Wednesday, June 28, 2017

0030: He Built This City (and he did a better job than Starship)

In the fall of 1983, the Los Angeles-based band X released the album "More Fun In The New World". It was sort of an ending to the first phase of their career. Ray Manzarek (better known as the keyboardist for the Doors) had produced all four of their albums at that point and this would be his last with them. It was also their last really punk flavored studio album. The next album would come out almost two years later and sound more polished, after playing and recording as country/folk group The Knitters (which more accurately foreshadowed the direction of the band from the late 1980's onward). Of course, in the spring of 1984 no one would have that perspective of hindsight, and to those attuned to the innovative in pop culture, "More Fun In..." was simply the latest album by the band most associated with the letter 'X'.

The reason I mention all this is because while futzing about [and I can't help but notice that the word "futzing" is not highlighted by that damned Spellcheck feature] looking for any early Mr. X materials not included in the recent Dark Horse Trade collecting Volume One (1984-1988), I found the issue of "Amazing Heroes" on the left. It's #48, June 1st, 1984 (it was coming out twice a month back then). If you'll note the date, then you'll realize that the black-and-yellow clock image is not a Watchmen reference. You might have to be a little more alert to realize that the hands are set at ten o'clock-- and that the letter 'X' is the Roman numeral for ten. Yeah, I know. I had been patting myself on the back for noticing that the crossed searchlights formed an 'X' when the clock face suddenly hit me and it became clear to me that the searchlights were a red herring.

The issue contains a ten-page article, in black and white by "Ace" MacDonald, who probably had the recent album in mind when he (or his editor?) entitled the article.

Patrick Cowley was an early proponent of EDM, purely electronic dance music. He was based in San Francisco and released his second solo album, "Megatron Man", on the small Megatone Records label in 1981. Megatone didn't have the means to manufacture and distribute their titles overseas, but the nature of the early EDM movement is that it had small pockets of ardent support scattered all over the world. Collectively that meant many potential sales but required licensing the album in about a dozen different countries to small labels also comfortable with pressing and distributing small quantities quickly. All of the other labels used the crude black and white jacket art by Jim Saunders except the Canadian label Attic, which replaced it with a full color painting by Dean Motter. That LP (Attic LAT 1132), released in 1982, is now considered the first public appearance of Mr.X. When the label Unidisc reissued the album on CD for Canada, they combined the two different cover art pieces into a single image for the inlay card. For some reason, the painted cover is reproduced in B&W in the original Vortex trade paperback "The Return of Mr. X" (ISBN# 0-921451-008, December 1986), despite the fact that it reprints the first four issues of the series in their original color.

When ibooks (the publishing company, not to be confused with the iTunes app iBooks) reprinted the first series in two volumes, they reproduced the cover painting in color, but somewhat smaller. In Volume One (ISBN# 0-7434-9334-6, October, 2004) it appears on page 8 with a wide black border on all sides. The text that appeared on the right side of the LP jacket is eliminated so that the image would more closely fit the dimensions of the book, a smart move undercut by the borders. Also, the color obscures details visible in the B&W version from Vortex.

The Dark Horse trade (ISBN# 978-1-50670-265-0, May 2017) reproduces the art in color with more of the detail and texture retained. It appears on page 6 in full bleed (the image extends to the edges of the page), but the left and right edges are shaved off. I might just have to find a copy of the vinyl.

Also on this page from the Vortex trade is the Paul Rivoche cover for "Vortex" #2 (03/83), the publisher's first title. It was a B&W anthology (although the cover was originally in color) and there was no Mr. X story inside, despite him being on the cover. That art appears in color and without the trade dress in the ibooks Volume One on page 10 and with far thinner white borders than the LP art got. It also makes page 10 of the DH trade, full bleed again but intact, also in color and before trade elements were added. Advantage Dark Horse.

There's much more comparing and contrasting to be done with the trades, but I've got to hunt down some more original source material. Sleep well. Or not at all.

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