By the time that I Before E #1 was released in 1991, Sam Kieth had only had one Marvel gig involving the Hulk — Incredible Hulk #368. And while that issue captured the imagination of the mainstream comics audience and quickly led to more Marvel work (including a Hulk cover for Wizard shortly after this), Kieth already had an incredibly impressive resume in comics by this time. After getting his start as the inker of Matt Wagner's Mage, he penciled the first story arc of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and done two volumes of William Messner-Loebs' acclaimed Epicurus the Sage among other things. While The Maxx was still in Kieth's future in 1991, he was already a star in the making, and Fantagraphics two-issue I before # series helped to expose his new audience to Kieth's unseen early material, as well as his impressive range of talent. A rare early look at the work of an important creator, there's an I Before E #1 (Fantagraphics Books, 1991) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages up for auction in today's 2022 February 20-21 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122208 at Heritage Auctions.
The introduction to this issue by collaborator William Messner-Loebs also gives some interesting insight into Kieth's thoughts about his work at this stage:
And all the while, Sam was agonizing. . .worrying that no one would ever know him as anything but an inker, that his style was too Wrightson/Suydam influenced, that his success had been a fluke, that the sun wouldn't rise the next morning. And as he worried and fretted and stewed, he just kept getting better and better. I sometimes think that the more artists worry about their work . . . remaining hungry and dissatisfied, the better work they do. At least for Sam, self-doubt and misery have been the lubricate for his genius. "You're good, Sam," I'd tell him. "And all you have to do is get one book out there that has the quality of your sketchbooks and samples, and you'll have more work than you can handle." "Oh, you're just being nice, Bill," he would sigh. "My stuff sucks. And all anyone will ever remember me for is as 'Matt Wagner's inker'."
Of course, Kieth was very wrong about that, and this 1991 look at some of his earliest work is more important to fans than ever today. There's an I Before E #1 (Fantagraphics Books, 1991) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages up for auction in today's 2022 February 20-21 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122208 at Heritage Auctions.
I Before E #1 (Fantagraphics Books, 1991) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages. Sam Kieth cover and art. Not listed in Overstreet. CGC census 2/22: 4 in 9.6, 5 higher.