cover image The Comic Book History of Comics

The Comic Book History of Comics

Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavy. IDW, $21.99 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-61377

Tracing comics from the late 19th century through the next 100 years, and covering the creative, business, and social factors that shaped them, this is a thorough and ambitious history. Though it boasts exceptional scholarship and vision, any work this expansive is bound to show a few cracks. While Dunlavy’s crisp artwork mostly furthers historical anecdotes into larger points, some panels descend into cheap gags. With the wider brushstroke, the book is usually on target, rarely mining comics-history-as-usual. It takes well-executed detours that trace the flow of underground comics, explaining the economics of the direct market and the speculative implosion of the 1990s with a clear sense of how these affect content, and delving into the histories of European, English, and Japanese scenes with affection. The defensiveness in the coverage of Lichtenstein and pop art is unfortunate, especially given the bravado in the portrayal of the Air Pirates’ appropriation of Disney properties. The history ends just before the indie boom of the ’90s, including self-publishers and mini-comics makes the history feel incomplete, given these cartoonists’ direct effect on the rise of the graphic novel and the embrace of comics in wider culture. Still, Van Lente knows the territory and how to present it; this book should become a standard reference in the field. (May)