Thursday, August 4, 2011

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 2

Lengthy interviews with comics creators have produced some fantastic reading over the years, particularly in the pages of The Comics Journal, which borrowed from the traditions of Playboy and Rolling Stone to set the standard for comics. As I said in my recent post about covering the junket for Captain America: The First Avenger, this kind of writing is surprisingly tricky to do well. It's also produced some of my favorite reads about comics, as well as a few clunkers. I'll start off by crediting The Comics Journal, of which I have dozens and dozens of individual issues packed up in a box somewhere. But this is about the bookshelf, so here are some more of my favorite good books about comics:

The X-Men Companion I and II were published by Fantagraphics in 1981 and 1982, culled largely from material that had already appeared in the magazine. But when I came across it in 1990 or 1991, again at Bookman's in Tucson, it was a revelation. The interviews by Peter Sanderson are excellent, and span the entire run of the comic up to that point. Interviewees include Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, Chris Claremont, Terry Austin, John Byrne and a joint interview with Claremont and then-editor Louise Jones about the future of the book. That these interviews were done at a time we now consider early in the book's history, it's fascinating to read about how these stories came together and where everyone expected to take the book in the future. I also very much loved the excellent reproduction of so much art in the book — most of it blown-up black and white reproductions from Marvel stats that look absolutely fantastic. Because of this book, I promised myself that if this material was ever reprinted in black and white I would have to buy it, and I did so when Marvel started its Essentials line around 1997.

The Comics Journal Library has offered some similar volumes of more recent vintage. I particularly enjoyed the oversize volumes on Jack Kirby and Frank Miller. I also greatly enjoyed the excellent volume on comics writers that collected vintage interviews from the magazine's early days with Claremont, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Archie Goodwin, Alan Moore, Denny O'Neil, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Harlan Ellison. 

I also enjoyed other publications' efforts at doing interviews, including the late, lamented Comics Interview. This magazine created several collections that found their way into my collection, including a Batman volume released in 1988 or 1989, around the time of the first Tim Burton Batman movie; and a mid-1980s special on X-Men that included interviews with then-artist John Romita Jr., Louise and Walter Simonson, editor Bob Harras and, of course, Claremont. I have many random issues of this title stored away elsewhere, and am interested in the recent collected edition that has been made available as an online print-on-demand premium edition.

A book I rarely see discussed anywhere is Comic Book Rebels, a 1993 volume by Stanley Wiater and Stephen R. Bissette. This book, subtitled Conversations with the Creators of the New Comics, features interviews with an outstanding group of creators from Scott McCloud and Moebis to Dave Sim, Richard Corben, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller, Harvey Pekar and Will Eisner. Again, I don't know why this book isn't talked about more, but it's especially fascinating to see these folks talk about the challenges the industry faced in the days before the internet and before even the heights and crashes of the direct market. 

Titan Books has in recent years done some nice interview books focused on specific comics characters and franchises. Comics Creators on the X-Men and Comics Creators on the Fantastic Four, both written by former Marvel editor in chief Tom DeFalco, are solid works that cover those characters up through about 2005 or so. It's especially interesting to read the X-Men book after going through the X-Men Chronicles, as many of the same folks are interviewed, though 25 years later. I understand there's a Spider-Man volume as well.

Last on this list is Eisner-Miller, which collects a weekend-long conversation between Frank Miller and Will Eisner on everything from comics history to the sexiness of inking. I wrote about this book here when it first came out and was pleased to see that some quick skimming showed it still holds up. It's especially nice to have this book capture the views of Eisner late in his life, as he died not long after the book came out.

I had meant to include in the previous post an invitation for folks to comment on their favorite books about comics — either what they think of the books I've mentioned here or any that I've missed that deserve a look. From the looks of my list, I likely have two more posts in this series: one on how-to books and one on books that focus on the careers or life of a specific creator.

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