The PopCult Bookshelf
written and compiled by Jason Young
$25 available directly from Jason Young/Old Times Digest
For the last couple of years, Jason Young has been self-publishing some terrific books about the fringes of pop culture where your humble blogger likes to shine his spotlight. He’s done it again with a great look at one of the niche collectibles from the pre-“Me Decade.”
Kids of the 1970s have fond memories of Power Records. Power Records was an imprint of Peter Pan Records, a long-running record label devoted to selling records to children. They started out by producing kid’s novelty songs and storybook records, but during the 1960s Superhero boom, Peter Pan produced an album of DC superhero adventures, and a few “monster” records, and in the early 1970s they revisited the concept in a big way with the Power Records imprint.
Power Records is most known for producting book and record combo sets that included a comic book, with the best printing on the highest-quality paper that had been used for comics to that date, and a seven-inch single that brought the story to life with voice, music and sound effects, like a short radio play. The company licensed characters from DC and Marvel, as well as Star Trek, Conan, Planet of The Apes and more. Not only were they beautifully-drawn comics, they were even educational, helping encourage some kids to learn to read.
At the time, a lot of hardcore comic snobs ignored these books because they had the stigma of being designed for kids. However, those comic snobs missed out on some of the most spectacular comic book art produced in the 1970s. Power Records had hired the late Neal Adams and his Continuity Associates to oversee the artwork and production, and the end result was that the Power Records comics looked better than almost every regular comic book being produced at the time.
Most of the Marvel entries from Power Records were simply adapted and reprinted from existing comics, but for the rest, most of them sport covers by Adams, and much of the internal artwork shows his touch as well. Other artists working on the interiors included masters of the field, such as Russ Heath, Gray Morrow, Dick Giordano, Rich Buckler and others.
In his latest book, Power Trip, Jason Young gives us a generously-illustrated look at the history of Power Records and Peter Pan Records, and clears up some of the confusion over which imprint released which comic/record sets when. He also covers the end of the Power Records line, the switch to using cassettes instead of vinyl records, and a series of 12″ LPs that compiled the audio portions of these sets wih or without the comics (but usually with gorgeous new covers by Adams).
To be honest, I’m more than a little surprised that DC hasn’t released a collection of the stories featuring their characters, and that IDW hasn’t compiled the Star Trek comics into a hardcover yet.
These records were repackaged and reissued so many times in so many different formats that compiling a complete checklist would be extremely difficult. Young sidesteps that problem, instead just presenting as much information as he can, without trying to be complete. It’s much more useful as a reference book if it doesn’t try to be definitive about a business as undocumented as the kid’s records market in the 1970s. You never know when a previously-unknown limited release or foreign-market edition of something may turn up.
The market for collecting Power Records has not gone crazy yet. Aside from a few items that can go for hundreds of dollars, most of the best book/record sets can be found for under fifty bucks, which isn’t bad considering the very high quality and the fact that these came out five or six decades ago.
As it is, Power Trip hits all the key points of the Power Records story, and packs a ton of information and artwork into its 156 pages. The art direction is clever and lets the graphics from the original records shine. Power Trip is a must-have for fans of 1970s mainstream comics. It was a little bittersweet receiving this book in the mail shortly after Neal Adams passed away. It’s loaded with his artwork, and stands as yet another tribute to his lasting influence and appeal.