Welcome to #1 Comic of the Week, a series where our comics editor, Susana Polo, tips you off to a neat new story or series that kicked off in comics this week — just in time for some weekend reading.
A comprehensive knowledge of fictional events is the bread and butter of being a comics expert. Did you know Rogue was a vampire for a while? Like, the X-Men Rogue. I did. (She’s not anymore).
But what’s equally important is a comprehensive knowledge of factual events.
For example, I know that Morbius is a Spider-Man villain and a “living vampire.” But I also know that he was created in 1971 to take advantage of the fact that the strict censorship board that oversaw American comics had just loosened its rules to allow the appearance of vampires in comic books for the first time in nearly 20 years.
And if you think that sounds interesting, let me introduce you to a book that taught me a few things this week. Things that had me stage whispering “WHHHAAAAAAT?” in the office lunch room.
The Comic Book History of Comics: Comics for All is technically a sequel to Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s Comic Book History of Comics: Birth of a Medium, and therefore breaks the rules of #1 Comic of the Week. However! There’s nothing you’ve “missed” that you couldn’t pick up by watching Issue at Hand (which you should watch anyway if you’re interested in comics history). And for another, Comics for All distinguishes itself by concentrating on the history of comics as an interconnected international phenomenon, rather than treating the history of American comics as a history of all comics.
What does that mean? Well, it means figuring out exactly when and where the graphic novel was invented, repeatedly reinforcing the enormous impact that World War II had on the medium around the world and highlighting the work of Marie Duval. Born in 1847, Duval was an actress who quit the stage after she was accidentally shot in the face by a fellow castmember during a performance, and went on to co-create the first reoccurring comics character ever.
The real brilliance of Comics for All is the way it pulls threads together into each of its chapters. Simply by way of explaining origin and legacy of Heavy Metal magazine, the hugely influential science fiction anthology, Van Lente and Dunlavey take the reader through Hergé’s Tintin, the Nazi occupation of Belgium, post-war European censorship of American comics and the flourishing of cartoonists like Moebius. Then they cap the story off with Marvel Comics rescuing itself from bankruptcy with the comic book adaptation of Star Wars: A New Hope.
Van Lente and Dunlavey pack a ton of information into every page of Comics for All, but still present it with clarity, humor and nuance. If you didn’t feel that corporations use copyright law as a bludgeon before, you will after reading. And if you’re not sure why the history of another country’s comics industry is relevant to the current state of American media, Comics for All will show you exactly what the American comics — and, these days, all American pop culture — owes to our global comics culture.