cover image The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History

The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History

Robert C. Harvey. University Press of Mississippi, $45 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-87805-757-3

Harvey (The Art of the Funnies), a working cartoonist and comics historian, has written a serviceable examination of the aesthetics of comics--what he calls the ``verbal-visual blending principle,'' the interdependency of words and pictures that gives comics their unique communicative character. Among other things he outlines the critical elements of the comics medium (narrative breakdown into panels, panel composition, page layout and drawing style) and usefully debunks the all-too-frequent tendency to align comics criticism with film criticism, which overemphasizes analogous traits between them. Ostensibly about comics aesthetics, in large part the book is really a basic narrative history of the comic book industry and popular comics genres, tangentially but helpfully enumerating how the cutthroat economics of a Depression-born business have shaped the artifice of comics to this day, retarding their development (if not their mainstream commercial popularity) into a serious art form. On occasion his prose can be a bit stilted, but the discussions of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzmann and Gil Kane alone (and the very liberal reproduction of their artwork) would recommend the book. His narrative history carries right up to the alternative comics and artists of today, culminating, naturally enough, with the most inventive, insightful investigation of comics aesthetics: Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. (Jan.)