Top Ten Obscure Comics That Deserve To Be Collected

A column article, Top Ten by: Robert Dahlen

We have entered the Golden Age of comic reprints. As many readers choose book format over pamphlet, and as publishers discover a market for older material, many comics old and (relatively) new are being collected. Michael Deeley did an excellent column last year about ten series that deserve to be collected (or re-collected in some cases). What I'm doing with this getting more obscure, finding ten older gems that have slipped through the cracks and telling you why they should be brought back for a new audience.

My criteria -- I'm sticking to comic books first published in the United States; I don't pretend to know enough about European comics, manga, and comic strips to make guesses. I'm only including completed stories or episodic-type series, since I don't want to read one that's never going to be finished. And I left off anything on Deeley's list (though I agree with him on Zenith) and anything with obvious rights issues (sorry, Ultraverse) or that's been republished on the web. And I'm sure you have your favorites. Sound off in the forums!

So, without further ado, here's today's Top 10!

Honorable Mention: Damage Control

Oddly enough, Dwayne McDuffie's most enduring creation for Marvel, Damage Control has never been collected (except for the World War Hulk crossover). This is despite the fact that it's not obscure - it has a small but solid following. It seems that Marvel has an opportunity here: collect all the McDuffie work in one hardbound volume, add an appreciation of the series and a look at McDuffie's Marvel career, and maybe earmark some of the proceeds for charity. That would be a well-deserved tribute. How about it, Marvel?

10. Cyberella (1996-1997, DC/Helix)

Now, we've hit the era where most things that people are interested in are getting collected, some two or three times over. This one is still waiting, though. Cyberella was Howard Chaykin teaming with artist Don Cameron to take another look at a dystopian, commercialized feature in this short-lived series for DC's failed sci-fi imprint Helix – from that line, only Transmetropolitan succeeded, and got moved to Vertigo for its trouble. Despite the surface similarities to Chaykin's classic American Flagg! , this series stands on its own, and even came to a conclusion before its cancellation.

Likelihood of reprint: We've also hit the era where creators own more of their original creations, and Chaykin and Cameron co-own this series (and apparently still have the rights). This means it's just a question of someone being interested. Check back in a few years, maybe?

9. Stanley and His Monster (1993, DC)

Phil Foglio did three mini-series for DC; in my opinion, this was easily the best. In this reworking of Arnold Drake's 1960s creation, 6-year old Stanley finds a monster and adopts him as a pet, keeping him hidden from his parents. Unfortunately, it turns out that Stanley's monster is actually a demon, kicked out of Hell for being too nice -- and now the new rulers of Hell want him back. This series is filled with gag after gag - how Ambrose Bierce became one of the "Trenchcoat Brigade" is a classic – but it has a sweet core. Oh, and attention Girl Genius completists -- the first issue is filled with Heterodyne Boys references!

Likelihood of reprint: Up until a year or so ago, I'd have put this behind the complete Sheldon Mayer in terms of likelihood. However, DC has recently re-introduced the 100-Page Super Spectacular as a way of reprinting four issues of a series for relatively cheap. Since this mini-series ran four issues, it's a natural -- market it as "by the co-creator of Girl Genius", mention the Heterodyne Boys connection, and remind people that you can't (legally) read it online.

8. Squalor (1989, First)

Harry Keller -- brilliant researcher and borderline insane -- discovers "A-Time", a zone existing outside of time and space where he can literally reshape someone's future. Then, things get weird. Stephen Petrucha's first major comic creation, this mini-series was moodily and effectively drawn by Tom Sutton; Petrucha would later write X-Files and Nancy Drew comics and numerous young-adult novels.

Likelihood of reprint: It already has, in a way -- after a planned sequel was rejected by First, Petrucha eventually reworked the concept into a young-adult prose book series called TimeTripper, about a high school student who can see beyond time. The comic seems to be a footnote in Petrucha's career now, but I think it deserves better.

7. 'Mazing Man (1986-1990, DC)

Take a comic book writer who just happens to look like a dog and a short, blissfully out-of-touch would-be super-hero, add a wacky supporting cast, and hey presto -- a series with lots of heart fondly remembered by its fans, and one of comic books' few original situation comedies. Many people hoped that Maze and friends would make a comeback after the original series was cancelled, and DC did publish several specials, but the specials met with little financial success.

Likelihood of reprint: Not good at this point. DC seems determined to gloss over the quirky parts of its past, and some of the stories seem a bit dated 25 years on. Still, a Showcase collection could encompass everything and be a nice little treat.

6. Alien: The Illustrated Story (1979, Heavy Metal)

I'm not sure how it happened, but Heavy Metal somehow secured the rights to adapt the original Alien movie, which they produced as a magazine-sized graphic novel, which Archie Goodwin wrote and Walt Simonson drew. That's right, Walt Simonson drawing Alien. Your mind may have just exploded. And yes, it's as good as you thought it would be.

Likelihood of reprint: I suspect there may be rights issues, because otherwise I'm surprised that Dark Horse has let this sit for so long. How about a 35th Anniversary edition? Re-colored, new intro, production sketches, hardcover?

5. Empire (1978, Berkley)

Fresh off his work on the Star Wars movie adaptation, Howard Chaykin (yes, him again) collaborated with award-winning science fiction author Samuel Delany on this sprawling epic adventure. Byron Preiss, who was just starting his career as a book packager, sold this to a mass-market publisher, and it met with some acclaim when it came out. And that's all I can say about this one, since I missed it the first time out. Yep, this entry is motivated by self-interest.

Likelihood of reprint: I have no idea who owns the rights, and I doubt anyone else does at this point; I suspect Preiss's death added to the confusion. The lawyers might be able get it sorted out if anyone showed any interest, but until then, at least used copies are kinda cheap if you look hard enough.

4. "Cheech Wizard" (1967-1975, National Lampoon and others)

"Cheech Wizard", and the work of creator Vaughn Bodé, was the exception to the above at one point; in the 1980s, Fantagraphics reprinted pretty much everything he ever did in a series of trade paperback collections. However, all of those have gone out of print, which surprised me. Bodé pretty much wrote and drew like no one else, with a strange heady mix of cosmic mysticism and bawdy jokes; his star may have faded, but Cheech still pops up from time to time in pop culture, and older fans still remember him fondly.

Likelihood of reprint: With the older trades out of print and commanding big price tags, I suspect it's just a question of who and when.

3. Wonder Wart-Hog (1962-2004, various publications)

Gilbert Shelton's second-most famous creation (or third, if you count "Fat Freddy's Cat" separately from the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), Wonder Wart-Hog was sent to Earth after his home planet exploded, where he assumed the identity of nerdy Philbert Desanex when not fighting crime. Yep, it's a Superman parody, except tinged with Sheldon's manic energy (the early appearances) or harsh political satire (some of the later appearances, which played off the differences between wimpy liberal Desanex and his almost-fascist alter ego) And at its best, it's hilarious.

Likelihood of reprint: Except for R. Crumb and a few token collections (including the Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy's Cat), the underground comic era has been thoroughly uncollected. This may be because of a perceived lack of demand, or because getting printable files together would be time-consuming at best, or because the publishers just kept reprinting the original comics instead (a practice that didn't die out until the 1990s). Still, there's lots of material out there that should be preserved, and even with the topical references, Wonder Wart-Hog hasn't aged too badly and could even have some relevance today.

2. Dennis the Menace (1955-c. 1968, Holden/Pines and Fawcett)

Not the comic strip; Fantagraphics has got that covered. But in the mid-1950s, Hank Ketcham licensed the comic book rights for his mischievous moppet and then got two of his assistants to work on them. The resulting work by Al Wiseman (writer) and Fred Toole (artist) is imaginative and funny, and is still well-regarded today. (Fred Hembeck, for one, is a big fan, and Toole's work influenced Los Bros Hernandez.) Aficionados especially like the vacation specials.

Likelihood of reprint: It seems like every good comic printed before 1970 and not done by Sheldon Mayer for DC is being reprinted by some publisher or another, so if there's a sure bet on this list, this is it. If it were to happen, Fantagraphics (again) would be the logical choice, since they've already got an in with the strip collections.

1. "Scribbly" (1936-1944 and 1948-1952, Dell and DC/All-American)

Before Sugar and Spike, Sheldon Mayer crafted the (somewhat autobiographical) adventures of an aspiring boy cartoonist in New York City. Laden with humor, charm, and Mayer's first-rate cartooning style, "Scribbly" started as a backup in several titles, took a break in the mid-1940s, and then was relaunched in its own title. It even ties in to DC continuity, as one of the supporting characters was Abigail "Ma" Hunkel, a.k.a. the original Red Tornado. Highly praised by fans of Golden Age comics, but generally overshadowed in looks at Mayer's career by the talking toddlers; very little has ever been reprinted at all.

Likelihood of reprint: Judging from the fact that it took over 20 years of fan requests before DC even considered collecting Sugar and Spike, it may be a while for "Scribbly". A long while. Of course, DC could always license out the rights to another publisher, like Disney/Marvel is doing for the upcoming Barks and Gottfredson collections…no, that actually makes sense. Forget I said anything.

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