Recounting Old Ground
by Dan Nadel
Friday, June 23, 2006
I collect and love comics history books. Each of them is as much about the author’s taste as it is about the subject itself. Despite whatever claims to the contrary, comics history has been an affair of taste above all else. Thus the emphasis on superheroes, the industry, etc., over the years and the suspicion towards anything “artsy”.
That said, here are some history books I’ve really enjoyed (and this list is inspired by Tim’s recent purchase of Maurice Horn’s Encyclopedia):
Coulton Waugh’s The Comics (1947): A wonderful, often anecdotal account of what was happening in comics at the time.
Martin Sheridan’s The Comics and their Creators (1942): This is a good one. Sheridan was around the artists and, in brief chapters on all of the major comics strip artists up to that time, gives a sometimes salty flavor of the times.
Rene Clair’s I Primi Eroi (1962): A still unmatched international survey of comics with an eye towards feats of aesthetic wonderment. This Italian volume includes comics I still haven’t seen printed anywhere else, including early manga by Haneko and Doncia, not to mention great Italian cartoonists like Gipi.
Ron Goulart’s The Encyclopedia of America (1990): Goulart’s best book and a pretty eccentric take on the medium. Here are entries on “Frankie Doodle”, Boody Rogers and other out of the way corners of comics.
And two books sneak in under a special dispensation for “How To” books that also say something about the medium:
Reg’lar Fellers cartoonist Gene Byrnes’ The Complete Guide to Cartooning (1950) includes chapters by Milton Caniff, “Jeff” Machamer, Sam Cobean, and many others. It’s practically an anthology, and an excellent snapshot of comics and illustration in 1950.
Finally, New Yorker cartoonist R. Taylor’s Introduction to Cartooning (1947) is a great volume notable for Taylor’s glass half-full conclusion: “To those who try really hard to develop, and who possess all the requirements, I wish success, and say that when next you look upon the drawings of a famous cartoonist in the pages of the press, just remember that there is the work of someone like yourself who experienced the same discouragements, when through exactly the same growing pains and, many times perhaps, wished he’d taken up plumbing instead.