Here's a quick look at four books that may be of interest to fans of classic comics:
Gene Colan is one of the truly underappreciated greats of the funnybook business and it’s nice to see him get the bio treatment. Secrets in the Shadows: The Art and Life of Gene Colanby Tom Field is a nicely packaged book runs chronologically through Colan’s life and career. Highlights include in depth looks at his Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck days, including interviews with his collaborators. The section I found the most interesting dealt with the highs and lows of Colan’s transition to DC. I had no idea that it was such a controversial move and that fellow creators were highly critical of his work. The DC experiment ends badly and Dick Giordano has to play the role of executioner. Looking back, his Night Force series with Marv Wolfman is one of the hidden gems of the era. My main criticism of the book is the layout. While things are organized chronologically, some of the sidebars are badly placed and the examples of artwork are not always relevant to the matters being discussed on the page. In addition, there is often repetition between the articles and the text of interviews – I would have rather those sections of the articles be deleted to remove the redundancies. The book would have profited by more focus on Gene’s pre-60s work, but it was still a very enjoyable read and the artwork reproduces very well in black & white.
With Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, Blake Bell set the standard against which all other comic book biographies should be measured. It is extensively researched, thoughtfully organized and beautifully designed. It is also written with an enthusiasm that evidences the author’s passion for his subject, without ever descending into fanboy mode. Bell’s discussions of Ditko’s Objectivist beliefs are well-informed, as he admits to having experimented with the philosophy himself. There is a also treasure trove of tougher to find Ditko artwork from the 50s. What we have here is the definitive book on what of the industry’s more talented, and intriguing figures. It's a must have for any comic book fan.
When I spotted John Benson’s Confessions, Romances, Secrets and Temptations: Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics in a bargain bin at a local bookstore, I almost felt that I was looking at a mirage. How did this book come to be? How had I not heard of it? Truth be told, I can understand how this one flew under the radar. We’re talking about a sub-genre of books published by a long forgotten company and only Matt Baker fans likely pre-ordered it. That’s a shame, as there’s a lot of good information in this slim, and affordable volume. Most of it is relayed by interviews with company staffers and members of the St. John family. There is also an exhaustive checklist of the St. John’s books. What the book lacks, and it is a glaring problem, is context. Benson fails to properly introduce the various interviewees, leaving the average reader in the dark as to what role was played by whom. This truly hurts the impact of the book, as it never really comes together as a whole. It’s definitely worth a look for those interested in books of the era, and for fans of spectacular artwork, but I’ve got a feeling that there’s a better book to be written out there on the topic.
Everett Raymond Kinstler is an American treasure. He’s had a spectacularly varied career and his work can be found everywhere from the White House (official portraits of Gerald Ford and Ronald Readan) to my house (plenty of Avon and Dell work in my ‘Misc. Golden Age Western" and 'Romance' boxes). Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist's Journey Through Popular Culture, 1942-1962 by Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr and Kinstler is a fascinating look at the artist’s early years in the profession. His life as a young man in New York City is vibrantly told, and a good deal of attention is paid to the relatlionship between Kinstler and his greatest mentor, James Montgomery Flagg. This is a beautiful book, with wonderfully reproduced images from comic books, paperbacks, pulps and paintings. While Kinstler’s time in funnybooks was relatively short, he did leave behind a wonderful legacy and this book is a great starting point for someone looking to learn more about the man.
There are plenty of other great books about comic books out there, and we're lucky to live in a world filled with excellent comic book scholars. For more comic book chat, stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent