The History of Comics | Literature Reviews

Jeremy Dauber's book sets itself apart, and comics enthusiasts will be enthralled. Douglas Wolk's analysis of Marvel Comics is both a useful introduction and reference guide.

American ComicsDauber, Jeremy. American Comics: A History. Norton. Nov. 2021. 592p. ISBN 9780393635607. $35. LIT
Comics and cartoons play a major role in everyday American life. However, no one has ever tied this history closer to societal events and told it in a more sweeping manner than Dauber (Yiddish language, literature, and culture, Columbia Univ.; Jewish Comedy) has done in this latest work. Dauber's history of comics begins in the mid-1800s, examining the role of artists such as Thomas Nast, who sold his drawings depicting political issues to a few of the original American weeklies, including Harper's. These depictions evolved into comic strips that told stories and introduced new characters, like Superman, heroes who could save the world from evil. As Dauber recounts, these comic strips soon appeared in popular magazines and weekend editions of newspapers. The author effectively tells how several recent blockbuster films are based on comic book narratives and relays the history of graphic novels as a popular medium. Charts and illustrations will draw in readers and help them keep track of the numerous comic book characters, titles, and plot lines that Dauber mentions. VERDICT There are several recent histories of comics; however, none are as comprehensive or well-researched as this one. Dauber's book sets itself apart, and comics enthusiasts will be enthralled.—Steve Dixon, State Univ. of New York, Delhi

All of the MarvelsWolk, Douglas. All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told. Penguin Pr. Oct. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9780735222168. $28. LIT
For this survey of Marvel Comics' output since 1961, Wolk (Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean) read every Marvel comic book—some 27,000 publications, or half a million pages containing thousands of interrelated stories and hundreds of characters (Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, the X-Men) that were the basis for some of the 21st century's highest-grossing movies worldwide. This volume condenses the comic books' stories and major themes into 21 chapters; they're grouped by time periods that correspond to defining events of the past six decades of United States history (the Cold War; technocracy; 21st-century political polarization). Wolk leaves out Marvel comics published before 1961, having made the case that Marvel's 1939-60 output wasn't as noticeable or impactful in American society. The book includes an appendix that details plotlines and images of noteworthy comics, such as the volume that introduced Miles Morales. VERDICT Wolk's light and humorous style appeals, and this work would be a marvelous addition to any library's collection. It will likely become a bible for serious comics fans and a useful introduction and reference guide for all others.—Steve Dixon, State Univ. of New York, Delhi

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