The library is a great place for readers to discover comics, and it’s a great place for comics readers to check out things that they want to try without spending their hard-earned cash. I’m looking at comics that I find in the New York Public Library system.
Bernie Krigstein’s one of those comic book legends whose work you just have to read. It’s like watching a Stanley Kubrik film or listening to an Eric Clapton song – even if it’s not your thing, you just have to see for yourself.
Like Kubrik and Clapton, I find Krigstein a mixed bag, but I find few faults with the quality of this book. Over-sized, hardcover, assembled by editor Greg Sadowski, recolored mostly by Sadowski and Marie Severin, the book presents Krigstein’s art in full force.
The earliest stories reprinted here are mostly from Krigstein’s crime comics days, and the stories have the standard early crime comics motif: a criminal plans something evil, but his own character fault or some inherent flaw in his scheme lead to death. Krigstein does make most of the stories look good, however obvious their narratives may be. His panel compositions are strong and focused, and his use of shadow is often staggering, though I find the figures themselves somewhat erratic and backgrounds drop out far too frequently.
Later stories, Krigstein’s art explodes forward, becoming far more consistently striking than early efforts. The ECs (the revolutionary 1950s publisher EC Comics, that is) in particular showcase Krigstein’s fondness for jamming as many panels as possible onto a page (why hasn’t that lesson been learned by more of today’s artists?!), creating staccato bursts of information, tension and character. Sticking to tiered pages, Krigstein’s able to squeeze tons of information into all those panels without sacrificing any storytelling clarity, and each panel remains a succinct statement of the narrative. His figure work and backgrounds remain an occasional distraction though.
There are so many cartoonists who’ve done so much to reshape the comics we read today. As a fan of the medium, it’s a privilege to have access to volumes like B. Krigstein Comics that we can use to observe the evolution of the comics form, and you can find this and other important historical comics at your local library.