Will Eisner’s CONTRACT WITH GOD, published in 1978 is most often noted as the first graphic novel mostly because it was the first to declare the name.
The term graphic novel has come to be associated with any collection of comic works that is perfect bound though many would be more aptly distinguished simply as trade paperbacks.
Eisner’s graphic novel itself was actually a collection of four stories rather than one long story generally associated with the word novel.
The first “graphic novel” that I remember reading was Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s adaption of the movie ALIEN published by Heavy Metal in 1979. Titled ALIEN: The Illustrated Story this 64 page, full-color, perfect bound package was a riveting masterpiece of comic art that sold for only $3.95!
I am always surprised that this book is overlooked when the topic of graphic novels is discussed. For me personally, it was a benchmark. I had read trade paperback collections of comics from pocket sized collections of Charles Schultz’s PEANUTS, to Burne Hogarth’s TARZAN of the APES and all of Stan Lee’s Origin books but the ALIEN book, more than any other, spoke to me about format.
It was my first look at what the future of comics could be.
When we began publishing comics as Comico in 1982 we started from the ground up with black-and-white comic books that looked more like fanzines and quickly grew to publish a line of full-color comics that rivaled anything in the market at the time.
Along the way we published a number of graphic novels, two featuring Matt Wagner’s GRENDEL, Harmony Gold’s ROBOTECH, Doug Wildey’s RIO, Mike Baron and Mitch O’Connell’s The World of GINGER FOX, and Harlan Ellison and Ken Steacy’s NIGHT and the ENEMY.
Before them all was an unusual graphic novel collection called MAGEBOOK. What made this book unique was that it was NOT a reprint of the first four issues of Matt Wagner’s critically acclaimed comic MAGE.
In 1984 it was apparent that there was a new trend in comics. The miniseries was becoming popular with titles like CAMELOT 3000 and WATCHMEN. It was inevitable that these would be collected and re-published as graphic novels after the initial run.
Matt had informed us early on that MAGE, likewise, would be a limited series. The idea of collecting it in graphic novel format as well became a goal.
Then we were presented with a production issue. In an effort to minimize unit costs, our comics were being gang-printed and though MAGE was a critical success it sold in smaller numbers than most of our other books, resulting in an overstock of the title to be stored.
There, warehoused on a skid, was the opening chapter of what would become our first published graphic novel.
After the first issue we began not binding the interiors of the books, storing the excess signatures for future use. After four issues of MAGE had been published we collected the signatures and the overstock of the first issue and had them neatly bound in a graphic novel format producing MAGEBOOK for merely the cost of the cover and the binding.
MAGEBOOK was a collection of the original print-run of the first for issues; ads, letter pages and all. Due to its success, we repeated the process for the second volume which has notably larger size dimensions than the first volume because of the availability of trim area that was lost on the first volume due to the first issue of MAGE having been previously trimmed and bound as a comic book.
These two volumes of MAGEBOOK were probably the only graphic novels ever produced this way! If anyone has any knowledge of others I would love to know about them.
MAGE was later licensed to Starblaze Graphics who repackaged it into a beautiful glossy three volume set that was released in paperback and deluxe, sleeved, Hard Cover editions.
Bill Cucinotta and I still like the idea of repackaging material that we enjoy.
While we are determined to seek out exciting new features by talented comic creators to post here on CO2 Comics, there are a number of features found here that are digital repackages of previously published material which we are proud to introduce to a new audience on the internet.
We have also made it our mission to repackage a very important part of comics history. David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW: The Complete Collection will be a eleven volume set and is, without doubt, “The Greatest Collection of Interviews in the History of Comic Books.”
Hurry and get your copy in time for Christmas!
Making comics because I want to