I’ve been working my way through a voluminous new cross-section of the comics publishing landscape called Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present (Thames & Hudson, 2014). Over 320 pages, writers Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner explore all corners of comics, naming chapters for the region in which their subjects are sourced — “New Trends in Italian and Spanish Comics,” for example — or for a particular area of study, such as “The Dawn of the Graphic Novel, the Raw Generation, and Punk Comix.” Mazur and Danner’s copy is a hybrid of both academic analysis and strong critical appraisals. The layout is thoughtfully structured and appealing — strategic subheads in each chapter break off one section of the discussion from the next, and the book’s 289 reproductions of color and black & white comics art, sometimes given full pages but mostly occupying half- or quarter-pages, are supported with extensive captions complete with publication history and contextual descriptions. Below, a page from “The Avatar and the Chimera,” a two-part fantasy from Eisner Award-winning comics creator P. Craig Russell that ran in a comics magazine in 1978 called Imagine. This flowery meld of psychedelic flourishes and swirling pastels is reproduced in a Comics chapter on 1970s-era work, and the lot of artists who adopted classic illustrative influences as part of their style:
Danner and Mazur will zoom out to provide a wider-spanning overview of a trend or direction in comics in their book, but they hone-in on an artist or writer for a handful of background-packed grafs with regard to his or her specific history and contribution to the medium as it relates to the chapter’s larger discussion. I like how formal but reliably unassuming the tone is here. Both advocates of the medium and even mildly interested parties should be able to digest the authors’ focus, which is obviously sharply attuned to the well-known works and professionals who have already been celebrated for their place in comics, as well as inclusive of — for me anyway — an extraordinarily broad perspective of things that are far lesser known, or have long flown under the radar. Chris Claremont and John Byrne expectedly get their due for their work on The Uncanny X-Men, while a chapter on American underground comics spotlights the work of female creators like Aline Kominsky, and Trina Robbins, who “like many other women seeking to join the Underground comics movement, found it a ‘boys club’ and objected to its sexist content.”
A comparatively long section of the book looks at the international reach of comics, citing flourishing alternative forms in Korea as well as “the small-press bande dessinée,” in France. Mazur and Danner evaluate the work of Italian alternative artists in their “Comics in the Twenty-First Century: An International Art Form” chapter, writing that “Italian cartoonists seemed to find a more natural blend of personal stylization with long-form narrative, of genre elements with serious themes.” The work of Sardinian artist Igor “Igort” Tuveri is pictured, while the book’s meticulous captioning dissects the blotty brush work and distinctive sequential arrangement in his 5 È il Numero Perfetto (2002).
Comics drills down on American superhero books, offering early on a ground-level discussion of Jack Kirby’s shift from Marvel to DC in 1970. The authors maintain their balance of both context and criticism in a discussion of Kirby — co-creator of The Avengers, The X-Men, Captain America, and more — and his development of “Fourth World,” which is currently the focus of a number of essays from writer Adam McGovern at HiLo Brow.
As McGovern notes, Kirby’s “Fourth World” “was little-known and quickly discarded in its time, one of many eccentric and original pop-culture visions that floundered in a decade which teemed with creativity but was 20 years away from the indie infrastructure needed to nurture it on a mass scale.” Before Danner and Mazur get to Gil Kane’s “early use of what would come to be known as the graphic novel format” in Blackmark, they praise Kirby’s “Fourth World” in Comics: A Global History… for its demonstration of the creator’s “breathless enthusiasm and powerful visual mythologizing,” but they’re ultimately frustrated with the books’ “familiar, episodic feel” in their “American Mainstream Comics” chapter:
“Kirby’s strengths and weaknesses were on full display in this new project. His art reached new heights of powerful, visionary design and dynamic action, and the scope of his world-building imagination is impressive. But the details are juvenile, the characters and dialogue wooden; Kirby seems too much in awe of his ‘big concepts’ to ground them in believable or entertaining characters, whether human or immortal.”
I’m looking forward to exploring more of Danner and Mazur’s work for a rich perspective on the small circle of books with which I’m familiar and for a much-needed education on everything else.
Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present is available now.
Images: Igort (Igor Tuveri), 5 è il Numero Perfetto, 2002. Image credit: Courtesy Igort, and Coconino Press. Image: P. Craig Russell, The Avatar and the Chimera, Imagine #2, 1978. Image credit: Courtesy P. Craig Russell. Image: Book cover, Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present. Dan Mazur & Alexander Danner (Thames & Hudson, 2014). Courtesy of Thames & Hudson. Image: Igort (Igor Tuveri), 5 è il Numero Perfetto, 2002. Image credit: Courtesy Igort, and Coconino Press.
Image (not from book): Jack Kirby, “The Fourth World” (1970). The Jack Kirby Museum.