Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘The Unknown Anti-War Comics’, available now in hardcover from IDW Publishing.

Cover to ‘The Unknown Anti-War Comics’ HC. Original art by Steve Ditko/IDW Publishing

by Arpad Okay. The balancing act of comics-are-for-kids and choosing to push the envelope is one of the medium’s greatest moves. To publish genre work that asks questions, to present a young mind with anti-imperialist war stories, sneaks into entertainment an education that every citizen on the planet needs to grow up with.

At the same time, making these subtly sophisticated comics for kids makes them not just for kids. Any adult can enjoy a man in underoos smashing things. But an adult should enjoy stories that capture the plight of the smashed as much as the smasher. Maybe more.

Here, then, are The Unknown Anti-War Comics.

Here are comics that examine the endless escalation of war. As long as civilization has existed, the well-armed have trampled the venerable into dust and blood. Will it end? Is it ever worth it? These real comics saved from the wastebasket of half a century past ask us, and they answer, as well. The answer is no. Never.

The Unknown Anti-War Comics is authority as the charnel house. War stories of the justified deserter, the pariahs, the power of the meek. It’s bureaucrats versus babies, shotguns versus man’s best friend, following orders set against doing what’s right. Paths of Glory was challenging theater-goers while the forgotten gems collected in this anthology were challenging their children with the same ideas.

The art is the paragon of the time. Inky textures and dominant contours. Simple. It’s the subject matter that’s different from the other war rags. No matter the era, from knights pierced through with arrows to doughboys face down in the dirt to incinerated cosmonauts, the focus of these comics isn’t a vehicle for violence, it’s to capture the soldier’s life.

Debate in the trenches (both martial and political), peppered with enough explosions to sell issues. The artists’ heavy inks and dated attempts to bend a cartoon style towards realism spend as much time with kids, girlfriends, juke joints, barracks, and worry as it does with dogfights, bombings, and battlegrounds. Mostly The Unknown Anti-War Comics were colleagues arguing.

It is the love for printmaking that makes these oversized hardcover books worth the scratch and shelf space they take to acquire. The painstaking quality of reproduction is a rarity in comics these days. Digital flats are replacing original tone patterns. Worse, unimaginative recolors are clarifying the experimental works of yesteryear.

This book gives a hard “no, thank you” to clarity and luxuriates in the moiré. The colors are complex, textural, original works, strata of color sheets laid on top of each other, unrepeatable, an art form as much a part of the era as the content that they color.

Add to it the paper stock and you get something that defies nostalgia. This is a feast for the eyes and fingers born from industry restraints. The colors in The Unknown Anti-War Comics are simply magic. It’s no surprise that the guys trying to link Spider-Man to Gutenberg see this; now see it for yourself.

It nearly defies description. The sky a pale blue underlaid with yellow, a uniform the color of sand with pools of red or gold, an anti-shadow, an impossible edging. Skin tones of pink on the rare side of medium steak, bleeding into the colors on the other side of the illustrators’ contours.

The analogue to offset printing is the wild child artist. Not coloring in the lines. Creating a shade they don’t have the crayon for by blending two others together. Instead of being crude, it is divine. Inspired.

All of it is inspired. The Fifties’ obsession with the War To End All Wars gives way to the Sixties’ obsession with the stars. Yet the message remains the same: man’s battle is with himself. Half of the world marches to their doom to ensure no one grows strong enough to shake the pillars of civilization. The other half won’t sleep tonight for worry over the scores upon scores of corpses those pillars stand upon. I understand why these comics disappeared. They are trying to save us, and suffered the fate we afford saviors.

IDW Publishing/$29.99

Edited by Craig Yoe.

Written by Joseph Gill and Denny O’Neil.

Art by Ross Andru, Pat Boyette, Steve Ditko, Bob Forgione, Dick Giordano, Rocco Mastroseria, Bill Molno, Charles Nicolas, and Maurice Whitman.

Inks by Jack Abel, Vince Alascia, Pat Boyette, Vince Colletta, Steve Ditko, Mike Esposito, Bob Forgione, Dick Giordano, Rocco Mastroseria, Bill Molno, Sal Trapani, and Maurice Whitman.

Letters by Jon D’Agostino, et alia.

Enjoy this six-page preview of ‘The Unknown Anti-War Comics’, courtesy of IDW Publishing!

More Required Reading…

With the smack of typewriter keys, supernatural noir ‘Abbott’ keeps a jazzy beat

‘On a Sunbeam’ a story of passion, purpose and agency

‘Tumult’ a warped love story told with unparalleled vision and an excess of ink