon Tonight’, is one of Whitney and Hughes’ most famous pieces, much loved by readers at the time. By all means, collect the earlier volumes for the horror tales, but now – right now! — is precisely when you should be buying these exemplary volumes at this stage of the reissue program. And you should also be praying (as I am) that Mr Crowther manages to finish the run. Having said that, I personally don’t mind if he doesn’t get to the desperate superhero period of ACG comics… I’m not a fan of this last gasp staff, but I know that there are many who are. But caveats aside: roll on Adventures into the Unknown Volume 12!
Forbidden Worlds Vols. 11 & 12 and Adventures into the Unknown Vol. 11 (Richard Hughes, editor) are published by PS Art Books