In the 1940’s Will Eisner, creator of “The Spirit,” coiner of the phrase “sequential art,” arguable father of the graphic novel, ran into some static from the Army brass when he used comics to teach soldiers preventive maintenance. However, when the higher-ups decided to see whether soldiers retained and used the information better when reading their manuals versus Eisner’s comics, the version with sequential art won hands down. Not only is this collection full of memorable anecdotes like the one I just mentioned, said anecdote also gives you a pretty good reason why you’re likely to remember the history of comics told here possibly better than if you went and read everything in its bibliography.
I’m intending that last statement to be read as an endorsement of how well writer Fred Van Lente (best known around here as the writer of “Marvel Zombies 3” and co-writer of “The Incredible Hercules”) and artist Ryan Dunlavey (artist of Van Lente’s “Action Philosophers”) the many intertwining threads that make up the history of the medium. From the origins of the medium in newspaper strips and animation, to the first superheroes, the underground comics movement and the rise of manga, everything is told in a wonderfully irreverent fashion that draws you in and makes what could’ve been a dry history lesson incredibly vivid and amusing on the page. Regardless of your familiarity with the history of comics, I’m willing to bet that you’ll find that the presentation makes even the most familiar stuff fresh again. You’re also bound to learn something new -- heck, I didn’t know Frederic Wertham hated the Comics Code Authority. Did you?