PAVEMENT magazine


February / March 1998

Books about Comic Books - a Beginner’s Library.

This list is brief, but should be enough to get a budding ‘panelologist’ started. I’ve tried to avoid books that are long out of print, but I can’t guarantee anything. Happily, many of these titles can be found in public libraries around New Zealand.

The Comic Book in America by Mike Benton (Taylor Publishing, 1989) and Ron Goulart’s Over 50 Years of American Comic Books (Publications International, 1991) are both fairly thorough, well-illustrated introductions to the history of American comic books. Benton also has detailed books out on Superhero, Science Fiction, Crime and Horror comics. For more analysis but less pictures there’s R. C. Harvey’s The Art of the Comic Book: an Aesthetic History (University of Mississippi, 1995). For a more international view try Harvey Kurtzman’s From Aargh to Zap! (Prentice Hall, 1991) and Roger Sabin’s lavish coffee-table book Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: a History of Comic Art (Phaidon, 1996). His Adult Comics: an Introduction (Routledge, 1993) is similar, but without the pictures (and much cheaper!).

By far the most readable book on the American comics industry is The Comic Book Heroes by Gerard Jones & Will Jacobs (Prima, 1996). It only covers the period from 1956 to the present and contains factual errors, but for an entertaining and insightful ‘inside story’, it leaves everything else for dead. Trina Robbin’s A Century of Women Cartoonists (Kitchen Sink, 1992) is the best thing on its subject still in print. Mark Estren’s A History of Underground Comics (Straight Arrow Press, 1987) is hopelessly out of date, but still a worthwhile account of sixties comix. Frederic Schodt’s Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics (Kodansha, 1988) and Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (Stone Bridge Press, 1996) are both superb.

If you only ever read one book about comics, make it Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics - the Invisible Art (HarperCollins, 1994). It’s a comic about theory and it’s endlessly thought-provoking. Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art (1985) and Graphic Storytelling (1995 - both from Poorhouse Press) are other influential theory books. And for practical drawing tuition, David Chelsea’s Perspective for Comic Book Artists (Watson Guptill, 1997) - drawn in the same format as Understanding Comics - explains the ‘rules’ of perspective so even I can understand them!

The Art of Jack Kirby by Ray Wyman Jr. & Catherine Hohlfeld (Blue Rose Press, 1994) is one of very few biographies of cartoonists. Mike Benton’s Masters of the Imagination: the Comic Book Hall of Fame (Taylor Publishing, 1994) provides brief biographies of a half a dozen cartoonists from the same period. Joe Simon’s autobiography The Comic Book Makers (Crestwood, 1990) is a marvellously opinionated account of the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. The R. Crumb Coffee Table Book (edited by Pete Poplaski, Kitchen Sink, 1997) includes brief autobiographical annotations by Crumb himself. Harry Thompson’s Tintin: Herge and His Creation (Hodder & Stoughton, 1991) is essential reading for anyone interested in Europe’s most influential cartoonist.

The New Comics, edited by Gary Groth & R. Fiore (Berkley Books, 1988) is a collection of interviews from The Comics Journal (the best magazine in English about comics) - ranging from Will Eisner to Art Spiegelman. Bill Schelly’s The Golden Age of Comics Fandom (Hamster Press, 1995) lovingly documents the birth of the fanzines and conventions. Martin Barker’s A Haunt of Fears: the Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign (Pluto Press, 1984) is a fascinating account of the Comics Scare in Britain in the 1950s.

Next time - Books about Comic Strips.

Comics supplied by Gotham Comics, 131 The Mall, Onehunga, Auckland. Ph/fax: (09) 634-4399, email:, website: Mail orders welcome.

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