Wednesday, April 17, 2013

National Library Week: Wednesday Comic Book Books

To mark National Library Week, this week I am writing about some of my favorite books in my chosen topics: Monday Music, TV Tuesday, Wednesday Comics, and Film Fridays. Today being Wednesday, let's talk about some of my favorite books about comics. 
I'm sorry to say I don't know who wrote this book, as I no longer have it! :-( I bought it sometime in the late 70s when I was a die-hard Avengers and Defenders fan. It filled in cracks in my knowledge regarding earlier issues of these two series. If you don't know who the Avengers are, what the hell are you doing HERE!? So I'll talk about The Defenders; they were another Marvel super-hero team, founded mostly so that The Hulk could appear in another series. He started out as an Avenger but that didn't work out. Teamed up with other so-called "rebels" Doctor Strange and Namor the Sub-Mariner he found friendship. And Marvel found another hit series.
This book featured a photo of the cover of each issue, a credit about who worked on it, and a plot synopsis. It was quite fun to try to imagine these early issues, which to this day I haven't taken the time and money to track down.
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES by Paul Levitz & Steve Crow
Although this book is ostensibly a Role Playing Reference, because it was written by then-LSH writer Paul Levitz its history and character profiles are actually canon. The history of the Legion, for example, is a hugely helpful timeline of who did what when. And if there ever needed to be a guide to a group's members, the Legion is it! They are profiled chronologically in the order that they appeared and joined the Legion  (again, ostensibly so that you could pick which characters you want to use in your game). I bought this right before I went back to Japan to live, and in lieu of new comics this was a god-send.

For several years I didn't have any new comic-book books. I was in Japan, and if I could get real comics I was happy. I did read a few books about "manga" or Japanese comics, but none of them really made any deep impression on me. I did read Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy and many many many others) and Kenji Nakazawa (Barefoot Gen) but those were the comics, not books about them.
When I finally got back to the US I was again more interested in reading actual comics and not books about comics. Until I got to these few treasures....
The Legion Companion by Glen Cadigan
It was a good day when I discovered Two-Morrows Publishing. They write books about comics, and they do a very good job at it. They have biographies and profiles on artists and writers as well as a series of "Companion" guides, of which I have bought three. The first I found was dedicated to the Legion of Super-Heroes. If you are not a Legion fan, you probably will not understand the appeal, but this is a group that started out as a throw-away idea in some otherwise non-descript Superboy story then went on to become one of DC's greatest teams ever. That is quite the accomplishment, and with a history of more than 50 years there is a lot of space to cover.
This book is based on the behind-the-scenes stuff. So with the previous book telling us what happened during the year that Invisible Kid was the leader, this book tells us why Jim Shooter stopped writing the series and the editor replaced it with Supergirl. Interesting stuff for those of us who love these characters.  Plus the book features dozens and dozens of sketches and never-before-seen art by a legion of Legion artists. That's the good stuff!
Teenagers From The Future edited by Timothy Callahan
This time, it's an obscure book written *about* the Legion and their universe. I happened to find this  in a comic-book store in my original home town of University City, Missouri when I was there visiting family. (Shout out to the Star Clipper in The Loop!) There are more than a dozen chapters in this book with such titles as The Death and Resurrection of Lightning Lad, Women in the Early Legioin, Gender Identity & Homosexuality in the Legion, and The Racial Politics of the Legion. If you don't know the Legion (see note above) then you won't understand just how cool it is to read what others have to say about whether Element Lad is gay or why the second Invisible Kid is not a strong black man.

1000 Comic Books You Must Read by Tony Isabella
Full disclosure: I have met the author of this book and he is a helluva nice guy.
Still, that being said, I think that this book is probably the best historical overview of the comic-book industry. Almost all of the other books you can find are just about DC or just about Marvel or whatever; this book highlights the books that you should know if you're going to call yourself a comic-book fan. Obviously, most of them are before my time. Still, there are quite a few that I have, I have read, or that I have heard of (For example, I'm not a big horror guy, so although I was aware of Marvel's Dracula and Ghost Rider series, I never bought them.) Tony breaks them up by decades and once we get into the 80s and 90s and beyond there are plenty of books here that I would like to track down. In fact, I need to get this off the shelf and roam through my library to see if I can find any new collections to read.  

Walt Kelly The Life & Times of The Creator of POGO
by Thomas Andrae & Carsten Laqua
Wow, that's quite a mouthful of a title for such a little character! If you are not familiar with Walt Kelly's adorable (but quite political) comic-strip POGO, you owe it to yourself to go to your local library and check out something about him. This is brand new from 2012 so your library may not have this, but there should be POGO-phile or I GO POGO or other titles available. This one is an in-depth examination of Mr. Kelly himself, from his artistic work in high school to his initial career at Walt Disney to his comic-book work (he did OUR GANG/LITTLE RASCALS the comic-book) to his classic comic strip. It's fun and historically interesting stuff, so I heartily recommend it.

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