All You Ever Wanted to Know About The Hulk...

Wednesday, April 9 2003

Posted on Newsarama

The following was originally posted on Newsarama:

Remember exactly what happened in Uncanny X-Men #285? What about Incredible Hulk #341? Fanboy memories are going to get upgrades in May and June with the release of The Comic Buyer's Guide to the X-Men and The Comic Buyer's Guide to the Hulk - two massive volumes that cover the specifics of hundreds of issues.

The cold, bare facts first - The Comics Buyer's Guide to The X-Men, ships in early May, and The Comics Buyer's Guide to The Hulk, ships in mid-June. Each volume is 132 pages, full color, comic-sized and squarebound. The Guides retail for $9.95 each, and each cover more than 750 issues.

Project editor John Jackson Miller gave a rundown of what is included in each:

The Comics Buyer's Guide to the X-Men completely covers many major series with 'X-Men' in the title, including:
X-Men (1st Series)/Uncanny X-Men, plus annuals
X-Men (2nd Series)/New X-Men, plus annuals
X-Men Unlimited
Ultimate X-Men
X-Men: Hidden Years
X-Men Adventures

"It also includes a variety of limited series, ranging from Children of the Atom and X-Men Forever to the cross-over books like FF vs. the X-Men and X-Men/Micronauts. There are certainly more spinoff titles," Miller said, "but this is the chunk we bit off for this time."

On the Hulk front:

The Comics Buyer's Guide to the Hulk completely covers:
Incredible Hulk (1st Series)
Incredible Hulk (2nd Series)
The Hulk portions of Tales to Astonish
Rampaging Hulk (the magazine)
Savage She-Hulk
The Defenders (both volumes)

"As with the X-Men guide, we've also included a variety of limited series and spinoffs," Miller said. In both volumes, each issue entry has its own cover image."

The idea for the Guides grew from another book from Comic Buyer's Guide/Krause, The Standard Catalog of Comic Books, a 1,240 page doorstop of a book which lists information on over 145,000 comics. While the Standard Catalog is arguably one of the best reference books on comics to hit the industry in a while, the guts of the Catalog, that is, the database used to produce it, is a goldmine for CBG. Having all the information in an easily accessible format makes it easy, according to Miller, to develop and publish books such as the Guides that are much more specialized in nature.

"We realized we had the capacity to index far more information than simply the who-did-what and what-character-appeared-where kind of thing," Miller said. "When we sold out of the first edition of The Standard Catalog so quickly, we also realized there was strong demand for reference guides that people would actually read -- as that edition had more than 2,200 series descriptions and reviews.

"The Comics Buyer's Guide to..." basically takes things to another, deeper level, evaluating not just the series overall, but the individual issues. And then we also provide the creator rosters, the publication information, the current market values, data on the best CGC copy, etc., for everything, all in one place.

"The ideal, of course, is to be able to do everything one day -- and we would like to work toward that both with the special editions, which obviously will focus on series in the public eye, and the 'Retroview' feature in CBG, which allows us to get at lesser-known material, for example, we have The Inferior Five coming up soon in CBG. Of course, at the size of the X-Men and Hulk books, doing everything would give us a series of volumes 23,000 pages's a massive potential we're looking at."

Building upon what was included in the series' descriptions in The Standard Catalog, The Comic Buyer's Guides feature a full creator lineup, story title, page count, issue synopsis and capsule review for every issue. While a compromise in format, as many other variables cold have been listed issue by issue, this manner of putting the Guides together did have its benefits, Miller noted.

"It's interesting to see that this format really does have a way of helping the reader identify recurrent themes and familiar devices in a series," Miller said. "Memory may fail, but the The Comics Buyer's Guide to the X-Men reminds you of just how many 'Kitty Pryde fights an alien' issues there actually were. And then there are other matters reviewers noted, such as how the switch at Marvel from 17-page stories to 22-page stories in 1980 seems to have contributed to the concurrent rise in the X-Men's popularity.

"We don't go into the level of detail George Olshevsky went into in the old days when it comes to continuity - 'this character next appears in...' -- that sort of thing. That information's utility to the average fan is probably not what it once was. But I will say that, just proofreading, I've remembered far more stories and characters than I would ever have imagined reading. Lila Cheney dropped totally out of my grey matter years ago, and The Comics Buyer's Guide to The X-Men brought her right back."

As with all reviews, those included in The Comic Buyer's Guides are subjective, and may raise the ire of readers who feel strongly about certain issues, but according to Miller, they give the Guides a more personal feel than a simple list of issues - and reading them is infectious.

"The reviews make for great reading, even if -- I should say, especially if -- you've read the comics before!" Miller said. "One whole section of CBG each week is already devoted to people discussing the comics of the past, and this gives those readers a healthy dose. It's hard to stop reading these, once you've started.

"Beyond that, of course, we're the Comics Buyer's Guide, so obviously we're a guide to buyers of comics. Magazines such as CBG quite adequately evaluate issues on the stands today, but there really hasn't been any way of archiving those evaluations. With a home for that material in our database, we'll be able to make information generated today available in a variety of configurations for years to come.

"And again, review material was something that hadn't ever really been a part of previous indexes. While they were interesting as references tools, we think adding reviews -- by specialists such as Craig Shutt, Jim Johnson, Jack Abramowitz, and Steven George to name a few, makes the package much more interesting."

Speaking to the veracity of the data in the volume, Miller explained that each contributor was assigned a chunk of issues, and they then had to fill in all the blanks regarding the issue, in addition to writing a synopsis and review. As such, every issue entry has been examined by hand, leading to a higher degree of accuracy than just a database where bulk issue descriptions are updated. As a matter of fact, the data coming in from contributors has allowed Miller to make corrections to the original database.

Miller also cited several factoids that came to light as a result of contributors specialized knowledge, or just the close examination of the issues, such as Shutt's notes that Werner Roth signed as Jay Gavin, the two variant editions of the Marvel Mart catalog in X-Men Adventures Vol. 2, #4, and the apparent inability of the credit box to spell Marc Silvestri's name consistently (Marc vs. Mark) in the issues of his run.

Each issue will also have a value listed as well - something Miller has utter confidence in. "And certainly our aftermarket pricing - which depends on actual transactions -- remains the most accurate in comics," Miller said.

Given the timing of the Guides releases, both are receiving attention from the direct market and bookstores, according to Miller. And while the volumes are relatively specialized in their content and one would assume receive the warmest reception in comic shops, bookstores are warmed to the idea of the Guides as well, due to the strong showing The Standard Catalog of Comics had last year. For a $35 book racked in the hobby section, The Standard Catalog sold well in the bookstore market.

"There's clearly interest in both of these editions," Miller said. Although I should point out that Diamond erroneously gave The Comics Buyer's Guide to the X-Men a four-digit issue number in its Previews listing, which may have given it the appearance of just another issue of CBG -- but it certainly isn't that! This is a completely separate animal, available to CBG subscribers and non-subscribers alike."

Of course, these two volumes are only the start. Given the relative ease at which the Guides can be produced, more are on the way - and while Spider-Man is probably a no brainer for next year, Miller said that future volumes won't necessarily be character or property-specific.

"I have a large number of proposals on the table, and not ones simply tied to specific characters, either -- or even super-heroes," Miller said. "I think what we have here is a very flexible format that will allow us to address a wide variety of comics over the years. Some will be big productions aimed at a wide audience, like these; others will be targeted at specific audiences. It's certainly not like we're going to run out of comics!"

Retailers can still order The Comics Buyer's Guide to The X-Men and The Comics Buyer's Guide to The Hulk from Diamond or directly from Krause Publications at (800) 894-4656. The Diamond codes are MAR032549 and APR032570 respectively.

Disclosure: Matt Brady contributed to the X-Men volume.

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