Monday, April 8, 2013

Skullkickers (or the Merits of Handsome Packaging)

Skullkickers was a book that had drifted on the fringes of my peripheral since it launched. It wasn't that I don't like fantasy books (I do) and it wasn't that I don't like a good action adventure yarn. In the end it came down to one too many books being on my pull list at once and me being forced to ignore stuff that otherwise I might have leaped, not just jumped, on board for.

Last month writer, Jim Zub retitled the book Uncanny Skullkickers, slapped a big old number "1" on there and proved not only that I'm a giant sucker but that there is something to be said for "relaunches". I hopped on, fell wildly in love with everything about the title and quickly caught up on the series through the Treasure Trove hardcover. 

Before I go any further a quick rundown of what the book is about: A dwarf and a big bald guy go around punching (or shooting or axing or cutting or chopping, etc.) stuff in the face for money. That's it. 

The book is written by Zub with art by Edwin Huang, Chris Stevens, and Misty Coats. It's without a doubt, one of the best looking books on the stands today. The covers are beautifully rendered and stand out from nearly every other book on the shelves, calling to mind the painted style of, say, Frank Frazetta by way of Chuck Jones. There's something at once cool and refreshingly non-self serious about just the look of it that I adore. Misty Coats' colors are a huge part of what makes Skullkickers stand apart as well, reminding me of the sort of Saturday morning cartoons my mom refused to let me watch. 

So after jumping on with the "Uncanny" issue I quickly realized the book wasn't actually rebooting but simply spoofing the constant renaming/renumbering of titles at the big two. The story actually picked up right where issue 18 left off. It's to Zubs' credit that this worked. Frankly, if any other title had tried this trick I'm fairly certain I'd have torn the book to shreds and tossed it in the garbage but Skullkickers is so hilarious, so perpetually unimpressed by itself that I rolled with it. The marketing genius of renumbering and renaming the title will carry on throughout the remainder of the current arc with Savage Skullkickers #1 hitting two weeks ago and Dark Skullkickers #1 still to come.

After loving the Uncanny issue so much I bought the Treasure Trove hardcover (available at your favorite comic shop or, obviously, and was thoroughly impressed with the package that Zub and company have put together. The hardcover is stuffed with 304 pages of content. Twelve issues of comics plus what they refer to as "bonus material". 

In DC or Marvel or really any publishers' solicit for a hardcover collection they always boast of "bonus material". Then you're treated to four pages of some thumbnail sketches barely visible without a microscope and maybe a variant cover or something. Not the case with this book. I was thrilled to find pages and pages of extra swag, from a sketch gallery to a recipe for stew to cutout paper dolls of the books' lead characters. What impressed me so much is that Zub could have copped out here and simply tossed in the requisite sketch thumbnails and called it a day. Instead, he's put together a book that doesn't simply collect some trade paperbacks but rather helps draw you further into the world of Skullkickers through the added content.  This is what most comics publishers seem to get so wrong. If you package your collections in a way that helps to draw readers into the titles' world you'll create an addict. Which is what I am now.

This is one of those times where the packaging of a collection of single issues has actually made me decide to start buying the book in single issues. Typically when I find enjoyment in the reading experience of a hardcover collection I end up sticking to buying the series in that format but Skullkickers is such fun and the book so beautifully drawn that I can't pass up experiencing it once a month. I'll still be buying these hardcovers though. I highly recommend you do the same.

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