Wednesday, November 14, 2012

BOOK REVIEW! ALTER EGO, THE BEST OF THE LEGENDARY COMICS FANZINE, edited by Roy Thomas and Bill Schelly (Hamster Press, 1997)

Although a collection of writings, artwork and strips from the legendary comic fanzine ALTER EGO's original run (1961-1978) was something that any comic fandom cherub would adore, I had grave misgivings about this softcover issue by issue rundown courtesy comic fanzine historian (and editor/contributor) Bill Schelly and ALTER EGO creator and eventual industry bigwig Roy Thomas. I guess what really griped me when I first picked this up a good fifteen years back was that the articles were not reproduced, ditto layout and all, in the manner in which they originally appeared, something that made such fanzine collections as the ones done for SEARCH AND DESTROY as well as BOMP! so appealing and reflective of the time and place they were created. This seemingly small fact was enough to turn me off to the entire concept of a book devoted to perhaps the most influential comic fanzine ever, and as you would guess this book remained in a storage box ever since only to be unearthed this past Sunday because frankly, I am that hard up for some hotcha reading material!

So now it's time for a reappraisal, and although I know that my opinions and the way I look at life and music and art mutate if ever so slightly all I gotta say is...the thing sure ain't as blandoid dull as I remember it to have been! Hokay, the usual incestuousness (same writers, same correspondents, everybody knowing each other) might have made those new to the 'zine feel slightly alienated, and the original comic book-styled stories (such as Roy Thomas' "Bestest League of America" spoofs) either read like sophomoric takes on the Harvey Kurtzman MAD comics or just ain't as engrossing as the original inspiration (Biljo White's "Captain Ego" even though the man was a fantastic artist when imitating the C. C. Beck style). Even the work of Ronn Foss, the gigundo in the world of comic fandom, didn't quite engage me the way some of his early-seventies contributions to the world of fanzines did which probably speaks more about me than him but hey, I'm just giving you my humble opinion. And (to put the dogplop on the lawn) a tad bit of "political correctness" (also known as surrendering to the barbarians) pops up when the early-sixties text just has to be altered if ever so slightly, since it is more than obvious that such a word as "humankind" did not exist until some whiny bitch invented it years later.

But still who could doubt that ALTER EGO was a massive project that helped solidify comic fandom and inspired throngs of emulators and imitators the same way homebound publications such as BACK DOOR MAN and DENIM DELINQUENT spawned plenty of rock 'n roll-oriented rags that helped make the seventies a better place for loads of kids who thought it was all over and done with. In other words, it was everything a fanzine should have been during a time when most aficionados of the form were lucky to have a spirit duplicator at their disposal, and maybe I should not quibble about things as much as I do considering that this 'un really does present to us ALTER EGO as a fanzine that helped spearhead the Silver Age of Comics, or at least gave it a voice if not a soul.

True, most of the information gathered is old hat which can be found with the flick of a key these days, but considering the snail paced information flow of the early-sixties what the comic world needed was for someone to gather up the information, present it in a spiffy, readable and pleasing to the eye way, and send it out to throngs of fans who probably thought they were the only ones in their isolated burghs who still cared about long-gone comic titles or comic books as a whole for that matter. ALTER EGO was a clarion call to hundreds of kids who were probably berated and looked down upon for reading such "trash" they were told had no redeeming social, moral or even entertainment value, making them all realize that they were really part of a vanguard that was every bit as artistic and worthy of gulcheral greatness as jazz or modern art no matter how much the Miss Grundys of this world doth protested.

Anyway it's all here 'cept for the great ditto printing (eventually offset), with original art, letters from the big guys at DC and Marvel expressing their graciousness and loads more. And yeah, you might want to skip over the old news or even the material which gives out information that's since been proven non-factual (remember, back then fanzine people such as myself had to rely on what we eventually found out were downright lies passed off as gospel truth), but it's always nice to espy things along the line of an original Steve Ditko letter-cum-cartoon or a Roy Thomas-penned article on the Mexican comic scene (as it relates to the United States) which mentioned a strange fact that I never knew before, that a BLACKHAWK comic strip vaguely similar to the DC original was actually running South of the Border! Wonder how the lawyers at National let that one slip by... But whatever, a fine study of not only the fanzine and fandom process, but that of creativity and execution. Besides, with original copies going for well over $200 a pop this 'un can save you a lotta pocket change, ifyaknowaddamean...

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