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In his seminal 1936 essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," philosopher Walter Benjamin argued that original artworks lost their "aura" of cultural authority and transcendent beauty when disseminated on a mass scale. A magazine photo of The Dying Gaul, for example, conveys little of that Roman sculpture's tragic corporeality nor its Hellenistic narrative of defiance conquered. But great artists have long drawn specifically for reproduction (think of Durer's prints) and we lead off our seventh annual roundup of outstanding comics with The Best of EC Comics Artist's Edition, Volume 1 (IDW, 168 pp., $125), which features original boards printed at their full 22-by-15-inch size. Bernie Krigstein's atmospheric catacombs, Roy G. Krenkel's futuristic vistas, and Johnny Craig's surreal shifts of scale transcend the often ludicrous scripts in these 1950s crime, sci-fi, and horror stories. These virtuosi (and the seven other masters included here) used coarse Zip-A-Tone, volumetric crosshatching, and bold black contours to set off the era's limited color palettes. (Which illustrates why the graphic tonalities of the Gold and Silver ages look terrible when re-colored with today's computer-gradated spectrum, analogous to the way colorized black-and-white movies feel like heavily made-up drag queens.) With flourishes of yellowed rubber cement, printer's stamps, dollops of white correction fluid, and scribbled blue editorial notes, these panels remain supreme mass entertainment even as they've evolved into serendipitous modernist collage.
Perverse heroines and supreme sacrifices in the year's best comics.
READ MORE: 2013's Best Graphic Novels by R.C. Baker
Published on December 11, 2013