With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in longboxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
The Comic Book History of Comics
By Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey
Published by IDW
Originally published as Comic Book Comics #1-6 by Evil Twin Comics
Most comic fans today have at least a passing knowledge of the medium’s history. “Golden Age,” “Silver Age,” “Pre- and Post-Crisis,” these are all thrown around terms most of us are at least aware of. Visionaries like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Will Eisner are easily recognizable. The more you get into comics, the more you can learn, and names like Bill Gaines, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, and Harvey Kurtzman become more important. But how many of you have heard of the Yellow Kid? Or knew that other psychological studies of the vilified Fredric Wertham were pivotal in winning the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case? Or that the 60s Batman TV series was actually the ABC network’s third choice for a live-action comic book series? If you want to learn more about the history of comics, you can’t do much better than Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey’s excellent series.
I’ll admit, while I don’t consider myself a comics historian by any means, I know quite a bit about their history. CBHoC took what I knew and blew past it, enlightening be further. The authors start with the origins of newspaper comics in the late 1800s and trace the evolution of the comics format all the way to the digital piracy issues of today. Most history books focus on one aspect at a time, but what CBHoC does differently is cover things in a roughly chronological order. Little Nemo, the romance and horror booms, Mad Magazine, The Seduction of the Innocent, comix & pop art, Heavy Metal, creator rights, Maus, A Contract with God, Watchmen, Image Comics, the direct market… All of these and more are covered. And while it mainly focuses on the American comics scene, there is a nice dose of comic history from around the world. The origins and impact of manga, Tintin and 2000 AD are included as well.
While the trade collecting the mini may look deceptively small, this is one dense read. Van Lente and Dunlavey pack in the information, leaving no space empty. Dunlavey’s art itself is worthy of tremendous praise, full of different styles and a healthy dose of humor. (Seriously, this is one of the few times I’ve not only read the entire legal disclaimer section of book, but laughed out loud while doing it.) While getting across the information in a straight-forward way, it’s packed with little gags that are reminiscent of Jim Mahfood’s art. This is a comic series any fan of comics should read in order to better understand the history of the medium we love. The Comic Book History of Comics merits 5 out of 5 Master Shake cameos.