From Publishers Weekly
As we always knew, 1950s scaremongers were wrong: not only does overindulgence in comic books not dissuade young readers from prose, but some very famous writers grew up addicted to comics. Howe has lined up a remarkable bunch of essayists, including Luc Sante, Greil Marcus, Jonathan Lethem and Brad Meltzer, to write about their favorite funny books. Many revisit the comics of their youth with amused distance—the Marvel vs. DC rivalry, the wonders of Jack Kirby's cosmology and Steve Ditko's crabbed mysticism. A few analyze specific series: Steve Erickson takes on Howard Chaykin's boundary-pushing '80s title American Flagg
, and Gary Giddins traces how Classics Illustrated
celebrated a part of the literary canon that was dying. Some of the most striking contributions, though, are very personal pieces by self-consciously comics-obsessed writers: Glen David Gold recounting his tormented attempts to buy original comics art from a dealer who'd have nothing to do with him; Sante explaining the power of the "clear-line" style of Tintin
cartoonist Hergé on his boyhood self; and Meltzer (who's now a comics writer and novelist) discussing his near-sexual fascination with a mid-'80s New Teen Titans
story line. The book includes some of today's most elegant writing on comics, a worthy companion to Lupoff and Thompson's All in Color for a Dime
(1997), the previous standard in the field.
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Introduced in the 1930s, ubiquitous by the 1950s, and still going strong, comic books and their larger offspring, graphic novels--with one exception, the inspirations of these pieces--have influenced three generations by now. Yet the gaffers in this gathering, though two of its most famous names, are only fiftysomethings: jazz critic Gary Giddins, who sets the record straight about Classics Illustrated, and rock critic Greil Marcus, who fluffs being hip about U.S.--Uncle Sam
(1997) by analogizing between the graphic novel's Uncle Sam and Charlie Chaplin, and then misreading the end of City Lights
. The 15 other, forty- to twentysomething contributors mostly meet Giddins and surpass Marcus by resorting to memoirs, meditations, and even fiction (Tom Piazza's mind-boggling "Kltpzyxm!"). The piece on using comics in creative writing classes is a snooze, but John Wray on Jim Woodring (creator of The Frank Book
[BKL Ag 03]) and Glen David Gold on collecting are marvelously disquieting, and Lydia Millet on Little Nemo and the art of the novel is positively transcendental. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved