Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Social Histories of Comics

A bit of a depature for this Wednesday, a couple of books about comics and comics history. Despite the similarity in stated goals and the basic facts they cover, the works have different perspectives that make both valuable.

Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America (2002) by Bradford W. Wright is more of a social history. He shows how the messages conveyed by comics shift from the Depression to the Cold War. Like traditional comics histories, he places some importance on EC, but particularly to note how their comics countered "the prevailing mores of mainstream America." Western comics are left out of his analysis--perhaps he feels they are better analysed in general discussions of the Western genre? He also omits underground comics from his discussion.

Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books (2009) is by French academic Jean-Paul Gabilliet. Despite the title, Gabilliet deals less with prevailing cultural attitudes and their relationship to comics, but is more rigorous and analytical regarding the events of comics history, often citing sales figures and the like. Retail and distribution play a bigger role here than in popular comics histories; for instace, Gabilliet makes a persuasive argument that the Comics Panic of the 50s and the emergence of the Comics Code hurt comics, but really only the smaller publishers and even there perhaps only because sales were already on a downward trajectory from an all-time high. He also describes how Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns represented a renewal for DC and were important the trend that saved the industry from the decline throughout the seventies.


JB said...

Very interesting. I think that I am (*maybe*) more in love with the concept of comics these days then with comics themselves. I am finding it more and more difficult to actually read them AS A MEDIUM than I once was...I find myself impatient for a story to unfold; I skip around rather than allowing myself to linger on images and frames.

It makes me a little sad; I don't know why my brain isn't working the same as in the past. Is it the fault of the comics? I don't think so, but...

Greg S said...

It isn't you, it's comics. They don't write them the way they wrote them in the last century. I'm not talking about quality, I'm talking about style. For one thing, pacing is actually a lot slower. It's like they're trying to make movies or TV shows into comics, rather than taking advantage of the strengths of the comic medium itself.