Comics : John Romita's The Amazing Spider-Man Artifact Edition (IDW)

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: 6 Aug 2017.

Background...

If you've visited any major comic store recently, you may well have seen one of these massive IDW hardback Original Art collections. They tend to sit high up on the shelves behind the counter, and if you want to look at one you'll have to ask nicely to have it lifted down. They actually come in two different sizes. Huge and Extra-Huge. Or more specifically:

  • Artist's Edition - 12” x 17”
  • Artifact Edition - 15” x 22”

This Artifact Edition is the Big Brother of the two formats. But it's still not the largest Spider-Man book of all time (at least not when measured using a tape-measure). When looked at strictly from the front, the Spider-Man Coloring Books (Giant Format) coloring books from the 1970's are even bigger at 17" x 22". Of course when you reach for the scales there's no contest – the IDW Artifact editions are over 1" thick and weigh a ridiculous 10 lbs.

At the time of reviewing, IDW Publishing has released fifty or sixty of the super-sized Artist's Editions, but only ten or so of the super-super-sized Artifact Editions. And of those few Artifact Editions, the only Spider-Man one is this John Romita Amazing Spider-Man.

Of course, just in case the the $225 price tag wasn't crippling enough, it is officially available in two different covers, each with their own ISBN. Note however that there was a bit of a cock-up with the shipping process and the "Variant Edition" (the Green Goblin cover with ISBN 9781631403088) is the only one that has yet been distributed.

The other one, originally intended to be the "Standard Edition" (the Spider-Man No More cover with ISBN 9781631402388) is now listed on the IDW web-site as the Alternate Cover, and is (as of mid-2017) listed as "available for pre-order". But it has been over two years since the first version was released, and I'm beginning to suspect that the "Spider-Man No More" cover might never actually hit the presses at all.

In Detail...

John Romita's The Amazing Spider-Man Artifact Edition (IDW)
Jan 2015 : SM Reprint
Find ISBN 9781631403088
Summary: 15" x 22"
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #39
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #40
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #41
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #42
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #43
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #44
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #45
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #46
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #47
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #48
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #49
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #50
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #51
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #52
Partially Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #53
See Original Credits, plus...
Publisher:  IDW Publishing, Inc.
Editor:  Scott Dunbier
Designer:  Randall Dahlk
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Inside, the book is stunning. It features 200-odd pages of high-quality reproductions of John Romita Senior's Pencil & Ink illustrations from fifteen issues of Amazing Spider-Man, beginning with ASM (Vol. 1) #39 and running through to ASM (Vol. 1) #53.

This is (in nearly all cases) the original artwork. That means that you see all of the blue-pencil outlines, the white-out corrections and the margin notes in Full-Size reproduction. Technically, it's "Larger Than Life" reproduction. As I understand, JR and his fellow Marvel Artists typically illustrated onto a 11" x 17" tabloid-sized Bristol Board (with a drawing area of 10" x 15"). In the Artifact Editions, that 11" x 17" has been enlarged to a 13.5" x 20".

There's a certain part of me that feels that expanding larger than the original dimensions is entirely gratuitous. Yes, it's important to demonstrate that the artist works on a page larger than the final printed comic book. But did we really need to to over-emphasise that point? If the goal is to be realistic, then why not simply use a 1:1 format?

You'll also note that I said "nearly all cases". In practice, none of these stories are entirely reproduced from the original artist's boards. Some of the stories were nearly complete, and so for issues #41, #42, #48, #50 the editors have taken the liberty of filling the few gaps with clean photo-stat artwork, just to present the entire story. All of the other stories are sadly incomplete, and include only those pages for which the original artwork was still available.

As for the original cover art – that is only included for six of the issues, in a separate section at the back of the book.

In General...

There's no denying the physical and (for a long-time fan like me) emotional impact of seeing these original pages. All of the original artwork has, to varying degree, that wonderful yellow-aged paper with the oh-so-human correction marks, blue inks, and multi-layered pencils. Paging through, you can't help but be carried back through the decades to Stan and John's long-gone creative world, which has risen to mythical status.

Of course this rose-tinted glow is mostly fictional. I'm convinced that John enjoyed his job, but a comic book artist works long hours and I'm sure that JR SR shipped many of these pages out the door at the last minute to meet some overwhelming deadline!

Overall Rating...

Physically, the book is beautifully bound with great attention to detail. It's an impressive labour of love. Speaking personally, John Romita SR is my favorite artist. I find his skill quite literally incredible. I genuinely struggle to believe that he worked for a salary, quietly producing this magical artwork at such a demanding pace.

On the negative side, well... it's not cheap, and it's not complete. I would also reiterate my objection to the artwork not being presented at it's original 1:1 size.

I'm going to call it four-point-five webs. Even with my minor objections, it's a wonderful addition to any classic Spider-Man collection – if you're one of those lucky souls who possess both the financial budget and the not inconsiderable storage space.