Thursday, May 18, 2006

What I've Been Reading: The Comics Before & Since 1945

The Comics Before 1945 and The Comics Since 1945, both authored by Brian Walker, are big books, not just in size (though I nearly broke my arms carrying the set home from the library and I just live across the street), but in scope and ambition. Together, the two tomes comprise a comprehensive history of the American newspaper comic strip from the Yellow Kid in the late nineteenth century to early twenty-first century entries such as Agnes and Stone Soup.
The chapters are broken down by decade, each beginning with an overview of the period followed by a more in depth analysis of the most important strips and trends of the time and short biographies of several major artists, all generously illustsrated with numerous examples of the strips in question, many reproduced directly from the original art.
The Comics Since 1945 is perhaps the more significant volume, as it is the first real in depth exmination of the comics of the second half of the twentieth century. Most histories to date have concentrated on the artform's formative years from the turn of the century to just abefore World War II, and given short shrift to anything drawn after 1950, thus virtually ignoring such important strips as Pogo, Doonesbury, Dennis the Menace and Peanuts. Of course, most of the volumes I refer to, such as The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, were written sometime during the latter half of the last century and perhaps it was too soon for an objective historical review. The Smithsonian Collection was published in 1978 and gives only cursory notice to notice to the strips I mentioned above and, of course, strips that debuted during the last two decades of the century, such as Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County, are not included. A new century is upon us now, however, and the time for such a book has arrived. Hopefully, The Comics Since 1945 is only the first of many volumes to give this era of comic strips the critical consideration it deserves.
Both volumes of The Comics are must reads for anyone interested in comic strips, their history and their creators.

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