by Alex Grand ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 13, 2023
A well-researched, engaging history of American superhero comics.
Awards & Accolades
Grand explores the history of the medium in this nonfiction work.
The author was first introduced to comic books as a kid in 1982 when he read the backstories of his favorite He-Man action figures through a series of promotional Masters of the Universe mini-comics published by Mattel. Comic books would play a central role in his life for the rest of his childhood and teenage years. Even after graduating from medical school and joining a medical practice, the supernatural lure of comic books remained ever-present. With a sound research background honed during his postgraduate studies, Grand began a multiyear study of the history of comic books that has culminated in this work. The book begins with the origins of the medium, Victorian-era visual sequential art (“proto-comics”) like Rodolphe Töpffer’s newspaper comic strip, Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck. Dividing comic book history into eight eras, the author explores the development of the form from its early 20th century roots through the present. The “Golden Age” of the 1930s and 1940s moved away from the comedic sensibilities of earlier works toward violent stories featuring superheroes like Captain America and Batman, featuring characters with “superhuman abilities, costumes/code names, and a mission of justice.” As society and culture developed in the mid-20th century, so too did comic books—they adapted to the television culture of the 1950s and 1960s, and later to the cynicism of the 1970s with the rise of antiheroes, “good-guy type of killers who got the job done.” The 1980s and 1990s (the “Dark Age” and “Extreme Age,” respectively) saw the growing popularity of dark, brooding themes, as well as “over-the-top anatomy, weaponry, and sexuality combined with sales-driven gimmicks,” culminating in the current “Movie Age,” characterized by CGI, special effects, and blockbuster films.
While Grand acknowledges that this is not “a complete history of comics,” it is nevertheless a thorough one, covering many of the larger trends as well as artists, authors, and publishers who helped to shape the superhero genre. A thoughtful final section on diversity explores representations of women and Black people in comic books throughout the 20th century and the intersection of comic book narratives with social issues like civil rights, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. This impressively researched book boasts more than 1,000 reference endnotes and a 19-page bibliography that reflect a solid grasp of the vast library of American comic books as well as a respect for academic scholarship. Also included are the perspectives of insiders like comic artist Guy Dorian Sr. and wholesale comics distributor Bud Plant, who were interviewed by the author, as well as legendary artist Jim Steranko, who writes the book’s foreword. Grand’s narrative, which balances the enthusiasm of a lifelong fan with astute analysis, is accompanied by a wealth of images and reproductions of comic book panels and iconic covers. Combined, these elements make not only a well-written, smart study of superhero history and lore, but also a beautifully crafted, visually appealing volume. And while admittedly not comprehensive (the text largely ignores the history of underground and alternative comix and Japanese Manga), this is an admirable addition to the scholarship on superheroes and comic books.A well-researched, engaging history of American superhero comics.
Pub Date: June 13, 2023
Page Count: 358
Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2023
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.
Awards & Accolades
The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.
Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.
Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020
Page Count: 272
Publisher: Celadon Books
Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020
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by Jimmy Buffett ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 1, 1998
Lg. Prt. 0-375-70288-1 This first nonfiction outing from singer/songwriter Buffett (Where Is Joe Merchant?, 1992, etc.) is more food for his Parrothead fans, but there is some fine writing along with the self-revelation. Half autobiography and half travelogue, this volume recounts a trip by Buffett and his family to the Caribbean over one Christmas holiday to celebrate the writer’s 50th birthday. Buffett is a licensed pilot, and his personal weakness is for seaplanes, so it’s primarily in this sort of craft that the family’s journey takes place. While giving beautiful descriptions of the locales to which he travels (including a very attractive portrait of Key West, from which he sets out), Buffett intersperses recollections of his first, short-lived marriage, his experiences in college and avoiding the Vietnam draft, and his brief employment at Billboard magazine’s Nashville bureau before becoming a professional musician. In the meantime, he carries his reader seamlessly through the Cayman Island, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Amazon basin, and Trinidad and Tobago. Buffett shows that he is a keen observer of Latin American culture and also that he can “pass” in these surroundings when he needs to. It’s perhaps on this latter point that this book finds its principal weakness. Buffett tends toward preachiness in addressing his mostly landlubber readers, as when he decries the seeming American inability to learn a second language while most Caribbeans can speak English; elsewhere he attacks “ugly Americans out there making it harder for us more-connected-to-the-local-culture types.” On the other hand, he seems right on the money when he observes that the drug war of the 1980s did little to stop trafficking in the area and that turning wetlands into helicopter pads for drug agents isn’t going to offer any additional help. Both Parrotheads and those with a taste for the Caribbean find something for their palates here. (Author tour)
Pub Date: July 1, 1998
Page Count: 224
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998
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