Today’s (usually) new comic book day, and everyone’s (usually) off to their local comic shop to pick up their weekly supply. I have a lot of love for the direct market shops, their understanding of the form, and their (hopefully) considerable selection of material, but personally, when I think about growing readership for comics, I still think having comics in libraries is huge. Nearly every town has a library, even a shabby one, adding up to over 123,000 total libraries in the United States (according to the ALA website). They cost their patrons nothing (and free is always a positive), and if the wait I regularly endure to get books out the New York Public Library (the NYPL of the title) is anything to go by, there is incredible demand for comics in the library system.
So I’m planning to sit down here every week and discuss something I’ve recently taken out of the library here in New York. These are the books that are circulating around for non-comics readers to find. And for comics readers; the library welcomes you too!
Today: The King of the World, the first book in Wally Wood’s The Wizard King trilogy. It was written and drawn by the legendary Wood and originally published as a hardcover in 1978 (with portions appearing in Wood’s witzend magazine before that). This softcover edition was published by Vanguard in 2004.
First thing you’re going to notice, it’s a big book. Thin, not even 70 pages, but big dimensions, l1.2 x 8.5 inches, which shows of Woody’s art nicely. It’s not the best art of Wally’s career, but just-okay Wally Wood is still extremely easy on the eyes. Without the heavy inking and detailed drawings of his earlier work, Wood’s art here has a stripped-down, animated quality. He’s still an excellent draughtsman, and the panel-to-panel progressions are easy for even a novice to read. Blocks of text over each panel may slow a few readers down, however, as they adjust to the text-to-art-with-more-text storytelling flow.
As a narrative, The Wizard King borrows heavily from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. With the book and film success of the source material, I’d imagine few readers have much difficulty diving into Wood’s story. Although his love of Tolkien seems obvious, it wouldn’t be Wally Wood if this book were just a straight riff on the fantasy quest. In fact, by essentially ripping from Tolkien, Wood frees up his narrative structure and gives himself room to play around in the small details. The hero, Odkin of the diminutive Immi people, is an absolute shyster, continually opening up the narration for witty and biting remarks about fantasy tropes. What The King of the World lacks in plot, it makes up for in attitude.
Young readers and more conservative older readers might find the sexuality evidenced throughout to be off-putting. The Immi people are described by Wood as essentially unwilling to say no to any sexual advances, and the women frequently frolic in swimsuits that look as if they were added by the colorist, not Wood himself. Sweet. Teen readers are most likely to appreciate The King of the World’s snarks and titillation, and I’m sure older readers will find plenty to enjoy as well. Nearly any reader who comes across this volume is going to be disappointed in one aspect, though. The NYPL doesn’t have the second book in their collection, and Wood never completed the finale of his planned trilogy.