Jul 9, 2011

An ABC Retrospective, Day 6: A Final Word on America's Best Comics (In Which We Thank Alex and Todd)

Welcome to Day 6 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on America's Best Comics. You can read the intro to this series here. This is its conclusion.

Today, we give the final word on America's Best Comics, thanking two people in particular: Alex Ross and Todd Klein!

Hopefully, in the last week, I've entertained you with my ABC retrospective series. If you'd read products from this imprint before and liked it, I hope I've taken you down memory lane. If you hated them, I hope you were maybe convinced, even for a split-second, to give things another go. And if you had never read these books, if you'd never even heard of them, I hope I've sold you on them.

The ABC books mean a lot to me because they came at a time when I was about to give up comics. Everything seemed very repetitive, and I was just about to give the hobby up when I discovered WATCHMEN, and I realized more could be done with this medium (read that account here). So when I'd heard that Alan Moore was going to launch an imprint, I was excited. And the names! America's Best Comics! Jack B. Quick! Tom Strong! Promethea! These were names that just evoked a sense of wonder, a sense of hope, that was really missing in the 1990s. And of course, when I read the ABC books, I couldn't believe how different they all felt, how unique every single issue felt in my hands, and more, that it was done by the guy who wrote the very depressing WATCHMEN and V FOR VENDETTA. I was very impressed with Moore's versatility, and to this day, I haven't found any writer — ever — with such a wide range.

For these reasons, ABC will always be thought of as Moore's imprint, but it should be noted that ABC would never have lasted as long as it did without two fellows: Alex Ross, painter extraordinaire, and Todd Klein, comic book lettering god. Together, they came up with the ABC "star" logo.

At the time, Alex was at the height of his popularity, and could pretty much do whatever he wanted. (I remember this time. People were comparing Mark Waid and Ross' KINGDOM COME to WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.) So he helped out with some character designs and even suggested some artists to Moore. I know for a fact that he suggested JH Williams III. He might have suggested Gene Ha and Zander Cannon too.

Alex also did the variant covers for the first issues of each series (except LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN), which turned out to be the more famous covers for the first issues of each series.

He also did the cover to the 64-PAGE GIANT, which featured short stories featuring everyone on the cover (the one with Greyshirt in particular is genius).

I don't think it's a stretch to say that Alex Ross contributed very highly to the profile of this imprint, and I think he was definitely a big help in its successful launch, which kept enough readers for it to be around for several years.

As you can see, those covers involve a lot of heavy design work. And that's where Todd Klein comes in. Todd is a comic book lettering god, who has won 15 of the 18 Eisner Awards for Best Letterer. I keep saying that they should just rename the award "The Todd Klein Award," but alas, my calls go unheeded.

What is not as well-known is that Todd is also an exemplary designer. It is Todd that kept the look of ABC together, ensuring that all the books and logos had a consistency and were appropriate to their particular stories. In addition to the Ross covers he helped with above (note the hieroglyphs on the PROMETHEA cover), here's a sampling of his often overlooked contributions.

The design for this was Todd's.

Everything that's not the picture in the middle by Charles Vess was by Todd.

This bonus feature in LEAGUE had Kevin O'Neill draw the logo.
The rest is Todd's.

You can read more about Todd Klein's design contributions here, in his own words.

The ABC books were full of joy and wonder, and were told with an underlying subtlety that is more and more becoming a lost art. They stood out far and ahead of the rest of the pack in the late 90s to the mid-2000s.  They taught me the importance of versatility, in avoiding, as Alan Moore put it in his WRITING FOR COMICS, an easily recognizable style, lest you become a brand and not a creator.

They taught me the importance of visual storytelling, in communicating a story with pictures. In a market filled with people who drew posters and pin-ups and passed them off as comics storytelling, people like Gene Ha and JH Williams III and Rick Veitch really opened my eyes to the wondrous possibilities of comics, if you take the time and care to tell your stories well.

If there was a main theme to most of the ABC books, it was simply that of love. Whether it's Promethea journeying through the Immateria to learn that every good thing comes from it, or interspecies relationships in TOP 10, or contemplating existence on Venus in TOM STRONG, Moore's big theme was that love, in all its forms, was the uniting force that brought everything together.

When I discovered ABC, I had almost quit comics. It is this imprint, these comics, and these creators that made sure that I never left this medium. In many, many ways, they are the reason The Comics Cube! exists at all.

I know the name was meant to be ironic, but I really have no problem saying it literally. In that time, in that era, these were undoubtedly America's Best Comics.*

Thanks for coming along on this really fun trip down memory lane. I hope you join me on the next retrospective series, whatever that may be.

*I guess there may have been better in Japan or something.

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