American Comic Book Chronicles: 1960-1964

Review by KC Carlson

I now hold in my hands an actual copy of the first in the series of American Comic Book Chronicles: 1960-1964. I first read and reviewed this book (based on a digital preview copy) way back last August, over at the Westfield blog, and have been waiting patiently while the real thing was obviously on the slowest boat from China ever. It will finally be in comic shops this week, as well as other fine booksellers, and both physically and digitally from the TwoMorrows website. (If you order a physical copy from TwoMorrows, you get a digital copy free.)

Johanna’s asked me to take another look at it, especially since all I’ve talked about lately is this book, and I will be interviewing author John Wells for CWR later this week.

I stand by my original review, only moreso since I’ve seen the actual, printed book, rather than just text files. Wells and editor Keith Dallas have done an exceptional job of finding great (and often wonderfully obscure) visual material from this era. Old house ads are always fun, as are long-forgotten (but instantly remembered) covers from publishers other than Marvel and DC. They couldn’t have possibly known, but somehow, the graphics folks pulled well over two dozen covers from kids’ comics that I haphazardly bought and read as an actual kid! Graphically, there are also original art reproductions, key comic story panels, behind-the-scenes stuff (like distributor sell sheets), paperback book and LP record covers, and examples of rare fanzines of the era.

American Comic Book Chronicles: 1960-1964

While superhero fans may bemoan the lack of their favorite Batman or Spider-Man illos (which are in every other history book about comics), I applaud seeing artwork for The Flintstones, Archie, Dick Tracy, and Batman all sharing the same physical space. It subtly reminds one of what the comic racks of that era actually looked like, and the wide variety of choice in purchasing comic books back then.

I mentioned this in my original review, but I can’t help emphasizing it again: The strength of this book (and hopefully the entire series) lies in covering everything that comic books are about, not just the men in capes. John Wells’ first volume sets a very high bar for not only the rest of this series, but for future comic book histories as well. (Although this is so good, we may not need any more.)

After seeing the bibliography for just this book, it’s obvious that Wells has read pretty much every book, magazine article, interview, and old fanzine about comics that he could put his hands on, in order to bring you everything you need to know about this extremely important period of comic history. That’s an amazing feat in itself! I’m already impatient to read ACBC: 1965-1969 (also by Wells, probably out in spring of 2014) as well as the other volumes in this important series. (Next up: ACBC: The 1980s, written by Keith Dallas, due sometime this spring.)

I do have a couple of extremely minor nit-picks. The text in the yearly timelines is much too tiny to read, at least by old men like me. (The Positive Slant: Man! They crammed those timelines full of great — and obscure — material!) I love the timelines and don’t want them to go away. Maybe they should extend over four pages rather than two. Or run as a “crawl” throughout the whole chapter. As a very minor aesthetic beef, I found it difficult that the text switched back and forth between two and three columns per page. The three-column text is easier to read but more difficult to lay out graphics properly. The two-column text lines aren’t really that much longer to read, compared to the three. (I’m talking nit-picky, design-y, eye-flow stuff here.)

Also, the book’s paper stock is very thin, which unfortunately makes the book look thinner than the amount of actual information crammed into it really is. It’s also dense, so there’s not much bleed-through, so that redeems the thinness somewhat. The book itself gives off an unusual smell, which after a prolonged reading session, either made me wonder if it was toxic, or actually made me high. So, the book may have some “hidden” benefits, beyond the obvious! (The book’s interesting odor apparently wears off after a few days of handling. Bummer. My review copy may have been especially pungent as it was pulled right off the slow boat from China.)

I’ve always thought that to be a real comic book fan, you had to know something of the history of the industry, as well as the stories of the men and women behind the creation of your favorite comic books and strips. American Comic Book Chronicles: 1960-1964 is your one-stop shop for all that and more! See for yourself in a preview available at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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