Columnist and critic Mark Squirek delivered this Main Event feature on the archival efforts of Hermes Press.
Looking for quality reprints of Steve Canyon, Buck Rogers, Land of the Giants, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Brenda Starr, Johnny Hazard, Dark Shadows, Star Hawks, Roy Rogers and others? They can all be found at Hermes Press.
Recently Dan Herman, the founder and publisher of Hermes Press was kind enough to sit down with Scoop. We spoke mostly about his company’s record of creating great archival editions of classic newspaper strips and comic books such as Buck Rogers, Steve Canyon, The Phantom and many other classics. He was also able to give us a few details about what Hermes has in store for collectors and comic fans everywhere.
It was a tremendous two hours with Herman. Speaking with the man can lead to a thousand other stories about collecting art, working as a trial lawyer, artists he has interviewed, negotiating for licenses or traveling a thousand miles to find the best art possible for his readers. The love for what he has published comes easily through when he speaks.
Ask Herman about any one of the dozens of artists or characters that are being preserved and reprinted by Hermes Press and he is off to the races with a hundred stories, anecdotes and observations about his favorites.
“Early on I did an interview with Alex Toth for a survey about the art and artists of the Silver Age. Now, Toth is a very precise and succinct story teller and he was also that way in his responses to my written questions — he preferred to have questions submitted in writing and he’d send you his answers on post cards in his immaculate script, he’d decorate the cards with little cartoon ducks and doodles. In one reply he told me about his early days working for Sheldon Mayer. Toth considered the man his mentor and, when he was just a young artist, a kid just starting out, Mayer would, on occasion, rip up Toth’s work and without blinking tell him to do it over and just walk away.”
Herman laughs a bit at the story and then adds “Toth’s love and respect for Mayer was very clear. These are the days that built our hobby and our art form. These stories and art have to be preserved. Toth absolutely loved the challenge of the times as both an artist and a writer, that’s why we are publishing the complete Alex Toth Zorro.”
Herman loves a challenge as well. In addition to running Hermes Press with his wife and a strong production crew, he is also a successful trial attorney. His regular job can be so stressful that he comes to Hermes Press to wind down.
“I come here to relax from depositions!” He laughs again. “We have a very low key office as far as Hermes goes. We all love what we are doing. My production manager has a black lab that sleeps in the office all day. We can hear him snoring! Occasionally it can bother us, but, hey, he’s a great dog, so we let him nap. The office needs him on a million levels.”
Over the last decade Hermes Press has brought some of the greatest newspaper strips and some of the most esoteric and forgotten comic book titles back into the public consciousness.
Releases such as the complete Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Dailies and the Complete Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Sundays have thrilled everyone from Ray Bradbury, who has admitted many times how important Buck Rogers was to his evolution as a writer to thousands of new readers all over the world.
Hermes has taken great care with another of the classic newspaper characters as well. The Phantom is considered by some to be the first great costumed hero in comic history. His influence on Batman is clear but few really remember him today.
Hermes run of The Complete Phantom Dailies begins with the very first strips as they originally appeared in 1936. Volume Four has just been released and it takes the strip through 1943. While most publishers would have been happy to publish the newspaper dailies, Herman’s commitment to the character is so deep that he made sure fans had an opportunity to discover The Phantom’s comic books appearances as well.
The first volumes of The Phantom Gold Key, The Phantom the Kind Years and The Phantom Charlton Years are now available. The Charlton Years contains Jim Aparo’s early work on the character and they are a very important part of the artist’s evolution (See our review of The Charlton Years, a wonderful book).
These two titles, as well as their work on Brenda Starr and Johnny Hazard reprints are some of the best looking and finest newspaper strip archival releases of the last decade.
Herman is one hundred percent committed to the importance of such titles. He is clear about his love of the quality and great stories to be found in books that may not always hold center stage in the collector and fan’s mindset.
“To see Aparo’s work on the Phantom, especially his original art for Charlton, is a revelation for fans who think only of Jim as the guy who did wonders on Batman,” he says. “This guy was so good he hit the page running. His very first story at Charlton immediately elevated the book.”
Hermes doesn’t just clean up the original books and then rush the book to the press; they take great care in assembling an entire package for the fan. This often includes original art from the books, detailed introductions and as Herman tells us, adding even more too each volume.
“Volume Two of The Phantom Gold Key Years will be out shortly. We not only included more original art but added pages to the volume that feature the Wilson covers without the titles or text. They stand alone as just paintings. In addition to this we also did a few pages of the Sy Berry newspaper strips published at the same time. We used the original panels from these dailies. We’ve also just premiered The Phantom The King Years which has more examples of Aparo’s original art as an extra.”
There is a reason for adding so much more to such a deluxe book. “We want fans and readers to have a point of comparison. They can see what the newspaper strip looked like at the time the comic book was published. After all, the book was aimed at a different market than the daily and we believe that placing what we publish in proper context expands the reader’s understanding of what they are reading. It’s like DVD bonus scenes and commentary. The fans deserve this when they buy a Hermes Hardcover.”
While many applaud the high quality of Hermes’ work on Buck Rogers, Brenda Starr and The Phantom dailies, some feel that his decision to reprint Gold Key and Charlton may be a bit off base. After all, these books were everywhere when they first came out and some critics can occasionally dismiss may of the titles boring or generic.
This is a concern that Herman address with relish.
“I did a panel at the San Diego Comic Con a few years ago. All the panel members were publishers of strip reprints. I was glad to have Hermes up there with them,” he said.
“Anyway, I told people that I was doing reprints of The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea comic books from the sixties. Right away someone stood up and asked me why I was reprinting that ‘crap.’ When the question came up I wasn’t upset. I wanted to address this, for I couldn’t disagree more with this sense of ‘elitism’ about collecting and art. Yes, DC and Marvel and EC had incredible work, but comics are so much more than just these publishers. Millions who read comics at the time created deep emotional connections to titles done by Harvey, ACG, Quality, Gold Key and Charlton and many other publishing houses. Dell and Gold Key sold more comic books than DC and Marvel combined.
“I am certainly not saying everything that came out through these publishers was great, but how can any fan argue when they see Aparo’s work on Phantom? Or the stunning painted covers created for Voyage? At the time they came out Voyage had some of the best covers and were also some of the most popular books on the stands.”
Moving the answer from the Con to our conversation today Herman continues with the same thought.
“And as a new reader, just a kid in a drug store looking at covers; I loved comics that I had an extra connection too. It didn’t matter if it was a newspaper-based book like Steve Canyon or a TV-related book from Gold Key. I loved them. They weren’t just comics; they were part of something bigger.”
A good example might be the classic I Spy books that Hermes is reprinting next February.
“Not only was the show a clear ground breaker, but the books were written just as well as the show. Granted they were aimed at kids, but they still hold that maturity, that depth found in the show. I read those books when they came out and they were, and still are, great. This is a book and show that Barack Obama has admitted that he loves. It’s Bill Cosby and Robert Culp at their best.
“This deep connection to the property itself, to the covers, the writing inside, is why I value some TV-related books as much as I value our work on a stone cold classic like Buck Rogers. From what I see, our readers agree with what we are doing as well.
“The response to our Dark Shadows reprints alone has been stunning. We just released our fifth volume and final volume in the series completing the reprint of all 35 books. ”
Fans around the world must feel the same way that Herman does about great strip reprints and esoteric comic books. The first book to sell out from Hermes Press was the trade paperback of The Time Tunnel. Herman wasn’t surprised by this at all.
“This was a great show. When you saw that show during its original run you knew it wasn’t just a fake. Of course today I know that they used two full soundstages and the actors were real actors, not just pretty folks standing and posing. But as a kid I immediately knew this show was serious, movie quality work, especially for TV at the time.
“That first episode on the Titanic set it all in motion for fans starved for good time travel adventure. I wonder how many times someone brought this up to James Cameron?”
One of the reasons the book sold through so quickly was the extras that Hermes adds to their reprint series. In addition to the two issues of the book they included blueprints from the show, a reprint of a TV Guide article from the premier, toys that were created for the show as well as storyboards and essays about the show and books.
They did the same thing with their very successful run on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Herman brings up the reprint panel at Comic Con again. “Even when that fan asked the question and was greeted by a few laughs, I knew Hermes had a winner with Voyage. We are on our second volume. Like the Time Tunnel book we included blueprints, details, and as much as we could. We placed the show and reprints in perspective. And the books are still great reads.”
They did the same thing for a hardcover series based on the famous show My Favorite Martian. “I knew fans would love a look back at this book. Those who bought the DVDs from Rhino and the new reissues from MPI Home Video had already proved to me there was a big fan base for the show and we weren’t wrong.”
The book also provided Herman with one of his most memorable encounters with someone associated with the show. “When Ray Walston’s daughter agreed to write the forward, I was ecstatic. She had been asked to do things like this for years, but this time, after seeing the quality of what we do with our books, she agreed to give us a few paragraphs. Her memories and insights into her father are touching and very real. She wrote of Ray’s friendship with Bill Bixby and how her father eventually came to terms with being remembered for the character. It is a deeply touching forward and one of my all time favorites to read. I can never thank Kate Walston enough for allowing us to publish her memories.”
Once again detail plays a big part in a Hermes book. Herman and his crew took images from the My Favorite Martian board game and painstakingly laid them out across the opening of the book. They also added gorgeous full color production stills of all the actors as well as art from the cover and board games.
He brings up his love for the classics newspaper strip Steve Canyon. “Hermes is reprinting the Steve Canyon Dell Comics. Some of my collector friends complained the work was not Caniff, implying it was worthless, but I knew they are wrong.
“Caniff knew his property and he supervised and oversaw every book that came out. He was controlling the books just as he controlled the strip. The books were aimed at kids who read comics, not the people who read strips. And Caniff was smart enough to allow the character to change appropriately within a new medium. These are some action-packed reads. And again, who can argue with the spectacular cover art that graced many of these issues?”
With four new books ready to come out by Christmas, (see the list at the end of the article) Herman is focused on one very important title he thinks will amaze fans of all ages. Hermes is collecting the complete dailies and Sunday strips of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.
“Mike Hammer is the most important detective figure of the post WWII era. His attitudes mirror and set the stage for what James Bond would do in another decade. We are just about to release the complete Sundays and dailies from the feature’s run in newspapers. Very rarely do you have a literary character appear in a newspaper and still have the content supervised by its creator. Spillane, like Caniff did on the Gold Key books, knew to adapt his character to another medium.
“Hammer is the real thing. The strip is true to the literary character. Yes, toned down a bit, but still true. It only ran for a year but Spillane made sure the strips kept their flavor.
Hermes not only publishes reprints. They are developing a run of new titles as well. “We are just about to publish the great Howard Chaykin and his version of Buck Rogers. When Dynamite had the license they did a good job, but as a fan, I wanted to see the character in a more ‘retro’ light. I figured we could tip our hat to the original and then move past the history of the character while keeping the original’s feel. Luckily the property owner agreed.
Herman knew of only one artist he wanted for the title. “Howard Chaykin worked with Gil Kane, I knew without a doubt that he would do right by Buck. Howard knows pulps, he knows the era, and he is one of the most respected artists ever.
“Chaykin has made Buck into a person. To see the research he did on the character and storylines was stunning. I know why he is so great. We sent him copies of our HC reprints and he literally cut up the Sunday pages and placed them around his studio. He created a complete world of Buck Rogers. Chaykin immersed himself in this world. It shows in the first two books I have seen. The first run will be a four-issue series. We are looking at an early spring release right now.”
Before he had to go, Scoop asked how he arrived at the name “Hermes” for his company. Given that his last name is “Herman” we expected something based on that. But he threw us one magnificent curve.
“Two reasons. First, when I was a kid I read a book that said you should always name your company after a Greek god. That has always stuck with me. Go figure. Second, do you remember the classic Ray Harryhausen film Jason and the Argonauts? I loved the film. Still do.
“In the film there is a great scene where they interact with the god Hermes. He is declared to be the ‘bringer of dreams’. I loved the quote so much that I used that as the name for the company.”
It fits perfectly, for Hermes Publishing is indeed the bringer of dreams for fans around the world. Herman’s highly individualistic choices when it comes to publishing and the stunning commitment to detail of work created by his production crew has given the marketplace some of the most unusual success stories in the reprint filed.
He closes our talk with a slightly wistful note. “When we started to hit our stride around 2007, we could do four books a year. Now we easily produce six times that in a year. I knew that there was a demand for these titles and I thank the fans and readers for proving everyone at Hermes Press right.”
From a new version of Buck Rogers to reprints of Steve Canyon, The Phantom and classic TV shows, Hermes Press offers fans a real and unusual choice in the marketplace. Hermes work on these titles from Gold Key and Charlton has not only brought new respect to books that were once dismissed by fans and critics alike, but have also brought new readers into the reprint marketplace. Just like the original books, fans encounter the titles at a store or a friend’s house and are captivated at what they find inside.
Look for the following books on your book and comic store shelves before Christmas 2012. When you see them, pick one up and take some time with it. You will be amazed at how good the work is.