Rereading: MAGIC OR NOT? and THE WELL-WISHERS by Edward Eager

Cover and interior illustrations by N.M. Bodecker

I’m covering these two books in Edward Eager’s “Tales of Magic” series together because they’re related, and because they have a different tone than the others. The first four books of the series, and the final one, are unabashed magic stories with delightfully improbable beings and settings. These two are more realistic in approach, and the magical adventures that happen could all be explained by coincidence, planning by adults, and other real world things. As a child, I found this a cheat, and I never liked these two as much as the rest, but rereading them today I find much of value in them.

Laura and James and their parents are moving from New York City to a small village in rural Connecticut, and while the parents deal with the moving vans, the children are put on a train to their new home town. They’re excited about the move, and what the new house will be like, they haven’t seen it yet. They wonder if anything magic will happen to them, as in book adventures they enjoy. On the train they meet a strange girl, who tells them there is magic at their new home in a wishing well in the yard. The girl, Lydia, who they soon learn is their new neighbor, and another neighbor boy, Kip, join Laura and James and investigate the wishing well. When Laura’s first wish written on a scrap of paper and lowered into the well, “I wish I had a kitten” comes true the next day when the well bucket is found to have two kittens in it, the four children begin to believe in Lydia’s claim, and through this and the second book they have adventures in their neighborhood and make wishes that often seem to somehow come true, but it’s never a clear exhibition of magic powers. The children decide that using their wishes for good deeds is the best way to make them work, and they do help out others and help to solve real problems in the town, making new friends and a few enemies, and getting involved in many projects. Sometimes, too, the magic seems to play tricks on them, just as it often does in stories, as when a girl that James is attracted to seems to need rescuing, but when he does, it turns out she was only escaping from her father to go to the movies with her boyfriend. One of their new friends is Gordy, a rich boy who only wants to be their friend, though he makes it hard because of obnoxious behavior. Often adventures that seem to have fairytale elements, like a lost heir, a wicked ogre, and a hidden treasure involve the children in exciting events, but afterward leave them wondering if there was any real magic or not.

The second book goes even further into real world problems, and is charmingly narrated by each of the children in the story in turns. When they encounter a runaway girl, Gordy turns out to be the one who can help her. They meet a sad older man whose apple orchard is going to be replaced by a parking lot. Another new acquaintance turns out to have the solution for his problem. When their Well-Wishers clubhouse in the woods is attacked by tough older kids, a secret friend turns out to help. Later, the group works to turn public opinion from against to accepting the arrival of a new and different family to the neighborhood. This book is perhaps the deepest of the series, and the characters all change and grow through their experiences. Eager often continued the ideas of children’s book author E. Nesbit in his own work, and in these two books, I think he was using her Bastable stories as the model rather than her magic adventures.

Both books are recommended, as is the whole series. A link to the collection, in paperback and sadly lacking the original Bodecker covers, but otherwise a fine way to read them, is below.


Image © DC Comics

The fourth and final one of these massive trade paperbacks has arrived. The charming Mark Buckingham cover connects to the other three, perhaps they will be issued as a poster at some point. This one includes issues 114 to 150 of the original series, with the final issue being a huge one, and it does include the wraparound cover of that as a foldout. These are the best and currently cheapest way to acquire the FABLES series. Even at the cover price of $59.99, that’s still only $1.62 per issue. I loved lettering the series, and just between us, there may be more in the future. Look for this at your comics retailer, or there’s a link below.


All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #503, Jan 1980

DC began making a comeback with issues having 1980 cover dates (work prepared from Fall 1979 to Fall 1980). Newsstand sales continued to decline, but they were offset by increased sales in the direct market: retailers who focused on comics and other collectibles. Newsstands still worked on the old distribution system of returnable product, so sell-through was never certain, while the direct market bought comics on a non-returnable basis, hoping to sell items eventually as back issues even if they didn’t sell right away, and betting on what they thought collectors would want long-term. Comics collectors were also now more informed about their hobby through publications like the Overstreet Price Guides and the COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE, a weekly newspaper for collectors and fans full of information on upcoming products, sales trends, and comics history. Gaspar Saladino was again being called on more often to letter house ads, still the main method of promotion for DC, and there were enough of them in books for this year for me to break them into two articles. Above is another fine war comics ad by Gaspar, one of his favorite genres.

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ECHOLANDS © J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman

The latest issues of this series I’m lettering have arrived. J.H. did the A covers of each, the B cover of issue #4 is by Gabriel Rodriguez, and the B cover of Raw Cut #3 is by Michael Avon Oeming. I enjoyed the plot developments in issue #4, especially the integration of the mysterious fortune teller from the last page of earlier issues into the main story. The art by Jim is fantastic, of course, as are Dave Stewart’s colors. The Raw Cut is for those who want to see Jim’s art before Dave’s enhancements, and with my lettering translucent so more of the art is visible. These should all be in shops shortly if they aren’t already, or you can order the A cover versions through the links below.


All images © DC Comics. From ACTION COMICS #491, Jan 1979

DC Comics was in dire straits, having been forced to cut their line of comics and staff by corporate bosses, and the upcoming Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve (released in December 1978) was something to pin hope on. This second movie contest had a cape worn by Reeve in the film as the first prize, a valuable item indeed, and the contest required readers to answer trivia questions salted across many titles, something DC hoped would help sales. Gaspar Saladino’s lettering, as always, helps sell the idea with exciting display lettering. Even though sales were down and new titles scarce in this year, DC turned to Gaspar for his skill as a company promoter.

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