Monday, January 26, 2009

The Reaper of Love vs. The Mutants

The Reaper of Love and Other Stories (Fantagraphics Books, 1988) is the second collection of Bernie Wrightson's early fanzine and magazine work from 1966 to 1971. An earlier collection, The Mutants (Mother of Pearl, 1980), has much to recommend it, but is harder to find than The Reaper of Love and does not reprint as many stories. Either of these collections are essential if you just are familiar with Bernie's mainstream comic book work and don't have the funds or energy to track down fanzines with small print runs and titles like Gothic Blimp Works and Squa Tront. However, if you've already tracked down that stuff, there is not much here for you.

Both books reprint probably Bernie's earliest published story, “A Case of Conscience.” The Mutants dates the story as 1966, but it was first published in Castle of Frankenstein in 1968. For people familiar with Bernie's very early work for DC, the art in this story is recognizable but cruder in style. The Frazetta influence comes through strongly. Several panels of the zombies shambling down the hallway and confronting the villain are nice. Bernie could draw good zombies right from the beginning.

The Reaper of Love reprints all the stories from Bernie's 1972 collection Badtime Stories, including the wonderful "Uncle Bill's Barrel," originally presented in Graphic Showcase #2. Reaper of Love also contains Wrightson's complete story output for the Web of Horror magazine. The Mutants does not include “Feed It!” or “Breathless” from that magazine. The inclusion of Badtime Stories and the Web of Horror stories make The Reaper of Love the better purchase if you're trying to not track all this stuff down individually. Back when I was buying all this stuff in the mid-1980's, Badtime Stories was selling for $20 to $40 and Web of Horror issues were usually $10 to $15. But of course, I would have bought those anyways even if Reaper of Love had been out at that time. Also featured in The Reaper of Love is “Wrightson's Revolting Rhymes” from Abyss #1, 1970. Abyss can be hard zine to find and this collection helps plug that gap. But if you don't spring for a copy of it, you miss the nice work by Michael Kaluta, Jeff Jones, and Bruce Jones in there. Both collections reprint stories such as the “Limpstrel” strips from Witzend, also “Stake-Out,” “Nosferatu,” and the “Ghastly Horror Comix” and “Maudlin Love Comics” from Gothic Blimp.

One place The Reaper of Love really falls short is in the portfolio section included in the back. There is a large amount of unpublished work by Wrightson from this era, and from what I can tell Fantagraphics included almost none of that. The sketches that are there are just kind of slapped on the page. At least The Mutants includes “Tar Pit,” a B&W plate from the signed edition of the Apparitions portfolio. Bernie's plate from the National Cartoonists' Society portfolio, and several Frankenstein illustrations that were not used in the book. Reproduction and the level of detail is comparable in both books, but The Mutants is printed on a heavier paper stock that shows off the B&W artwork better.

The bottom line is, if you're a Wrightson fan and don't feel like buying Badtime Stories or the Web of Horror issues, The Reaper of Love is for you. Or if you're like me, just buy both and the stories in all their original appearances.

Below is a table I compiled listing the stories in each volume and their original place of publication. Please click on it to get a larger view.

Below is the signed bookplate that came with the limited hardcover of The Reaper of Love.It wasn't worth it.

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