THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2 by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey
Plot
Characterization
Art
Summary
Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey serve up more history in IDW's THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2. Focusing on the place of European comics, Van Lente makes comics history interesting and accessible. Dunlavey's wild art makes for an exciting history lesson.
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Writer Fred Van Lente and illustrator Ryan Dunlavey investigate the history of comics in comics form. From IDW Publishing comes THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2; this time going beyond America to explore European comics.

The layers of history take work to uncover. Comics’ history is no exception. You could study texts like Comics Versus Art by Bart Beaty or Graphic Women by Hillary Chute. Or, you could dive into biographies like Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman. In any case, you may only glimpse part of the picture. This is especially true if you’re interested in the global history of comics. Luckily, for history buffs and comics nerds alike, THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2 is here to fill in this gap.

THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2 continues where Vol. 1 left off. Volume two diverges from the YELLOW KID, the Comics Code Authority, and the Underground Comix that make up American comics history. Although the comic assumes some prior knowledge, the information is still accessible to newcomers. Volume 2 takes readers to Europe, starting with Rodolphe Töpffer at the turn of the 19th century. The Swiss artist and writer typically gets the credit for combining words and images. Van Lente also discusses woodcut artwork in early comics that influenced artists including Art Spiegelman.

Additionally, volume 2 gives the backstory on Georges Remi, AKA Hergé, creator of TINTIN. Volume 2 points out how French comics, in particular, remained anti-American even after World War II. This political fact contributed to France’s diverse array of comics, which are not as superhero-centric as their American counterparts. Moreover, Van Lente reinforces the impact of French comics on publications such as HEAVY METAL.

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Putting European Comics on the Historical Map

It is refreshing to read a history of comics that focuses on more than just America’s impact. Van Lente makes clear sense of the exchanges between European and American creators. Additionally, the volume makes a thoughtful case for the impact WWII had on both European and American comics. Especially the fact that anti-American stances in occupied countries had long-lasting effects on what became popular in Europe. Van Lente points out key aspects of comics history with ease. His deep knowledge of the medium’s dynamic history is obvious. Moreover, his appreciation for European comics shines through, helping to make what could be a dry subject more engaging.

THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

At times it feels as though Van Lente and Dunlavey take a tone that is less than mature, particularly regarding WWII-era history. Although not overtly offensive, the comic downplays the significance of Nazi violence. This is particularly true for the shallow, although accurate, discussion of Georges Remi’s role as an illustrator for a Nazi newspaper.

THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2: Male Dominated?

Despite efforts to compensate for the lack of female artists in THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS, volume 2 did not deliver on HERstory. The comic includes one section about Isabelle Emilie de Tessier. Also known as Marie Duval, Tessier was a Parisian actress-gone-comics-artist who helped create the first recurring comics character, ALLY SLOPER. Not much else is said about the role of European women creators.

While disappointing, it does not come as a surprise. THIS COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 1 includes artists such as Patricia Highsmith. However, it largely ignores creators like Aline Kominsky-Crumb, despite covering an in-depth history of her influential husband, Robert Crumb. Likewise, THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2 missed the chance to highlight European women.

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Heavy Metal, Messy Artwork

In terms of making a comic interesting, the artwork of Ryan Dunlavey does not disappoint. With wild faces, exaggerated mouths, and whimsical motion, Dunlavey brings an appealing silliness to the text. In terms of making a history of comics accessible to a wide audience, Dunlavey might need to clean up the page. THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2 engages the reader on multiple levels. One fun example is how Dunlavey hides humorous gems within the images, such as Mickey Mouse ears or Spiegelman’s MAUS masks, as needed. But with a comic history as detailed as THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2, messy artwork feels overwhelming.

THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

Importantly, Dunlavey pays tribute to the styles of the artists he and Van Lente reference. For example, seeing Dunlavey’s take on TINTIN helps the reader make connections to the artist’s importance. 

THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF WORLD COMICS Vol. 2: Comics Around The World

The most compelling aspect of THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2 is that it moves away from American comics as the center of the universe. Importantly, Van Lente and Dunlavey highlight India in the subscription cover. According to Van Lente, Anant Pai’s work in comics in the 1960s earned him the place as the “Walt Disney of India.” Additionally, Van Lente points out the power of Pai’s comics to draw interest to Hindu culture. Ultimately, Pai’s work on the series AMAR CHITRA KATHA played a critical role after India gained independence from colonial Britain. 

THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

Reading about different cultures’ comics is rewarding in its own right, but also serves to decenter American authority. Research on the world of comics is exciting to see. Hopefully, THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS will continue to include that history in the series.

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Final Thoughts: A Worthwhile History Lesson  

For anyone looking to learn about comics, THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS is a great place to start. Beginning with the first volume might make the most sense, but volume two’s look at European comics is worth the time. The relationship between American and European comics is an intriguing aspect of pop culture history. More work about the role of women creators and creators from other countries would broaden the volume’s impact. Otherwise, THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2 delivers a fascinating analysis of history and comics.

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