Markley’s Fevered Brain: Reed Crandall – A Genius You Should Know

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

I first discovered Reed Crandall’s work in an old Superman 100 page spectacular (1973) that reprinted golden age Doll Man and Black Condor stories from Quality Comics from the 1940s. I had no idea who this guy was, but even then, I could tell this was an artist who was so much better than those other guys, even if the story was a reprint. (These old 100 page specials were part of what made me so fascinated by comic book history). At the time I was unaware of comic book stores, conventions, or even price guides so I had no real way to discover more about this Crandall guy, other than I really liked his art.

Over the years as my tastes changed and I discovered how broad the world of comic books were and how much history there was to be discovered. I also found out how great Reed Crandall was. I discovered that while his Black Condor was good, his later work in EC Comics and other places was just downright amazing. Like many of the artists from the Golden Age, while many had potential, a few would grow into masters over time like Jack Kirby, whose work in the’ 40s really did not match up to the grandeur of his work in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Reed Crandall’s work in the ‘40s on Black Condor, Doll Man, a variety of short stories for a number of places, and his most famous run, DC’s war book Blackhawk, were all good and clearly stood above most of his contemporaries, his later work would put him in the pantheon of greats to me, along with Hal Foster, Doug Wildley, Alex Raymond, etc. Sadly, for most of the last 75 years outside of a few reprints and a hardcore fan base (alas small) Crandall never really got the attention he deserved. Recently that has changed. TwoMorrows has released a beautiful biography/tribute to him filled with illustrations and stories. There is also a collection of his EC work from Fantagraphics. Plus there are at least two collection of his work from small press publishers, which are not available through traditional comic book stores, but are worth searching out (alas Amazon might be your best opportunity to get these books).

Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics

Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics


Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics is a massive tome written by Roger Hill. This book is a loving and honest look at the career of Reed Crandall. This 256 page hardcover book covers everything about Reed from his early comic book work on the titles already mentioned, as well as on the Ray and Uncle Sam to his portrait and landscapes done later in life. It also covers his work at EC Comics where he did almost every genre imaginable from horror to science fiction to war to crime to pirates. He would later move onto Warren publications where he continued his brilliant work in the pages of Creepy and Eerie, and some of his best stories can be found in the pages of Blazing Combat. He also returned to the super-hero world in the 1960s working on Wally Wood’s fondly remembered, but never reproduced, (though there have been numerous attempts) Thunder Agents. This book is filled with never before seen art from all of Crandall’s career, from the earliest days to some amazing pieces of his non comic book art that I have never seen before. It is also filled with photos and a detailed biography of his life, which was both filled with adventures and ends in tragedy. This is a great read if you are interested in a good biography, the history of comics, or just some amazing art. It is a bit on the pricy side, but it is a hardcover than should be on any art fan’s shelf as Reed Crandall was an artist’s artist.

The High Cost of Dying and Other Stories

The High Cost of Dying and Other Stories


Over the last few years Fantagraphics has been very releasing some nice hardcover reprints of all of the classic pre-code EC Comics material. While these stories have been reprinted numerous times over the years what makes these different is they are reprinted in black and white, and the stories are collected by artist, not title. This there are two volumes of Wally Wood, there are collections of George Evens, Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman, etc. One of the volumes that stands out, and particularly for the purposes of this blog, is The High Cost of Dying and Other Stories, which features Reed Crandall’s stories from the pages of EC Comics. Reprinted here there are 21 of Crandall’s best stories. I do not think this is all of his EC work, but it is more than enough to blow you away for months. Here you will find everything from an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Silent Towns, to the Kidnapper which is a brutal story about a missing baby, to the title story, The High Cost of Dying, which is the tale of a choice that no one should ever have to make. While almost any EC book is worth having just for the storytelling, these stories as illustrated by Reed Crandall, who was in his prime here, are the top of his game.

The Lost Art of Ray Willner: The Adventures of Robin Hood

The Lost Art of Ray Willner: The Adventures of Robin Hood


Next is an odd find that is not available in comics book stores and is not attributed to Reed Crandall, ever though he did do it. It is called The Lost Art of Ray Willner: The Adventures of Robin Hood. I was not familiar with Ray Willner or the comic, The Adventures of Robin Hood. There have been numerous Robin Hood comics over the years, but this one I had never seen or really heard off. It turns out it was done as a promo comic for the Brown Shoe Company in 1956 and lasted 14 issues. Ray Willner, a very talented illustrator himself, collaborated with Reed Crandall on this series that is stunning and entertaining. The stories are in the traditional Robin Hood vein, but the art is heads above any other take on Robin Hood and his merry men. Willner and Crandall are able to take the pageantry and grandeur that Hal Foster captured in Price Valiant and transfer it to Sherwood Forest. Yes, it is that beautiful. The stories are actually also quite good and the art just takes it to the next level. Sadly, the Brown Show Company dropped this project in the wake of the comic controversy of the 1950s. I was thrilled to discover this gem, which is published by the fine folks over at Picture This Press. It is well worth the money to get this rare collection of an artist I was not familiar with collaborating with one of my favorite artists to tell some wonderful stories. I should also mention how top notch the production on this book is. Everything from the paper stock to the colors are pitch perfect and they truly have given this rare material the attention and respect it deserves.

Firebrand: His Complete Adventures

Firebrand: His Complete Adventures

Speaking of small press publishers, Create Space Independent Publishing, which again are not available in comic book stores, have reprinted a number of Golden Age comics in various formats, including the complete Reed Crandall Black Condor, and the complete Firebrand: His Complete Adventures from Police Comics #1-13. To me, Firebrand is an ok series originally published by Quality Comics in the 1940s. This is not Crandall’s best work as you can see how he is developing, but not there yet (again similar to early 1940s Kirby work). But these collections are interesting reads and looks into the development of a master. By no means anywhere as good as his EC Work or Warren or Robin Hood, this is an interesting look into history. Unlike Picture This Press, these books do not have the stellar production values and care that the Robin Hood book does. They are neat to read, but not if you are looking for top notch reproduction and care in your reprint material.

This wraps it up for this time. In my mind, Reed Crandall was a genius who gets little of the attention he deserves. While I wholeheartedly praise TwoMorrows for publishing this book about his life and work, I also find it sad that the two others books are so hard to find in the world of comic books (which has more to do with distribution and retail stores than publishing). I would highly recommend any or all of these books to any comic art fan, especially the Robin Hood book that is just beautiful and rarely seen. I would consider this a great read for fans of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant material. All I have written here is my opinion and does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. Have you see or read these books? Are there more talents out there like Reed Crandall that have been lost to history? (Lou Fine comes to mind). Who would you suggest? I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. I look forward to hearing from you. As always…

Thank you.

USER COMMENTS

We'd love to hear from you, feel free to add to the discussion!