The Comic Book History of Comics

Wow! Comics, comic books, graphic novels, manga — they all have a history steeped in tradition and the story of how they became what they are today is filled with espionage, trickery, deceitfulness, and good stuff, too, like happiness and sunshine. Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey have succeeded in creating an engaging and fascinating story that will interest even those with only a rudimentary interest in the format.

Starting way back in 1896 and continuing until the modern day, Van Lente and Dunlavey touch on everything from the creator of what some consider to be the first modern comic strip (Richard F. Outcault), to Kirby, to comix, to manga, and on and on to present a fully realized history of comics. And, what a marvelous way to do it — showing the history of comics through — what else — comics!

This book, originally self-published in six issues, has been collected into one dense paperback that can be read one story at a time or devoured in one, albeit very long, sitting. Fans will be satisfied with this overarching and highly detailed history. Even when reading about topics I was less interested in (ahem, manga), I became engaged by the material because of how Van Lente and Dunlavey brought it to life. The history of anything, no matter how much one might like the subject, can become dry, but Van Lente and Dunlavey take the time to both narrate and illustrate the subject matter in a way that keeps it appealing to readers. For casual comic readers to those interested in the topic as a scholarly pursuit, The Comic Book History of Comics will open up readers’ eyes to the fight those who love comics had to go through just to get them in the hands of us “true believers.”

The amount of information in the book is astonishing, yet the text and illustrations bring it forward to readers in such a clean and crisp way — to have been muddy or cluttered would have spelled trouble for readers and their attention spans. The entire book is drawn in black and white line drawings, which help keep the overly explanatory content concise and easy to read. The book uses a mostly chronological way of telling the story, and is helpfully broken up into chapters or vignettes that spotlight a specific time period in comics history. A variety of paneling styles are used, which is nice for breaking up the monotony of the traditional four- or six-panel layouts, and all panels are easy to read and understand. The accompanying illustrations support the text inside the panels, as well. People are well drawn and have features that make them stand out from each other quite easily, which helps in a story where so many people contributed to the success of the format as the years passed.

What a great book to give to comics lovers, students, those vaguely interested in the art form, or to those who simply like reading historical narratives of different subjects. Those with no background in comics can pick up this book and enjoy it as much as an experienced comics reader would. The material is so densely packed within this book that it can seem overwhelming, but it is so interesting and such an engaging story that I simply could not put it down. I did get overwhelmed with details and explanations at times, but I think that was mainly because I was so interested in the material. I didn’t want to stop reading, so I tended to overload my brain. This book is so richly detailed and researched that frequent readings would be best. A must have for public libraries and high school and college libraries (due to mature content and nudity), as well as personal collections.

The Comic Book History of Comics
by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey
ISBN: 9781613771976
IDW, 2012

  • Traci

    | She/Her

    Traci has been a graphic novel selector and collections coordinator for kids and teens in libraries in Arizona and Oregon since 2005. She served as the chair of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, and served as a member of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens blogging team. She previously coordinated the Oregon Young Adult Network’s Graphic Rave list, OYAN’s yearly list of the best graphic reads for teens. Traci is a member of ALA, YALSA, and GNCRT. And, she achieved her greatest dream ever by serving as a judge for the 2019 Eisner Awards.

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