Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Rook Archives Volume 1

The Rook Archives: Volume 1
Dark Horse Books, April 2017

The story goes that in 1976, James Warren thought the time was right to bring back the Western genre, and cowboy heroes, to popular culture. He contacted Bill Dubay, an editor at Warren, and Howard Peretz, an executive at the California toy company Package Play Development, and asked them to create a Western hero (Warren and Peretz apparently wanted to market toys and other collectibles based on the newly created concept).

After some contemplation, Dubay and Peretz came up with a character that combined both Western and sci-fi themes: a time-travelling cowboy named Restin Dane, who went by the nickname 'The Rook'. 

Restin Dane was a brilliant inventor who, in 1977, used his unique time machine - styled in the shape of the eponymous chess piece - to travel to the Alamo, in order to save his great-great-grandfather Parrish Dane from being among those who perished in the battle against the Mexicans.

The Rook first appeared in Eerie No. 82 (March 1977 cover date). The series quickly proved to be one of the most popular franchises in Eerie, and the character was given his own magazine in 1979. The Rook lasted for 14 issues before it ended, with all of the other Warren titles, in early 1983. 
Dark Horse is issuing the complete inventory of Rook comics in a series of hardcover volumes, modeled much like the Archives editions of Creepy and Eerie released by the New Comic Company. The Rook Archives: Volume 1 reprints six Rook adventures first published in Eerie issues 82 - 85 (March - August 1977) and 87 - 88 (October - November 1977).

The Rook Archives: Volume 1 features a Forward written by Ben Dubay, nephew of Bill Dubay, in which Ben fondly recalls a childhood visit with Uncle Bill in the summer of 1982 that led to Atari videogames, and introductions to artists and illustrators working for Warren. Prior to his death in 2010, Bill Dubay requested that his nephew return the Rook to glory, and the release of the Archives is one part of the fulfillment of that quest.
As with the Creepy and Eerie Archive books, The Rook Archives: Volume 1 is a quality publication, printed on heavy stock paper. It's hard to tell if the contents are scans made of the original artwork (much of which vanished in Warren's bankruptcy proceedings) or from actual printed magazine pages. But all in all, the images hold up reasonably well considering they were first created 40 years ago.

Bill Dubay was editing and writing a considerable proportion of the content for the Warren magazines during 1977 and his plots for these first few Rook episodes tend to have a straightforward, humor-centered approach. The emphasis is on employing the time travel aspect of the character to explore the Old West. It's only with the last story  in this volume, 'Future Shock', that the sci-fi elments become center stage, along with a more downbeat, melancholy tone to the script.

The Spanish artist Luis Bermejo provides all the artwork for these inaugural episodes. His distinctive drawing style, with its use of heavy contrasts of black and white, works reasonably well in terms of rendering the Old West landscapes among which most of The Rook's adventures take place.
So, who is going to want to read The Rook Archives: Volume 1 ?  It's a good question. I suspect that Baby Boomers are going to be the primary audience. I can't see comic readers under 40 being all that taken by DuBay's plots, which as time went on become more oriented towards the campy, tongue-in-cheek humor that DuBay eventually would fully unleash in the pages of Warren's 1984 and 1994. And Bermejo's artwork is simply too abstract in nature to have much appeal to a younger readership raised on contemporary outline-oriented art that is expressly designed for coloration using PC software.

Summing up, if you're a fan of the old Warren magazines and The Rook, or perhaps someone interested in proto-Steampunk, then picking up a copy of The Rook Archives: Volume 1 is worthwhile.


Rickadon said...

It looks like an interesting pickup. But it does call to mind a question I've wondered for a long time. Why is it that so many comic artists are Spanish or South American?

I understand that in some cases, the wages are cheaper, but you can't hire people who can't do the work. The talent base, the tradition, the art style, it's all there.

They do a great work and I appreciate their outsized and outstanding contribution to the field. I just never understood how it came about. Are comics and graphics a huge thing still in those markets? I've always wondered and was hoping you could point to an article or shed some light on it.

tarbandu said...

Rickadon, several chapters in David Roach's 'Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art' shed light on this phenomenon: basically, since the 1950s there have been too many talented Spanish graphic artists, and too little venues in-country for them to find adequate work.

Thus, in the 1950s number of Spanish agencies, like Selecciones Illustradas (S. I.), were formed to find work in England, Scandinavia, and Western Europe for these artists. But wasn't until the early 1070s, when Josep Toutain from S. I. paid an unannounced call to James Warren at his office in New York City, that U.S. publishers began to hire Spanish artists. And, these U. S. publishers did pay good fees for the art, but the agencies were the middlemen, and they took their cut....not all of the artists were really thrilled with this arrangement, of course, and over time some went out and worked as independent operators........

Rickadon said...

Thanks for that info!