11
Sep 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Crime/Suspense Thrillers

The Brown Wedge5 comments • 744 views

I usually start with my favourite work under consideration, but for the last entry in the series, I am saving the best for last. Crime is obviously central to countless comics, but I am not really talking about the superhero comic, not Alan Moore’s excellent Top Ten, a superhero Hill Street Blues, or even things like Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central, which is still in that world, almost constantly conscious of the existence of Batman. Frankly, comics have given us very little centrally placed in the genre to match up to the many great crime novels or movies – though actually I have high hopes for Darwyn Cooke’s upcoming adaptations of some of Richard Stark’s tremendously hardboiled Parker stories.

Really, this heading is just for me to talk about one eight-page story, which only loosely belongs here. It’s widely considered the best short-story ever in comics – this may be a fair assessment, though I mention a couple of other contenders in the War and Koike & Kojima entries in this series. Whatever, ‘Master Race’ is a genuine masterpiece. You will often find no mention of the writer – it’s just discussed as Bernie Krigstein’s comic. The script in itself is daring: in 1955, the Holocaust was not much referenced in popular culture. I imagine it was still too raw, too hard to assimilate into anything but the most serious coverage, so writer (and editor of Impact, which ran this story in its first issue) Al Feldstein was taking a risk in including details of its horrors. Krigstein for once got permission to do things more or less his way – he had had regular battles with EC about changing the panel layouts he was given (EC habitually had the borders and copious caption text all set before the artists got at it). This time, he even got to stretch a 6-page script to eight pages, though I have seen it said that he had wanted 12.

It’s that art job that makes this so exceptional. I thoroughly recommend reading the whole thing here. He uses some terrific and original tricks, such as the repetition to suggest fast, flickering movement, for instance at the end of the first page – and contrast the execution of this with the same device used at the end, to understand how much control he demonstrated over his fresh artistic inventions. He was also a great draughtsman, clean and sharp – sadly, he got so frustrated by comics that he left the form a few years later to draw for book covers, magazines and so on, and to teach art. His uses of perspective in the later parts of this are among the most effectively dramatic that I ‘ve ever seen, and his willingness to use a sequence of narrow panels for a moment that anyone else would show in a single panel provides wonderful control of pacing and tension. The sequence I shows here may be the most reproduced in comic history.

It’s rightly seen as evidence of how much comics can do, as an artform. The story is a little lurid, though smart in toying with its readers’ expectations, but the art shows that, like a movie director with a less than great script (best ever cinema example: Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge (me on that film)), nearly anything can be transformed into something very special. It’s sad how few comics in over half a century since this story have made any attempt to achieve so much.

It’s been reprinted a bunch of times, in comic reprints of Impact 1, and in the lovely big hardback collections. I’m sure most comic shops could provide a copy, but since you can read it online you may not want to bother. I do recommend a couple of big, classy books on Krigstein, especially B. Krigstein Comics, which has lots of other great stories, including another wonderful EC story featuring lots of keys.

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 11 Sep 2008 #

    Who colored “Master Race” – especially on the tube train shots that smoky blue on white is terrific. Was that Krigstein too, or did he direct it?

  2. 2
    Tom on 11 Sep 2008 #

    (I’d read it before, but only as a b&w reprint)

  3. 3
    Kat but logged out innit on 12 Sep 2008 #

    This is fantastic Martin!

  4. 4
    Martin Skidmore on 12 Sep 2008 #

    There were never any colouring credits in those days, and I suspect no one knows. It’s not remotely likely that Krigstein coloured it, though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he gave some instructional notes in the margins. The only EC colourist I could name is Marie Severin – she did a lot for them for years, on lots of titles. (If only my dear friend Steve were still with us – massively knowledgeable about comics, and knew more about colouring (including being terrific at doing it – see V For Vendetta, for instance) than anyone.)

  5. 5
    chap on 12 Sep 2008 #

    Never read that before – terrific. Thanks.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page