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Review: Comic Book Comics #6

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Wednesday, November 16 2011 and posted in Reviews

The examination of comics history by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey concludes with a look at the current state of the industry!

Comic Review Cover

Credits & Solicit Info:

Release Date: 11/16/2011
Writer :  Fred Van Lente
Artist :  Ryan Dunlavey
Manufacturer / Publisher : Evil Twin Comics
Diamond code : MAY111075
UPC : 64924186778400611

The too-crazy-not-to-be-true story of the comic book industry ends at new beginnings! Graphic Novels: Where did the term come from - Will Eisner, or a Swiss artist who died a century before he was born? The unbelievable biography of Osamu Tezuka, God Of Manga, and how he led Japanese comics to dominance on both sides of the Pacific! Finally, the Direct Market and how it led to a creative revolution in comics!


Comics may not have changed as much or as quickly as other media have, but they do have a storied history that's worth exploring.  There have been multiple books written about the subject, but Fred van Lente have decided to tell the story of comics in the most sublime way possible: in a comic book.

In this concluding chapter, Van Lente and Dunlavey take a look at the shape of things in comics today, particularly the graphic novel revolution and distribution practices of the industry.  They start with Will Eisner and the graphic novel before looking back to the nineteenth century Swiss satirist Rodolphe Töpffer, a pioneer of the graphic literature form.  From there, they move forward again through time, tracing the evolution of the graphic novel from Töpffer through Eisner, Art Spiegelman, and beyond.  The maturing of comic book storytelling becomes a focal point, as well as comics' entry into the realm of literature, and the struggles they face being taken seriously in the US.  The issue takes a detour through Japan to depict the course manga and gekiga took as a dominant form of entertainment media, using Osamu Tezuka's career as a case study.  From the evolution of the graphic novel, Comic Book Comics #6 turns its attention to the rise of the direct market of comics retail, and its connection to the speculator boom of the late 1980's and early 1990's.  We get a glimpse of how exactly what led to the fall of so many retailers, and the rise of such heavy piracy in comics, with a near step-by-step look at the process by how things occurred.

Van Lente and Dunlavey do what all good historians do, which is to present their subjects in larger contexts, showing cause and effect and resisting the tendency to mistake history as a simple list of dates.  Everything ties in together, and a clear picture of How Things Are and How They Came To Be is brought forth by the narrative.  Van Lente takes potentially dry subject matter and spins it into a compelling read that elucidates while it entertains.  Any opinions he gives are backed up by facts, as it's the facts that make the story.  Ryan Dunlavey's artwork moves things along with attractive and often very funny cartooning that always gets across everything Van Lente is talking about in clearly and concisely.  The book can get pretty text-heavy, but Dunlavey is able to work his panel space effectively.  Dunlavey often uses symbolism as a flourish to get his ideas across, and it works perfectly (the best panel is of a flock of birds, representing independent comics, standing on back of a massive rhinocerous, standing in for "mainstream" superhero comics, to make the point that the profits from selling Marvel and DC comics made it easier for direct market retailers to stock more independent titles).  He also shows off his versatility and understanding of other artists' work when he mimicks and gently parodies the types of comics he's illustrating at any given point in the historical survey.

There's no doubt that comic book fans with an interest in the history of the medium would find a lot of information new to them in this series.  Comic Book Comics, much like its predecessor Action Philosophers! is exhaustively researched and the information thoroughly presented.  Although it's a shame that the current digital comics initiatives being undertaken by comics publishers don't show up in the book as completely as they could (understandable, due most likely to the long lead-time an issue takes), it's really quite remarkable how Van Lente have been able to synthesize so much research into a clearly-told, trenchant examination of the comic book industry.  The best part is that after all the apocalyptic talk of speculator busts, economic downturns, increases in piracy, and flailing retail avenues, issue #6 (and thus, the series) concludes on a hopeful note about the future of comics.

Review by: Royal Nonesuch

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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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