Monday, June 4, 2007

The Colossal Hart Amos

Colossal Comic
Colossal Comic is one of my favourite series of Australian reprint comics published by K.G. Murray in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Colossal Comic began as Colossal Comic Annual (for the first five issues) in mid-1956 and appeared semi-regularly for approximately 15 years until the final 54th issue in 1970, thus spanning the Silver Age.

Colossal Comic was an anomalous title in the mainline K.G. Murray reprint stable. Most of the new wave of K.G. Murray Silver Age titles post-Century #1 were monthly or bi-monthly 100-page anthologies reprinting mainly contemporary DC comics. Mammoth Annual and Gigantic Annual were bumper sized anthologies but were comprised of coverless rebound issues wrapped in new covers, mostly by Hart Amos.

Colossal Comic fell somewhere between these two formats. It was a bumper 148-page issue, bigger than the standard 100-page (or, for a period, 116 page) periodicals, but distinctly slimmer than Gigantic Annual and Mammoth Annual. And, like Gigantic Annual and Mammoth Annual, it was also dressed in new covers for previously published K. G. Murray comics. But unlike Gigantic Annual and Mammoth Annual, Colossal was not comprised of coverless issues. Colossal reprinted stories previously published by K.G. Murray in the pre-1956 pamphlet-size series such as Superman, Batman and Super Adventure Comic.

The Hart Amos Covers
Aside from the contents, the Hart Amos covers for Colossal Comic (see previous discussion on The New Amos Style re: Century #1) are one reason these comics are fondly regarded by collectors. The Amos covers typically depicted the superheroes in idyllic scenes of friendship, games and frolic. They smiled, they were jovial, clownish, prankish and even gleefully foolish. In essence, the characters played. They behaved like kids!

Amos’ covers have more in common with the Golden Age than the Silver Age – indeed, they are indebted to the pre- team-up World’s Finest Comics series of covers. These generic images are appropriate to the anthology format, in contrast to the typical DC Silver Age cover which was plot-based and relied heavily on speech balloons and other text to set the scene or ‘problem’ of the issue. The Amos covers were poses, or frozen action shots, not excerpted narrative frames.

Amos typically relied on two tropes for his anthology covers. One was the montage scene, and the other was the group scene.

In the montage scene he would contrive a situation in which a number of characters would appear as ‘elements’ in the scene – for example, the puffs of smoke on Century #1; the banners on Colossal Comic Annual #2; the photos on Gigantic Annual #3.

The group scene is the one in which an event or situation is contrived which involves the various characters as participants or onlookers. Examples include the sleigh ride on Mammoth Annual #2; the photo shoot on Gigantic Annual #1; the parachute jumping on Century #5.

Occasionally, the two tropes would be incorporated within the one image. On the cover of Gigantic Annual #4 a group of characters is looking at a copy of Gigantic Annual, which features photos of other characters on the cover-within-a-cover. On Colossal Comic #39 (see above) Batman and Robin appear as silhouettes, and as images in the kites.

The image on Colossal Comic Annual #1 is a particularly ambiguous one in this schema. In this one four characters are standing on one another’s shoulders, which would usually pass as a typically contrived situation to include all the characters in a play scene. However, the images are repeated in copies or facsimiles of each image, which suggests we are looking at pictures or representations of the characters, and not the characters themselves. I have always considered this the ‘gift wrapping paper’ cover. It is an adaptation of the image used on World's Finest Comics #37, November-December 1948 by Win Mortimer, with Aquaman added into the mix. A few years later such an image of repetitions and artifice of cartoon characters could have been deemed an exemplar of PopArt.

One of my favourite covers is for Colossal Comic #39. On the one hand it is a typical Amos scene – Superman flying a kite in the foreground with Batman and Robin in the background. And yet there is something eerie and unnerving in this scene, even sinister. Maybe it’s the shadowy figures in the background. Or maybe it’s the faces of Batman and Robin in the kites, flying just above the silhouettes on the two-dimensional plane, suggesting the essences or souls of the figures have vacated the bodies and have manifested entrapped in the kites, similarly to the portrayal of the Phantom Zone in the Superman movies and the Smallville tv series. And why is Superman smiling a determined smile rather than a joyful smile? All of this is just my fancy of course, but it is a striking and suitably ambiguous cover image for an anomalous issue as Colossal #39 is notable for reprinting no less than 10 features directly from the pages of the first issue of All Favourites Comic (the unnumbered All Favourites Comic Annual).

It is difficult today not to regard the classic Amos DC-related cover as ‘nostalgic’. Or, to be uncharitable, as ‘kitsch’ or ‘camp’. I prefer to take the middle ground in this instance and settle for “agreeably cheesy".

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