“Comic Book Comics” is a hard comic to sell, but I’ll give it a shot: A sequential history of the comic medium in all its glory. Oh, wait, that wasn’t hard to sell at all. If “Understanding Comics” is all about what appears on the page, then “Comic Book Comics” delivers the untold stories of what went on behind the pages, as well as between them, under them, and somewhat around them. This is the comprehensive guide about comics you must read before you become a troll on the internet so you have at least a few facts straight.
Condensing decades’ worth of history into 41 pages of comic is hard, and yet Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey do an amazing job of it. The research and love poured onto each page oozes out and you get swept up into each chapter easily. It’s refreshing that we get a decent view into the Manga influence/exploration of comics and not everything is U.S.A.-centered. Van Lente does his best to ensure this book is a historical document and not a personal journey.
The one major issue of the book is Dunlavey’s art. It is fantastic – comically expressive and effectively able to boil down multiple concepts into easily digestible chunks and panels. The book looks fantastic, but sometimes the images feel redundant. The moments where the illustration offers us a hidden gag or helps us see a concept only points out the pages where Van Lente’s dense captions carry us away and we could easily be reading a textbook and not a comic. This is the one part that makes the comic delivery method feel slightly tenuous, at times. It also says a lot about the way Van Lente displays his information and how engaging he makes it all.
There’s a lot of history presented evenly here, and then the book swerves just a little toward the end. Van Lente brings us up to the current day and he actually has the balls to address some of the current issues of our favorite medium. It’s not quite soapboxing when Van Lente speaks so many truths. He’s a hair’s breadth away from ranting like part of ‘the Establishment’ and this section comes across as the most personal but also the most passionate and hopefully the most active. Everyone reading comics should read Van Lente and Dunlavey’s pages on current comic distribution and piracy. Your chickens will come home to roost and you’ll be spurred to go out and spend some money on actual content to support the medium and the creators just eking by within it.
There are people who read comics and then there are people who love comics. The latter often chew over the minutiae of the medium and that’s not just contrasting how much weight characters can lift but it is understanding the back story of how everything got to this point today. This crew of people absolutely need to read this comic. You will walk away informed and entertained, which is money well spent for a double down return, and you’ll also be invigorated and passionate. This is a lesson from a teacher who loves his content and ensures his engagement travels into the students.