ROY THOMAS PRESENTS: THE HEAP VOL. 1 (PS Artbooks, First Printing, 2012; Hardcover)
Collects The Heap stories from Air Fighters Comics Vol. 1 #3, 9, Vol. 2 #10, Airboy Comics Vol. 3 #4, 9-12; Vol. 4 #1-12, Vol. 5 #1-4 a/k/a #3, 9, 22, 27, 32-51 (cover dates December, 1942- May, 1948)
Writers: Harry Stein, Bill Woolfolk, Patricia Highsmith, Dick Wood, and other unidentified writers
Artists: Mort Leav, Dan Barry, John Belfi, Carmine Infantino, Arthur Peddy, Bernard Sachs, Frank Bolle, Leonard Starr, Ernest Schroeder, and possibly other unidentified artists
Decades before Swamp Thing and Man-Thing came the original comic book swamp monster, The Heap. As Roy Thomas explains in one of his famous encyclopedic Archive introductions, The Heap itself was possibly influenced by Theodore Sturgeon's 1940 short story from the pulps called It. Golden Age comic books liberally borrowed ideas from pulps and literature, so it's not much of a stretch to assume that the concept was lifted, either intentionally or subconsciously.
The origin of the character come from the Sky Wolf strip in Air Fighters Comics, where a World War I German fighter ace, Baron Emmelmann is shot down over a Polish swamp. Due to the Baron's immense will to live, he somehow merges with the vegetation, drawing nourishment from the oxygen as a plant would. As the decades pass this shambling mockery of life begins feeding on sheep and cows. He/it ambles into the middle of a storyline where Sky Wolf, the World War II fighter pilot, shoots down Nazi pilot Von Tundra. In a bizarre twist, The Heap recognizes the Germans and becomes fond of anything with German markings.
The character goes through a few incarnations before settling on his plant-like appearance, which was completely ripped off for Marvel's Man-Thing character. It is his fifth appearance where he gets spun off into his own strip. Here he meets a boy named Rickie Wood who makes a model plane of a German fighter. The Heap sees the markings and befriends the boy because of this. Like Swamp Thing and Man-Thing after him, The Heap is a semi-mindless creature. I found the character's fascination with German things to be curious, seeing as how it was being published during World War II.
The Heap follows Rickie on a series of misadventures, often saving the day in spite of himself due to his fascination with Rickie's remote controlled model German airplane. The scenarios get more ridiculous and less plausible with each passing issue. They remain a fun read but it gets to be groan inducing at times. This is easy for me to say here 70 years later. Audiences are more sophisticated today, and this comic easily stands up to anything published at the time. Indeed, this is a rather bizarre character for the era, predating Horror comics by a fair clip.
The strip then banks left, where we see Ceres and Mars have a wager whether or not The Heap is a creature of peace or of war. I sat there scratching my head wondering why they went this route, but to be honest with you this is when the series started getting even more interesting. The artwork also became more sophisticated, with the team of Frank Bolle and Leonard Starr turning in beautiful work.
The first four stories were a tough read. When The Heap became fascinated with Rickie Wood the tone changed and The Heap went on different kinds of adventures. The third shift is when things really kicked into high gear. The Heap is a great read, and the entire series has been collected across three volumes. I am looking forward to reading them.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- This is the part where I go into tactile sensations of physical media. Those with heart conditions, high blood pressure, or women who are pregnant should exit my blog at their earliest convenience, as their safety cannot be guaranteed.
I enjoy huffing these Chinese made books. PS Artbooks smell the best. Whenever I crack one open I sit there and snort it...Oh yeah, that's the stuff.
This book has the ever delectable sweet, sweet toxic Chinese printing press smell, likely the result of paper sourced from virgin Amazon rainforests and ink which is a concoction of lead paint chips, broken and pulped asbestos tiles, mercury from recalled thermometers, and the final magical ingredient: the blood, sweat, and tears of the children working the sweatshop printing presses. If loving these books is wrong then I don't want to be right!
Linework and Color restoration: Like any PS Artbook, the quality varies issue by issue. This looks decent for a scan and print collection.
The raw scan presentation has the benefit of the feeling of reading the original comic book. The drawback, which is a huge one subjectively speaking, is that all of the shortcomings of the primitive four color printings presses are apparent. Line bleed, off register printing, and other anomalies are all present. It's a warts and all approach. Your mileage may vary and it all boils down to your preference.
Paper stock: Bright white matte stock.
Binding: Sewn binding.
Hardback cover notes: Matte casewrap with spot varnish. No dustjacket. Images printed directly onto the casewrap.