Underrated: The Comic Book History Of Comics: Birth Of A Medium
This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: The Comic Book History Of Comics: Birth Of A Medium.
There are numerous books on the history of comics, some of which sit partially read on my shelf, but there are very few comics or graphic novels about the history of comics. Enter Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s Comic Book History Of Comics. It is exactly what it says; a history of comics told in comic book form. But it’s more than just a history of comics, it also attempts to show the evolution of art into the sequential art we know today as comics; to show the differentiation from cartoons to comics. Originally published by IDW as a six issue miniseries, I picked up the collected edition a few months ago
and only finally read it this week.
Frankly, I was astounded that it had taken me this long to read it, and little surprised that fewer people were talking about the project. After all, what better way to tell the early history of comics than in comic form? It almost makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done before.
The Comic Book History Of Comics: Birth Of A Medium packs a LOT of information into its 150 odd pages, but it isn’t a definitive history. How could it be with only 150 some pages of sequential art? But it is a fantastic introduction to some of the medium’s more architectural sons and, to a lesser extent daughters (but that’s an issue with the book and the industry itself – Van Lente and Dunlavey do include sections entitled The Comic Book Herstory… but one gets the sense that these are far less prominent than perhaps they should be). That being said, this is a fun way to learn about the history of comics if you’re unfamiliar, and even if you think you have a good handle on things, I’d put money on Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey having unearthed something that you were previously unfamiliar with.
There’s a ton of information packed within these pages, but never once does the delivery feel stagnant or anything less than thoroughly entertaining. There are visual puns amidst the art, examples of Dunlavey literally showing you what Van Lente is talking about in terms of panel usage, and some wonderful caricatures of historical figures. I paid $24 for this book (I’m in Canada), and it was worth every penny and then some. Ultimately, this is a brilliant addition to my bookshelf, and one I will revisit more often than not.
I can wait to get the next volume.
Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.