January 2nd, 2011



100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#15 COMIC BOOK COMICS – Fred Van Lente, Ryan Dunlavey
(Evil Twin)

“This comic is a work of historical scholarship.”

The history of comics is full of fascinating stories. Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s Comic Book Comics tells them in the same style they used in Action Philosophers! – narration focussing on the facts while the art plays it loose like a ragtime melody, mischievously lagging half a beat behind and poking fun at the characters you’ve just read about. They’re drawn like political cartoons: Walt Disney is a mouse with a moustache; the slow-working Harvey Kurtzman a tortoise. The story of one of the founders of Crime Does Not Pay being arrested for murder is drawn in the style of one of his book’s own true crime exploitation strips, which it resembles right down to the ironic twist.

It’s hard to imagine another way to tell some of these stories. When Will Eisner refused to perjure himself during a copyright infringement case – he’d worked on a Superman-ripoff called Wonder Man owned by Fox Features Syndicate – his former boss, Victor Fox, tried to have revenge by hiring away all of Eisner’s art staff. Fox placed an ad under the name of a made-up editor to advertise the jobs, not realising that Eisner’s art staff were all made up as well, pseudonyms he adopted to make his studio sound more impressive. It’s a story of secret identities that begs to be accompanied by a picture of Wonder Man being give a cease-and-desist by Lawyer Man and Lady Justice.

Comic Book Comics shows that the stories behind the creation of comics are sometimes as interesting, and as unbelievable, as the ones that take place within them.