April 29, 2009

Comics' Secret History

One of the hard things about reading books about the history of comics is that, at some point, the reader is told much more than he (or she) is shown. It becomes an exercise in being informed how important someone is...without a context.

What I enjoyed most about Dan Nagel's Art Out of Time...is that it uses full samples of comic art, and emphasizes showing over telling.

It's also a great, eclectic mix of sources, organized by thematic category (slapstick, exercises in exploration, writing, etc) - newspaper strips get as much play as comic books, and the near 70 year range provides a vast array of timely (and timeless) examples.

Of course, the major attraction is one of my favorite blogger's favorites - the man, the myth, the legend...Herbie Popnecker. But within are some really good examples of artists ...well, let's just say I found a new home for my disposable income.

Artists like Howard Nostrand, whose art looks like a slight mix of Steve Ditko and Harvey Kurtzman. Gene Deitch's documenting the adventures of "Terr'ble Thompson" long before his forays into animation. Dick Briefer, who tells us a unique tale of Frankenstein. The mysterious Fletcher Hanks, whose Stardust has to be read to be believed. Or Boody Rogers, whose "Sparky Watts" work manages to just be simultaneously goofy and solid.

My personal favorite in the entire book would have to be Jack Mendelsohn. A sample of his work comes from an issue of Dell Comics' Jackys Diary, and is a very sly mix of adult irony with childish art. Quite possibly, some of the best work I've read in awhile.

I'm sure that there are people who will, because of my ignorance of all this, come and comment that I should "know better". However, that's the great thing about Nadel's book - by showing rather than telling, it makes these creators seem all the more impressive, and really open up for the opportunity for further reading.

This is definitely one of those must-own kind of books. At the very least, it's a must-read.

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