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David J. Hogan
- Publié sur Amazon.com
As part of the publisher's ambitious, multi-volume history of American comic books, historian Bill Schelly has written an incisive account of industry activity, 1950-59. Roughly, the story goes like this: 1950-54, comic book sales fly high, with multitudinous publishers and a boggling array of titles. Crime, western, horror, and funny animal titles sell well. Superheros are in remission, carrying on most noticeably at DC-National.
1955-59: Excesses of the first five years of the decade, particularly sexual innuendo and depictions of violence, encourage opportunistic politicians and a shrewdly self-promoting NYC psychiatrist to attack comic books as unwholesome, squalid, and dangerous. An ostensibly self-imposed Comics Code allows the industry to survive, but helps destroy the legendary EC Comics, as well as many other publishers. During the last half of the decade, comics writers and artists scramble for work at reduced rates, or leave the industry altogether. Atlas/Marvel loses its distributor and becomes essentially irrelevant, as least insofar as industry leaders DC and Dell are concerned. Comic books grow blandly inoffensive, ignoring the older readers that had sustained them during the war and into the '50s, and concentrating instead on the grade-school crowd. But then, unexpectedly, the superhero genre is reborn.
Summed up like this, the tale of comics in the 1950s seems tidy enough, but it's actually complex, tangled, and fascinating. Written by Schelly with lively directness and clarity, and scrupulously researched, the book reveals how culture, technology, media, politics, and business--as well as newsstand product that was variously awful and sublime--drove the industry to great heights, and then nearly destroyed it.
Each year is covered in a discrete chapter, with clearly organized sections devoted to each publisher's activities for the year. DC, Atlas, Dell, Fawcett, and other major players are well covered, and so are more modestly sized outfits (EC, St. John), as well as numerous fringe players that made impacts. Schelly has acute critical insights--praising, for example, the striking EC output, the exciting late-decade evolution of DC artist Carmine Infantino, and the vital, often ingenious contributions of such writers as John Stanley, Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Harvey Kurtzman, and Richard E. Hughes. Editors, too, from Stan Lee to Mort Weisinger, are smartly discussed. Because Schelly understands that comics are a business, his unsentimental portraits of Harry Donenfeld, Martin Goodman, Bill Gaines, and other publishers give the book the dimension it needs to transcend mere aesthetic history, and become a broader and hugely intriguing account of business strategies and alliances, moves and countermoves, profit and loss, ambition and hubris.
Printed on glossy stock and abundantly illustrated with vintage covers, interior pages and panels, original art, and photos of key players, the book is a visual feast. Toth, Gil Kane, Maneely, Barks, Sprang, Kirby, Ingels, Heath, Kubert, Boring, Baker, Cole (L. B. and Jack), Wood, Dillin & Cuidera--all the heavy hitters are here, plus lesser lights that deserve your attention. Nicely designed timelines put each year's comics activity into a somewhat larger context, referencing, for example, Sputnik and teen movies. Extended, illustrated sidebars cover a nifty range of topics that includes blacks in comics, women in the business, atomic anxiety reflected in comics, the birth of Sgt. Rock, and more.
What may be most pleasing is that Schelly, who has already written splendid histories of comics fandom, as well as fine books about Joe Kubert, "gets" something that eludes many non-academic cultural historians: the decade of the '50s was no Happy Days idyll, but a period of enormous cultural and political tension, with developing battles over the responsibilities of media, evolving sexual mores, clashing philosophies of child-rearing, the nascent teen culture, and postwar consumerism. This fine book encompasses all of that, to explain and illustrate how and why comic books were unique parts of this American quilt.