I first started collecting comic books in the early 1970's and then sold the bulk of my collection several years later to pay for my first car when I was in high school. One of the runs I held onto, however, was Master of Kung-Fu, and the main reason I kept those books was the outstanding art of Paul Gulacy. Master of Kung Fu was unlike any other title in the 1970's. Far different than the primarily super hero and horror titles of the time, this was a gritty, action filled thriller, long before books like Sin City and others came out. In fact, Frank Miller's art on Sin City was strongly influenced by Gulacy's work on this title.
"Spies, Vixens, and Masters of Kung Fu: The Art of Paul Gulacy" is the latest outstanding title from Vanguard Productions. The book covers Gulacy's mercurial career starting with his getting assigned to Master of Kung Fu at the age of twenty, along with writer Doug Moench. Gulacy's style was unlike any other artist of the time. His fight scenes were choreographed like a Hollywood film with an emphasis on realism and his depiction of the menacing villain Fu Manchu recalled the days of sinister "yellow menace" pulps. If Jim Steranko (who provides the Afterword to this book) introduced pop art to comics then Gulacy introduced a truly cinematic approach to comics. Sitting down and reading a run of MOKF was like watching a good movie. This title was often worth buying just for the Gulacy covers and splash pages alone.
The book then goes onto cover Gulacy's post MOKF life on projects such as Sabre for Eclipse comics and then onto his short, but memorable time working on projects for Jim Warren in the pages of Eerie. Gulacy was always one to experiment with new techniques and his work on those issues of Eerie showcase him using lamp black washes on the stories for an exceptionally unique look. The book provides several examples from the stories so you can see what I mean. It's gorgeous work! Gulacy would to on to do several runs on various Batman titles for DC Comics including the recently completed Batman/Ra's Alghul mini series just this year, as well as stints on Legends of the Dark Knight in 1900 - 1991. Never was there an artist more suited to draw Batman than Gulacy.
The last third of the book is sure to delight his legion of fans as it provides a dazzling gallery of Gulacy's work including paintings and numerous comic covers from books such as Catwoman, Vampirella, Sabre, Batman, and of course, The Master of Kung Fu. The cover to MOKF #64 is included and has always been one of my favorite pieces featuring Shang Chi holding a pair of Escrima sticks as he descends a set of steps in Fu Manchu's palace.
The book is filled with commentary by Gulacy's peers such as Tim Bradstreet and Steve Rude who discuss how Gulacy's art has influenced their own and no less than director Quentin Tarantino has called Master of Kung Fu his favorite comic book. Like most of the books from Vanguard Productions it is also available in a hardcover edition, as well as a limited, signed hard cover edition. A first class production!
Reviewed by Tim Janson