The Comic Book History of Comics
It’s been an astounding year for non-fiction comics, with such exceptional works as Economix, Science Tales, and Dirt Candy (also drawn by Dunlavey) released — and I haven’t even mentioned memoir! Probably the most fun of any such book — as well as the most self-referential in subject matter — is The Comic Book History of Comics by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey.
It’s an incredibly dense book, with packed panels and wide-ranging coverage. It begins with the credited first comic strip, The Yellow Kid, in 1896 and ends with an overview of the distribution and retail challenges the field is facing while contemplating the future of the industry in the face of digital. In between come stories on Jack Kirby’s career, the creation of Superman (including his pulp influences), the studio system, romance comics, crime comics, the 1954 Senate hearings, Robert Crumb and the undergrounds, copyright battles, debate over the term “graphic novel”, and in a nod to manga, the career of Osamu Tezuka.
Dunlavey’s caricatures make it all immensely entertaining. His pictures give the attitude that nothing is sacred, yet he conveys the flavor of the material he’s evoking. This book could serve as the foundation for an introductory course on what comics means in the U.S., since it includes topics on medium, genre, and format, as well as demonstrating how comics can be used to convey information.