Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, December 23, 2012
      ( 12/23/2012 07:03:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“WEIRDOS, GRIFTERS, HUSTLERS” . . . AND STORYTELLERS: Ingeniously conceived and executed, Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s The Comic Book History of Comics (IDW) charts the history of comics utilizing the medium itself. Originally published as a six-issue mini-series as Comic Book Comics, the trade collection depicts the medium’s storytelling evolution, its rocky course as a business, as well as its creative touchstones. Throughout the book, attention is paid to both the creative talents who added to the medium as well as the occasionally more dubious types who bankrolled what was first seen as a “fly-by-night” business. Certain figures, familiar to most longtime comics lovers, regularly appear in the book – Siegel and Shuster, Jack Kurtzberg/Kirby, Will Eisner, and a young hyperactive kid named Stan Lieber (who would later, of course, shorten that name to Lee) – first seen scrambling to make a place for themselves in a profession that was initially considered “a couple of steps below digging ditches.”

Van Lente and Dunlavey follow the art and industry from its earliest Depression Era days as a cheap collection of reprint comic strips through its Golden Age blossoming with the creation of Superman and the development of various post-war comic book genres (romance, crime and, ultimately, horror comics) then into the fifties Silver Age which brought a rekindled interest in superheroes. If there’s any area where the duo fall short in the first half of their volume, it’s in the scant mention given to actual funnybooks: animal comics that brought us the work of Carl Barks and his cohorts as well as the earliest incarnation of Walt Kelly’s classic Pogo – and the teen funnies like Archie – though I suspect for many mainstream fans this isn’t an issue. I do wonder why there’s no mention of Jack Cole’s revolutionary wise-guy superhero Plastic Man, though.

The second half of the volume moves us into the sixties, with both the Marvel Age and the underground comix movement, then into the development of the direct market distribution system and the graphic novel. The growth of European comics and Japanese manga are also given their own chapters, but these prove relatively slight. The focus of Comic Book History remains on the American industry. Fair enough: a Manga History of Manga would provide enough material for its own full volume.

Where this book excels is in using its own medium to depict the changes in art and graphic storytelling that occurred through comics history. The book’s opening chapter cannily demonstrates how sequential panel-to-panel narrative developed using the classic Abbott and Costello dialog “Who’s on second?” while a later entry shows Dunlavey beautifully parodying and explicating the development of Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking style. Writer Fred Van Lente also has a sharp eye for the shady mistreatment that so many of these “work-for-hire” creators received over the years. He doesn’t, for instance, let Stan “The Man” Lee off the hook for lapping up the “auteur’s” credit for “creating” the characters in the Marvel Universe when in fact the work was a collaborative one with artists like Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Both writer and artist present their material fairly and with a large amount of verbal and visual humor. An accounting of the infamous Air Pirates case (where a rag-tag group of counter-cultural artists were sued by the Disney Corporation for producing underground comics that used their characters) depicts both the Disney and Air Pirates’ versions of Mickey Mouse facing off against each other with Roy Orbison and the members of Two Live Crew standing in the background, for instance, illustrating how different the copyright infringement case might have gone in the aftermath of more recent music sampling decisions.

Comic Book History’s greatest achievement, though, lies in humanizing a creative community that historically has been obscured through company hype and fannish mythologizing. (Recently, while watching an episode of Ken Smith’s Comic Book Men on television, for instance, I watched both Smith and his cohorts blithely echo the assertion that Stan Lee was entirely responsible for the Marvel Universe.) Paying attention to a group of inventive storytellers who frequently worked in crappy conditions for insufficient credit or money, this book provides an invaluable and engaging history. Both loving and knowing, it's one that the medium well deserves.

(First published on Blogcritics.)

Labels:

# |



Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



On Sale Now!
Measure by Measure:



A Romantic Romp with the Fat and Fabulous
By Rebecca Fox & William Sherman

(Available through Amazon)

Measure by Measure Web Page







Ask for These Fine Cultural Blogs & Journals by Name!

aaronneathery.com News
Aaron Neathery

American Sideshow Blow-Off
Marc Hartzman

Arf Lovers
Craig Yoe

Attentiondeficitdisorderly
Sean T. Collins

Barbers Blog
Wilson Barbers

The Bastard Machine
Tim Goodman

The Beat
Heidi MacDonald

BeaucoupKevin
Kevin Church

Big Fat Blog
Paul McAleer

Big Mouth Types Again
Evan Dorkin

Bloggity-Blog-Blog-Blog
Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag

Blog This, Pal!
Gordon Dymowski

Bookgasm
Rod Lott

Cartoon Brew
Amid Amidi & Jerry Beck

Cartoon Web Log!
Daryl Cagle

Clea's Cave
Juana Moore-Overmyer

Collected Editions

The Comics Curmudgeon
Josh Fruhlinger

The Comics Reporter
Tom Spurgeon

Comics.212
Christopher Butcher

Comics Waiting Room
Marc Mason

Comics Worth Reading
Johanna Draper Carlson

a dragon dancing with the Buddha
Ben Varkentine

Egon

Electromatic Radio
Matt Appleyard Aaron Neathery

Estoreal
RAB

Eye of the Goof
Mr. Bali Hai

Fred Sez
Fred Hembeck

Greenbriar Picture Shows
John McElwee

The Groovy Age of Horror
Curt Purcell

The Hooded Utilitarian
Noah Berlatsky

Hooray for Captain Spaulding
Daniel Frank

The Horn Section
Hal

The House Next Door
Matt Zoller Seitz

Howling Curmudgeons
Greg Morrow & Friends

The Hurting
Tim O'Neil

I Am A Child of Television
Brent McKee

I Am NOT the Beastmaster
Marc Singer

In Sequence
Teresa Ortega

Innocent Bystander
Gary Sassaman

Irresponsible Pictures
Pata

Jog - The Blog
Joe McCulloch

The Johnny Bacardi Show
David Allen Jones

Journalista
Dirk Deppey

King's Chronicles
Paul Dini

Let's You And Him Fight
One of the Jones Boys

Mah Two Cents
Tony Collett

Metrokitty
Kitty

Michael's Movie Palace
Michael

Nat's TV
Nat Gertler

Ned Sonntag

Neilalien

News from ME
Mark Evanier

No Rock&Roll Fun
Simon B

Omega Channel
Matt Bradshaw

Pen-Elayne on the Web
Elayne Riggs

PeterDavid.net
Peter David

(postmodernbarney.com)
Dorian White

Progressive Ruin
Mike Sterling

Punk Rock Graffiti
Cindy Johnson & Autumn Meredith

Revoltin' Developments
Ken Cuperus

Rhinoplastique
Marc Bernardin

Scrubbles
Matt Hinrichs

Self-Styled Siren
Campaspe

Spatula Forum
Nik Dirga

Tales from the Longbox
Chris Mosby

TangognaT

The Third Banana
Aaron Neathery & Friends

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

Toner Mishap
B2 et al

Trusty Plinko Stick
Bill Doughty

TV Barn
Aaron Barnhart et al

Unqualified Offerings
Jim Henley

Various And Sundry
Augie De Blieck

Video WatchBlog
Tim Lucas

When Fangirls Attack
Kalinara & Ragnell

X-Ray Spex
Will Pfeifer

Yet Another Comics Blog
Dave Carter



A Brief Political Disclaimer:

If this blog does not discuss a specific political issue or event, it is not because this writer finds said event politically inconvenient to acknowledge - it's simply because he's scatterbrained and irresponsible.




My Token List of Poli-Blogs:

Alicublog
Roy Edroso

Eschaton
Atrios

Firedoglake
Jane Hamsher

James Wolcott

Lance Mannion

The Moderate Voice
Joe Gandelman

Modulator
Steve

Pandagon
Amanda Marcotte & Friends

The Sideshow
Avedon Carol

Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo
Skippy

Talking Points Memo
Joshua Micah Marshall

This Modern World
Tom Tomorrow

Welcome to Shakesville
Melissa McEwan & Friends



Blogcritics: news and reviews
Site Feed



Powered by Blogger



Twittering:
    follow me on Twitter