Any time Marvel releases any kind of special "theme" comic, I always wonder how long it'll be before they include the Fantastic Four in on the trend. This is true for the 2099 line, the "The End" specials, the "Noir" specials, etc. And while I always feel cheated if they don't come up with some version featuring the FF, a little voice speaks up in the back of my head and says, "hey, at least you didn't have to pay for anything new."
It's with this sense of duality that I always viewed IDW's "Artist Edition" oversized books: they look really cool, but they also come with a hefty price tag. Artist Editions take a specific writer/artist's run on a particular book and reproduce the artwork in an oversized format, scanning in the black and white production artwork from the original pages, complete with any production notes and stray marks that wouldn't make it into the final product. It creates a fairly unique experience and has been a success for IDW, so much so that they've released several editions of the series, each reprinting a classic Marvel collection (why Marvel licenses these out and doesn't just create them themselves is anyone's guess), such as Walter Simonson's Thor and Frank Miller's Daredevil.
A little while ago, I found out that selections from John Byrne's lengthy Fantastic Four run were getting the Artist Edition treatment, and I was faced with the conundrum of wanting to see the Fantastic Four get their due but not wanting to shell out too much cash all the time (I can't imagine what it's like for the big-time Batman fans who feel the need to buy up a lot of new releases). Artist Editions often sell out fairly quickly, and from what I understand, IDW only does one print run. So I made the decision to pre-order the book, and it arrived in the mail just a few days ago. The box even has a picture of the book printed on it!
In case you were wondering about the scale of the book, here's some reference. No, I haven't shrunk down to minuscule proportions (at least I don't think so)...the book is really very hefty. It's nice and solid and is pretty classy.
The back cover features this iconic image with a reproduction of Byrne's signature.
Printed on the interior front and back covers are Byrne's Fantastic Four character sheets. These are the first things that the reader sees once he or she opens up the cover, and it gives you some idea of the scope you're in store for.
My wife remarked on how cool the image was, and wondered how much it'd take to own the original artwork. I got a better feel for the answer a little while ago when I watched this eBay commission of the Thing and Dr. Doom by Byrne go for a whopping $800. If something like that would go for so much, a really desirable piece like the one reproduced above would go for, what, $5000? It's hard to imagine.
Here's the title page!
The book reproduces pages from a handful of Fantastic Four issues plus one issue of What If...? (starring the FF, written and drawn by Byrne). As expected, IDW did a wonderful job with this collection, capturing the production aspects of pages that were created around 30 years ago.
All of the pages in this edition, with the exception of four, were scanned in from the existing originals for this collection. That's quite a feat, considering how much time has passed since the artwork was actually drawn, and even more so due to the fact that, if I'm correct in my assumption, Byrne had sold most of the original pages from the issues in question. I say this because Byrne's signature is on a good deal of the original pages, and that usually indicates that the artist parted with the pages, for whatever reason, and signed them before sending them on their way. I wonder if most of these pages are owned by a single person, or if IDW had to track down a few dozen collectors to see if they could borrow their investments for a while.
Overall, though, this collection was well worth the cost. I understand that it's not for everyone, but for me, it's something that I'm going to enjoy for a good long time. If you're a big Fantastic Four fan, and you've got a little money to spend, I highly recommend this Artist Edition.