The appreciation of original comic strip artwork has grown significantly in recent years, with a commensurate increase in monetary value. One happy result of this is that some publishers have chosen to reproduce the art in an often very faithful manner, allowing many more enthusiasts the opportunity to share in the experience.
If you've visited any major comic store recently, you may well have seen one of these massive IDW hardback Original Art collections. They tend to sit high up on the shelves behind the counter, and if you want to look at one you'll have to ask nicely to have it lifted down. They actually come in two different versions:
The Artist's Editions are used to present complete stories, an approach which, while not always possible, is clearly the ideal for such projects. As they tend to contain stories from 1967 and beyond they tend to be a smaller 12" x 17", reflecting the small page size generally used by artists at the time.
Of course over the years the art for many classic stories has become dispersed amongst private collectors, lost, or even destroyed. This has necessitated the creation of Artifact Editions, which presents the surviving pages ('artifacts') of stories that would otherwise have remained unpublishable.
At the time of reviewing, IDW Publishing has released fifty or sixty of the super-sized Artist's Editions, but only ten or so of the super-super-sized Artifact Editions. And of those few Artifact Editions, the only Spider-Man related one to date is this John Romita Amazing Spider-Man.
The Romita Artifact Edition contains 200 pages taken from the artist's earlier run, when he was working with the larger art boards of the time. As a result the book is a massive 15" x 22". It's large, but it's still not the largest Spider-Man book of all time (at least not when measured using a tape-measure). When looked at strictly from the front, the Spider-Man Coloring Books (Giant Format) coloring books from the 1970's are even bigger at 17" x 22". Of course when you reach for the scales there's no contest – the IDW Artifact editions are over 1" thick and weigh a ridiculous 10 lbs.
Of course, just in case the the $225 price tag wasn't crippling enough, it is officially available in two different covers, each with their own ISBN. Note however that there was a bit of a cock-up with the shipping process and the "Variant Edition" (the Green Goblin cover with ISBN 9781631403088) is the only one that has yet been distributed.
The other one, originally intended to be the "Standard Edition" (the Spider-Man No More cover with ISBN 9781631402388) is now listed on the IDW web-site as the Alternate Cover, and is (as of mid-2017) listed as "available for pre-order". But it has been over two years since the first version was released, and I'm beginning to suspect that the "Spider-Man No More" cover might never actually hit the presses at all.
|See Original Credits, plus...|
|Publisher:||IDW Publishing, Inc.|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #39|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #40|
|Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #41|
|Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #42|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #43|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #44|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #45|
|Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #46|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #47|
|Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #48|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #49|
|Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #50|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #51|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #52|
|Part Reprints:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #53|
Inside, the book is stunning. It features 200-odd pages of high-quality reproductions of John Romita Senior's Pencil & Ink illustrations from fifteen issues of Amazing Spider-Man, beginning with ASM (Vol. 1) #39 and running through to ASM (Vol. 1) #53.
The nature of the reproduction is such that you see all of the blue-pencil outlines, the white-out corrections and the margin notes in Full-Size reproduction. The paper quality has been chosen to closely resemble that of the actual Bristol Boards on which the art was drawn, presenting an authentic tactile experience. Indeed, if you have ever held Silver Age pages in your hands then you will be surprised at how accurate a reproduction this is.
It is interesting to note that, despite the 'Artifact' label, IDW has managed to present the whole of issue #46 as sourced from the original art boards. The publisher has also chosen to add 10 pages of photostats to the book in order to make several of the other tales complete for the reader. Some of these pages are true 'stats' taken from the original artwork, while others are simply black and white artwork similar to that appearing in the 'Essential' volumes. This means we also get to enjoy the complete stories for issues #41, #42, and #48.
As for the original cover art – that is only included for six of the issues, in a separate section at the back of the book.
There's no denying the physical and (for a long-time fan like me) emotional impact of seeing these original pages. All of the original artwork has, to varying degree, that wonderful yellow-aged paper with the oh-so-human correction marks, blue inks, and multi-layered pencils. Paging through, you can't help but be carried back through the decades to Stan and John's long-gone creative world, which has risen to mythical status.
Of course this rose-tinted glow is mostly fictional. I'm convinced that John enjoyed his job, but a comic book artist works long hours and I'm sure that JR SR shipped many of these pages out the door at the last minute to meet some overwhelming deadline!
For those who have a particular interest in original art, don't expect to see all of John's notes for Stan reproduced around the panels. These (and any other comments by Stan etc.) have generally been lost when the pages were cut down for production. They may still exist in stat form somewhere.
Physically, the book is beautifully bound with great attention to detail. It's an impressive labour of love. Speaking personally, John Romita SR is my favorite artist. I find his skill quite literally incredible. I genuinely struggle to believe that he worked for a salary, quietly producing this magical artwork at such a demanding pace.
On the negative side, well... it's not cheap, and it's not complete. I would also reiterate my objection to the artwork not being presented at it's original 1:1 size.
I'm going to call it four-point-five webs. Even with my minor objections, it's a wonderful addition to any classic Spider-Man collection – if you're one of those lucky souls who possess both the financial budget and the not inconsiderable storage space.