My love for comics is beyond just sitting down and reading the latest issue. I love the culture and history that has grown out of comics as well. I recall as a young teen just getting into the X-Men, and not being able to afford to buy all the back issues I wanted, so I'd scour multiple libraries to find something, anything to scratch my comic book itch. This was before trades and graphic novels were common so most of what the library had to offer was books on the history of comics and I think that is what cemented me as a comic fan for life. It expanded my enjoyment beyond “What happens to Cyclops next?”
I'm older now, and it's been a long while since I've gone out of my way to read up on the history of comics. I mean... I know it all, right? Yellow Kid, Siegel & Shuster, EC Comics, Wertham, etc etc. It's all been pretty well covered. Or so I thought...
Well I received the tingle of nostalgia when I received a copy of the final issue of writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey's “Comic Book Comics.” Now I've not read any of the previous issues Comic Book Comics, though I was aware of it and I was hoping to check it out at some point. Luckily this issue requires absolutely no prior reading of the series. So if what I am about to describe sounds interesting, I say do try to get your hands on the comic.
So, what is Comic Book Comics? Well if the build up and title weren't obvious enough, it's a comic about comics, or more specifically the history of comics. From what I can gather, each issue touched on different subjects and periods. The cover of this says “Comics of the Future” but really isn't about that as much as you might think. Instead it touches upon the rise of graphic novels, the history of manga, the collectors market bubble burst of the 90s and the rise of comic piracy. At the end Van Lente and Dunlavey do speculate about how the industry might be able to rise from its current niche market, but it is a fairly minor part of the book.
That is not to say that the bulk of it isn't worth your time. As I said, I am more than a bit familiar with the history of comics as a medium and yet this taught me several aspects that I had never even known about. And even some of the things I'm really familiar with such as the market crash of the 90s, because I lived through it and lost a few good comic stores, painted things in a new light for me. I learned more than what happened, but also was given a lot more context as to why things happened. You start to see the dominoes laid out and can see how one event would cause another to happen which then caused another to happen.
The history is told through narration boxes and selected quotes, and Dunlavey's art. The art is cartoonish, but not in a negative way, it's not there to wow you with highly detailed portraits but help give a visual representation of the events Van Lente's words are discussing.
I will say that while I found most of the history discussed here fascinating, it can feel a bit dry at times in certain parts. You might recall my video review for Van Lente's co-written “Incredible Hercules” series where I emphasized the humor is one of the core assets of the title, and I've read enough from him to know that Van Lente can be hilarious when he wants to be, but this is a history book first and foremost. Both writer and artist do through in some great gags but if you're coming here strictly for laughs, you may be disappointed.
All in all I found Comic Book Comics an enjoyable, worthwhile read. The print version retails for $3.95 (I think, based on what I can dig up on past issues, as my copy didn't list the retail price) which might seem a bit pricey, but it is 40 pages long, pretty much double the length of an average comic, and you can get each issue on Comixology for a $0.99 which makes it a great deal even for the mildly curious. I can see some people who are not very invested in comics might not getting much out of this, but if you've ever wondered about the nuts and bolts of how we've reached the point we're at in the industry today, I recommend this comic to you.
And as always, remember that comics are awesome, and we're going to get the word out!
(Note: A review copy of this comic was provided for this writing.)