Any time you use the words “global history” in your book title, you’re admitting to a major undertaking. Add in an attempt to encompass over half a century of comics creation, and the magnitude of the project is truly remarkable. Now, even though their approach is not truly global, Dan Mazur and Alexander Donner have definitely attempted a major feat with Comics: A Global History, an ambitious attempt to document the evolution of the medium from a format for children to more adult storytelling and cultural commentary.
The authors open with a very brief overview of post-WWII comics history before beginning their exploration of the maturation of the comics format into an adult art form. Though they describe their approach as global, the book focuses on three primary areas: North America (particularly the United States), Japan, and Western Europe. The text is arranged in chronological sections of 1968-1978, 1978-1990, and 1990-onward, and within each section the three disparate comics cultures are explored. This organization does lead to a somewhat disorientating jumps in the text, which might have been smoothed more by an arrangement by culture instead of time period. The authors start off with Robert Crumb and the American underground comics movement, continuing their journey with the l’age adulte in bande dessinée of Western Europe and mainstream and alternative manga, including the Tezuka era. Comics: A Global History moves through the various incarnations of both mainstream and alternative movements in each culture, ending with the emergence of web comics and new approaches to comics publishing and distribution which have helped to bring comics to new audiences. Each section is thoroughly documented by both footnotes and illustrations, with nearly every page containing at least one sample image. Readers will recognize some names; others will likely be new and remarkable.
The book is notable not only for its impressive scope, but for its inclusion of female comics creators across all the represented cultures. It also offers a very readable and accessible introduction to the wide range of styles and approaches that have marked the history of comics in Western versus Japanese culture. For those who are new to the study of comics or interested in understanding how such different voices have emerged in the medium, Comics: A Global History serves as a solid introduction to the history of these major comics-producing cultures. Even readers familiar with mainstream comics may find new creators whose work is worth further investigation. The combination of text and image allows the reader to truly see the medium mature from its childish beginnings to a modern literary and artistic phenomenon.
In the end, Mazur and Donner absolutely do a great job. However, the book reads very much like a textbook from an undergraduate survey course. The effort to be inclusive and comprehensive often means shallow coverage, and I found myself wanting perhaps less inclusion and more detailed analysis of key people, works, or movements. The book would, in fact, make an excellent textbook if paired with instruction that expanded from the basics and offered more commentary and analysis. For this reason, Mazur and Donner’s work attracts fewer average comics readers and more of those interested in the academic study of comics history. It would be an excellent addition to most academic library collections, particularly those that offer courses on comics or graphic novels. It is important to note, though, that while the book itself is not rated, many of the illustrations included in Comics: A Global History are intended for mature audiences. Strong language, nudity, and sexual situations are all among Mazur and Donner’s chosen examples, and while such inclusions are not gratuitous, they may be problematic for some readers or collections.
All in all, Comics: A Global History is ideal for readers interested in a good historical overview of, or introduction to, comics history—a well-done and fascinating look at the form and how these unique cultures produced their distinctive comics styles, even as their creators learned from each others’ techniques.
Comics: A Global History, 1968-present
by Dan Mazur, Alexander Donner
Art by Ashley Marie Witter
Thames & Hudson, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen