IDW’s Scott Dunbier finely details Artist’s Editions, Jack Kirby visit

July 23, 2014 | 9:00 a.m.
scottdunbierjackkirbycapsketch IDWs Scott Dunbier finely details Artists Editions, Jack Kirby visit

Scott Dunbier, special projects editor at IDW Publishing and innovator of the Artist's Edition line, holds a Captain America sketch that Jack Kirby drew for him when he visited the comics legend as a teenager. Dunbier edited "Jack Kirby's New Gods: Artist's Edition," which came out earlier this year. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

wallywoodmarsisheavenaescan IDWs Scott Dunbier finely details Artists Editions, Jack Kirby visit

This scan of a page from Wally Wood’s “Mars Is Heaven,” a Ray Bradbury adaptation originally published by EC Comics in “Weird Science” No. 18 in 1953, was used for “Wally Wood’s EC Stories: Artist’s Edition.” Mike Mignola says of the finished book, "you’d swear you can smell the cigarette smoke coming off those pages." (IDW Publishing)

hellboyartistsedition IDWs Scott Dunbier finely details Artists Editions, Jack Kirby visit

The newly released "Mike MIgnola's Hellboy: Artist's Edition" includes the recent "Hellboy in Hell" and some older material, including "The Corpse," which Dunbier says is "honestly one of my favorite stories, period." Mignola will sign the book at IDW Publishing's booth during Comic-Con. (IDW Publishing)

hellboythecorpseaescan IDWs Scott Dunbier finely details Artists Editions, Jack Kirby visit

This scan of an original page from the 2004 "Hellboy: The Corpse," a one-shot originally published by Dark Horse, was used for the Hellboy Artist's Edition. Comparing his volume to earlier Artist's Edition books of older art, Mignola jokes, "I wish I’d manhandled the artwork more. You do see some notes in there. You see the white paint I used, and in one place you see that I cut a page in half. So yeah, that’s my only regret is that the stuff isn’t nastier-looking." (IDW Publishing)

shield IDWs Scott Dunbier finely details Artists Editions, Jack Kirby visit

The just-released "Jim Steranko's Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Artist's Edition" is 15-by-22 inches, with a book design by Steranko himself ("It exudes Steranko," Dunbier says), who will sign the book of his classic Marvel work at IDW Publishing's booth during Comic-Con. "It showcases Steranko from the very beginning up until the point where he’s really starting to break free and become Steranko," Dunbier says. "The work is vibrant, incredible, full of kinetic energy." (IDW Publishing)

watchmengibbonsartifactedition IDWs Scott Dunbier finely details Artists Editions, Jack Kirby visit

"Dave Gibbons' Watchmen: Artifact Edition" is the first in the Artifact line, a designation meaning it doesn't have complete stories. "[A]ll the pages have been spread to the four corners of the Earth, and there would be really no way to get enough complete issues," Dunbier says. "So it’s a book that collects individual pages as well as covers as well as portfolio plates, promo and design pieces by Dave." Gibbons will sign the book at IDW Publishing's booth during Comic-Con. (IDW Publishing)

Lots of kids love comic books. But Scott Dunbier’s passion went beyond the four-color fantasies on the spinner rack — to their artists’ original black-and-white pages.

As a teenager living in Woodland Hills, he tracked down Jack Kirby’s phone number and called the co-creator of Captain America and the X-Men to ask for some original artwork, as he had with other artists he admired. But Kirby went further than mailing back a sketch, suggesting that Dunbier’s mother drive him to the artist’s Thousand Oaks home for a weekend lunch — mentioning that he should bring some comics to have signed.

“I brought like 50 comics,” Dunbier says with a laugh. “I didn’t know that was kind of not good etiquette. He signed every single comic. He answered all my questions.”

More than three decades later, Dunbier has crafted a unique way to share his passion for comics artistry with like-minded fans, many of whom are set to gather this week in downtown San Diego for Comic-Con International, the annual pop culture expo that draws upward of 125,000 enthusiasts of superheroes, sci-fi, horror and fantasy to Southern California.

As special projects editor at San Diego-based IDW Publishing, Dunbier, 51, oversees a line of limited-run hardcover art books collecting the works of such comics legends as Will Eisner and Kirby.

The newly released "Mike MIgnola's Hellboy: Artist's Edition" includes the recent "Hellboy in Hell" and some older material, including "The Corpse," which Dunbier says is "honestly one of my favorite stories, period." Mignola will sign the book at IDW Publishing's booth during Comic-Con. (IDW Publishing)

The newly released “Mike Mignola’s Hellboy: Artist’s Edition” includes “The Corpse,” which Dunbier says is “honestly one of my favorite stories, period.” Mignola will sign the book at IDW Publishing’s booth #2643 during Comic-Con. (IDW Publishing)

In the four years since IDW introduced the collection with “Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer: Artist’s Edition,” it’s published more than 20 archival-quality volumes that reproduce important stories illustrated by essential comic book artists from their original black-and-white pages — in their true, larger-than-originally-published size, as though straight off the drawing board.

In creating the series, Dunbier’s drawn on connections forged during roughly 15 years in the 1980s and ’90s as an art dealer, then as a comic book editor at Jim Lee’s WildStorm studio and at DC Comics, which acquired Lee’s imprint in 1998.

He has established valued relationships not only with artists and publishers, but also with collectors who are willing to entrust him with handling artwork sometimes worth tens of thousands of dollars.

“He’s able to do this on a scale that I don’t think anybody will be able to equal,” IDW Editor in Chief Chris Ryall says. “Some of the newer stuff, people have scanned and kept copies of, so it’s not a surprise to me to see a ‘Walking Dead’ book coming. But to be able to do books with Will Eisner and the old Marvel material and the EC stuff is something that I think is limited just to Scott.”

Artwork used for Artist’s Editions is scanned and reproduced in full color so that readers can see the non-photo-blue pencil lines artists use to lay out a page before doing detailed art — lines that disappear in other means of copying.

“You get more of a sense of what was done, what the artist was thinking, what changes he made, what corrections he did, what corrections he didn’t do — there’s a lot to be studied,” said “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola, who collaborated with Dunbier on a newly released Artist’s Edition collection of his own work.

Using full-color reproduction on black-and-white pages was a lesson Dunbier learned in the 1990s while trying to photocopy Neal Adams pages he had for 60 or so fellow comic book art enthusiasts in an amateur press association.

This scan of a page from Wally Wood’s “Mars Is Heaven,” a Ray Bradbury adaptation originally published by EC Comics in “Weird Science” No. 18 in 1953, was used for “Wally Wood’s EC Stories: Artist’s Edition.” Mike Mignola says of the finished book, "you’d swear you can smell the cigarette smoke coming off those pages."  (IDW Publishing)

This full-color scan of a page from Wally Wood’s “Mars Is Heaven,” a Ray Bradbury adaptation originally published by EC Comics in “Weird Science” No. 18 in 1953, was used for “Wally Wood’s EC Stories: Artist’s Edition.” (IDW Publishing)

Black-and-white copies “just looked terrible,” Dunbier says. “They didn’t show off any of the originality of them. They just looked like crappy photocopies. So I decided to experiment with making color photocopies, and they looked great — especially the pencil drawings … it wound up probably being something like 600 color copies. And I don’t remember if you recall how much color copies cost back then — it was a really stupid thing to do, but it looked really cool. I call that sort of my first Artist Edition.”

The finished books are vivid: Mignola says of a volume of Wally Wood-drawn EC Comics stories, “you’d swear you can smell the cigarette smoke coming off those pages.”

But assembling the material for the Artist’s Editions can sometimes feel like a treasure hunt.

Putting together “Jack Kirby’s New Gods: Artist’s Edition,” released earlier this year, involved one of the most challenging aspects of Dunbier’s job: assembling complete stories from pages that in some cases are scattered around the world.

The editor had found most of the first issue’s original pages together, and had narrowed his search to three missing links. Over the next two days, he called two friends to commiserate: animator Bruce Timm (“Batman: The Animated Series”) and writer-artist Walter Simonson (“The Mighty Thor”). As luck would have it, Timm had the issue’s first page; Simonson had the last page.

On a roll, he called Mignola, who replied: “You’re out of luck, pal.”

And so the Artist’s Edition of “New Gods” is missing a page from No. 1.

Though the editor has reassembled several favorites from his youth — and is set to announce new Artist’s Editions at Comic-Con — some dream books remain out of reach.

"Dave Gibbons' Watchmen: Artifact Edition" is the first in the Artifact line, a designation meaning it doesn't have complete stories. "[A]ll the pages have been spread to the four corners of the Earth, and there would be really no way to get enough complete issues," Dunbier says. "So it’s a book that collects individual pages as well as covers as well as portfolio plates, promo and design pieces by Dave." Gibbons will sign the book at IDW Publishing's booth during Comic-Con. (IDW Publishing)

“Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen: Artifact Edition” is the first in the Artifact line, a designation that means it doesn’t have complete stories. Gibbons will sign the book at IDW Publishing’s booth during Comic-Con. (IDW Publishing)

“If somebody were to find a giant stash of Jack Cole Plastic Man stories, that would be a pretty incredible thing,” Dunbier says. “I don’t know how well it would sell, but I’d really love it.”

Dunbier’s efforts stand to be recognized Friday at the Eisner Awards, the comics industry’s answer to the Oscars, where he received three of the five nominations in the archival comic book project category (he’s won the prize four years running).

He’s quick to express gratitude, cite luck, and qualify any credit that comes his way for all those Eisner Awards for Artist’s Editions and past work. (He may have more competition in future years as other publishers have started to adopt the format he innovated: DC Comics and Graphitti Designs have teamed to do Gallery Editions, launching in November with “Batman: Kelley Jones Gallery Edition”; and Dark Horse has a book, also called a Gallery Edition, of Frank Miller and Walt Simonson’s “RoboCop vs. Terminator,” out this month.)

Though he doesn’t take accolades too seriously, he continues to pursue the passion of sharing original comic art, but there’s one masterpiece that isn’t leaving his house: an original sketch Kirby drew for him at their weekend all those years ago of Captain America waving and saying, “Hi, Scott.”

“I try to bring a level of care to what I do,” Dunbier says. “I feel a responsibility to both champion and support writers and artists…. I’ve always been attracted to damn talented people.”

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex

Dunbier’s IDW Artist’s Editions Comic-Con panel, with writer-artist Walter Simonson and IDW President Greg Goldstein, will be held on Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Room 4.

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The Artist’s Edition “John Buscema’s Silver Surfer.” (IDW Publishing)

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