- Posted by Johanna on June 28, 2009 at 11:20 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- PUBLISHER: Harry N. Abrams; $50 US
I don’t know very much about the history of newspaper comic strips, so this coffee table book was a wonderful eye-opener.
Each decade from 1900 through the forties gets a chapter, consisting of an introduction that sets the historical stage, both culturally and in terms of significant comic strip changes; a series of one-page biographical profiles of key artists from that period, followed by examples of their work; and samples of other key strips of the period, often grouped thematically. There are also short pieces on cultural issues, such as the use of racial caricature and changing roles for female characters (praised for being both “hardworking and attractive”; although there are no female artists profiled in the book, there is a short section mentioning some of the best-known names in the 40s chapter introduction).
The decade overviews are written as surveys, briefly mentioning as much as possible in a dry, reporter-like “just the facts” style. As the book progresses, strips change from goofy comedy drawn in ways that look incredibly immature to our eyes to cliffhanger-driven adventure tales with fine illustration and graphically developed styles.
The biggest problem with the book is the same that mars any such survey volume: the desire for more. One or two strips from classic runs are hardly enough to understand why they’re so revered, but the only way to solve that would be to make it a DVD instead of a book, and reading comic strips on a screen would be even further removed from the original experience. Many of the better-known later period adventure strips are becoming available in comprehensive reprint volumes from other publishers, though.
I still don’t understand why Krazy Kat is so beloved, but I got to see Blondie back when she was a flapper and Dagwood a millionaire’s son. I look forward to seeing the companion volume, The Comics Since 1945, where I’ll be more familiar with the strips it contains.