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Comics: A Global History, 1968 To The Present REVIEW

BOOK REVIEW Pretentious? Moi?

Comics: A Global History, 1968 To The Present book review .

The world is a big place, 45 years is a long time, and comics is a wide field. A survey of all this in just 300 pages would have to be pretty shallow and perfunctory. It may be lucky, then, that this book isn’t quite what it claims to be. It’s not “global”, but concentrates on the US, Japan and France, with incidental reference to other places. It focuses mainly on Underground, alternative and avant-garde comix. It doesn’t really start in 1968 either, or even justify why it should, except that Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix appeared in that year

Sadly, it’s still too sweeping, and not just in scope. It is a history in the sense that it tries to construct a narrative of movements and “development”, but the connections it draws are often tenuous and evidence thin on the ground. It’s packed with throwaway value judgements, repeatedly claiming that works are “considered to be” this or that without specifying by whom, or referring to works and artists as “major”, “important” or even “successful” without defining these terms. It’s thick with the jargon of pseudo-academic comics crit, but thin on intellectual rigour.

We’re told, for example, that Jacques Tardi’s “ornately patterned interiors recall Vuillard”. Does this mean the comic artist quotes or riffs off the post-impressionist painter (which tells us about his aspirations) or just that this book’s authors studied art history (which tells us about their pretensions)? They use “cross-hatching” to describe almost any rendering technique, including Virgil Finlay’s stippling. There’s a lot of stilted twaddle, and a few paragraphs of sheer gibberish that look like cut-and-paste blunders.

There are glaring omissions too: there’s no mention of the UK’s groundbreaking Action comic, Raymond Briggs, Joe Kubert’s Yossel , the readership of albums in France, or Bryan Talbot’s seminal work since Luther Arkwright - even the masterful Alice In Sunderland . There are silly errors, such as an offhand reference to “Marvelman (originally Miracle Man)” or the assertion that the X-Men had been “out of print for five years” before Giant-Size X-Men #1.

There are insights to be gleaned here, sure, and lesser-known gems to discover. So buy the book, scour it for these, and send the authors feedback about the rest. If it sells well enough, they might be allowed to write a second edition. Given another year of work, a more accurate title, plus about 100 pages more nuance and depth, that could become the illuminating overview this isn’t.

Alex Summersby

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