Friday, July 18, 2014

Booknote: Corpse on the Imjin

Harvey Kurtzman, Corpse on the Imjin and Other Stories. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2012. ISBN: 9781606995457.

This book collects war stories from EC Comics by Harvey Kurtzman.  The book is part of Fantagraphics EC Comics Library series. The strength of Kurtzman's comics lies in the portrayal of war. Most American (U.S.) war comics depict the big, handsome American soldier being heroic as he mows down a bunch of enemies. Kurtzman instead chose to portray war as it was, without glamour, and often presenting the enemy as humane. For example, in "Dying City," we get the story of a young Korean man who leaves his family to join the North Korean army. He is blinded in combat, but it turns out he was also blind to other truths long before he went off to war.

The book collects 24 stories. All scripts are by Kurtzman, and he also did the art on eleven of the stories. For other stories, he called on greats like Alex Toth and Joe Kubert among others. Kurtzman and his team paid much attention to detail, and they did research to get their military details correct. It shows in the comics. The art is also excellent in depicting the horror and tragedy of war; see the title story, "Corpse on the Imjin" for an example. The comics also depict the routine moments of a war zone. I would say that if more people read these comics they would not be jingoistically celebrating war. The comics collection covers conflicts from the Revolutionary War to the Korean Conflict, from big figures like John Paul Jones to soldiers in trenches and jet pilots.

Like other volumes in this Fantagraphics series, this one has various extras. Various essays discuss Kurtzman's work. There is an interview with Kurtzman, and there is also a very nice full color gallery of Kurtzman covers from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, the main EC Comics titles where his work was featured.

Public libraries will definitely want to add this to their collections. Academic libraries with interests in pop culture and/or recreational reading collections may want to add this one as well, especially if they have added others in the series. Fans of vintage comics may want to consider adding this to their collections. Though I borrowed it from my local public library, this is one I would consider adding to my personal library as well as the others.

If you ask me, 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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