Friday, 28 March 2014


Cover illustration by Alan Aldridge

Way back in the early '70s, I recall sitting in the Norfolk
Restaurant in my home town with a friend, browsing through
The PENGUIN BOOK Of COMICS - the original 1967 version,
not the 1971 revised edition.  I'd borrowed it from my local library
and, many, many years later, I bought that actual book from them in
one of their regular clear-outs of old stock.  It was a little beat-up
when I acquired it (doubtless the reason why they dispensed
with its services), but I still have it today. 

This morning, however, I took receipt of a far better copy, the
cover of which you can see above.  When this book was first being
prepared, the publishers (PENGUIN, obviously) managed to secure
to use the image of SUPERMAN on the cover.  They described in
exact detail how the cover was going to look, a deal was
struck and the book was published.

However, when NPP (now known as DC COMICS) saw
it, they weren't too happy and returned the cheque, demanding
ten times more than they had originally asked for.  Penguin refused, 
explaining that they hadn't deviated from their initial cover description
and sent the cheque back, only for it to be returned yet again.  Not one
for giving up easily, Penguin once more sent the cheque to the States,
only to hear nothing of the matter from that point on.  What's more,
the cheque was never cashed - perhaps Superman, champion
of the oppressed, had a word with his publishers.

When the book was reissued in 1971, a brand-new cover was
produced and all the DC Comics illustrations used in the previous
edition were excluded, being replaced by MARVEL COMICS
art.  As you can see, I've included the new cover here so that
you can compare them both.

Anyway, just thought I'd show off the latest edition to my
bookshelf, which I acquired for a mere £1.20.  (The book, not
the bookshelf.)  Wotta bargain, I'm sure you'll agree.

Cover illustration by Bob Smithers, based
on design by George Perry

The beat-up library copy - purchased
for 65p in 1994

The 1989 reprint of the '71 edition


TwoHeadedBoy said...

Interesting story there... Let's hope none of DC's more jobsworthy lawyers are reading this!

It's a good book, especially the Alan Aldridge illustrations. Here's my funny story relating to it:

I got the second edition in an Oxfam about three years ago, then less than a month later the FIRST edition showed up in the very same shop - for the same price as well!

Kid said...

Don't keep me in suspense, THB - did you buy the first one as well?

George Shiers said...

I managed to obtain the second edition in a market a few years ago. I good book, but I think I prefer the original cover.

Kid said...

I think I prefer the original cover also, but that could just be because I saw it first. That second cover is pretty colourful and is probably more attractive. However, I don't really have to choose between them as I'm lucky enough to have both.

TwoHeadedBoy said...

Yep, of course I got the first one too! My hoarder's credentials would be called in to question if I didn't.

Out of the two covers, it's hard to pick a favourite - the second one's good because I don't like blank spaces, but the expression on Donald Duck's face on the first one works highly in its favour too.

Kid said...

THB, the second book was reissued in 1989 with an introduction by George Perry, but I'll tell you what I'd like to see: An updated, corrected version, with full-colour illustrations (unless they were published in B&W in their original sources) and both covers used in some fashion. Perhaps the first one as the actual cover, and the second one as a frontispiece (or vice versa). I say 'corrected' because there were a few mistakes in both earlier editions, one such describing Jack Kirby as Marvel's art director, which he wasn't; at least, not in an official capacity.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

Sounds like an interesting book, though I don't suppose it was published in the states at all.

Noticed the name Alan Aldridge mentioned here, I guess I'm not too familiar with him though I see he designed the look of the animal characters in the book "The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper Feast" of which I had only had some familiarity with the animated short film that Aldridge gets credit on (the song itself based on a concept album of the same name). This film used to show up a lot on a particular show I saw in the early 80's.

Kid said...

I think it may have been shipped to the States, Chris, as someone was recently (and may still be) selling one from there. You could see in the photo where a sticker (probably a U.S. price) had covered the British price, so while it may not have been published over there ('though it might've been), it looks like it was certainly available. Thanks for the link, I'll take a look.

TokyoGo-Go said...

I came across this page whilst trying to Google information about Bob Smithers, who created the cover for the revised 1971 edition of 'The Penguin Book of Comics'. Unlike Alan Aldridge, who did the interior illustrations and whose work is better known and better established, Smithers is a much more elusive figure. Again, unlike Alan Aldridge, there is no Wikipedia entry for him and precious little about him anywhere else, other than a cover or two that he did for the post-punk rock band, Sham 69. I happen to think that the cover for the 1971 edition is the better of the two. And regardless of whether or not the design was suggested to him by George Perry, Smithers' image clearly references the cover to the first issue of 'Golden' (from 1937) which is printed on page 82 of the book itself.

Like others who have commented, I have a personal history with this book which stretches back to 1971, when I was 10 years of age. But it is only now, in this current year, that I am reading it from cover to cover. Taking into account its vintage, I think it is the best general history of the medium that has ever been written. And I would extend that judgement to include the quality of the book's design and layout, as well as the choice of material that has been reprinted within its pages. I agree that there ought to be a new edition - Perry is still alive, at 81 - but mainly because the techniques for reprinting the comic book material within its pages are now so much more advanced than they were in 1971. There could (and should) be better definition on the strips and more colour...

Kid said...

I eventually came to regard Alan Aldridge's interior illustrations as slightly out of place, and I think I'd have preferred illustrations from actual comics instead. However, now that they've become enshrined in the hallowed halls of memory, if another edition were published, I'd want them kept in. It's been a good few years since I read it, but I seem to recall regarding it as a bit of a dry read at the time. Perhaps it was trying too hard to be 'scholarly' and in so doing, lost sight of the humour that should surely belong in a book about comics. I'd have to re-read it 'though, to be able to say whether my memory of it matches the reality or not. A new edition would surely have to restore the jettisoned DC images, as well as retain their Marvel replacements - now wouldn't that be something?

TokyoGo-Go said...

I think The Penguin Book of Comics is very much where the Pop Art sensibility of the late sixties meets the comic book, within a single-volume history of the medium. And given that Alan Aldridge was a pop art illustrator with ties to the Beatles, I think that his work adds a delightful twist to the mix. His is a different view from a different, but related, angle. And personally, I don't find George Perry's prose to be too dry. His tone is reasonable and middle-brow throughout, although he has also done his homework and he clearly has an enthusiasm for the medium. He is very good on the manoeuvrings of the press barons who were behind the production of the first strips (as we would recognise them) and he is also good on the artists behind the strips themselves. So he scores well enough on both of those counts for me. I think that you also have to take into account the quality of the book's production, as well as its overall design and layout, plus the choice of material which has been reproduced within its pages. It is a lovely volume and, taking all of these things together, I don't think that it has ever been bettered. There may be more learned volumes, and there may be volumes which have cast a wider net than Perry was able to, at that time, but I doubt if there have been volumes which, as a whole, are as artistically accomplished and as informative as The Penguin Book of Comics.

We are all hankering after a new and improved edition, but really, any book produced in our own time is going to lack what I think of as the lovely combination of Perry's balanced and informative prose with the late sixties artistry and design which distinguishes The Penguin Book of Comics.

Kid said...

Remember, it's been a good while since I read it, but I'm pretty sure I've read punchier prose, and I seem to recall a few mistakes (calling Jack Kirby Marvel's Art Director for a start), which irked me slightly. However, it's a nice book and I like it (otherwise I wouldn't have several copies of it), but reproduction of some of the colour strips in black & white was a little murky for my tastes. Maybe I'm being picky, but that's down to me wanting it to be just a little better. (And it could be.) However, overall it's a very handsome volume and I wouldn't be without it.

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