The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History / Edition 1

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In this definitive study of one of popular culture's favorite genres Robert C. Harvey, a cartoonist and comics critic, traces the evolution of the comic book as a potent form of narrative art. He takes it from its beginnings in the 1930s through the most contemporary of productions in the mid-1990s.

In defining comic book aesthetics Harvey establishes both a critical perspective and a vocabulary for evaluating the art. Because he is an able practitioner himself, his insights are especially valuable. As he demonstrates how words and pictures function together to tell stories in ways unique to the medium, he explains the processes of narrative breakdown, page layout, and panel composition, and shows how these aspects of the art form can be manipulated for dramatic effects.

Enhanced by many illustrations, this detailed examination of comic book art includes work from both the mainstream and the counterculture, both veteran and newcomer. Whether traditional or iconoclastic, their cartoon art continues to uphold the aesthetic that Harvey finds to be the basis of cartooning.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Harvey The Art of the Funnies, a working cartoonist and comics historian, has written a serviceable examination of the aesthetics of comicswhat he calls the ``verbal-visual blending principle,'' the interdependency of words and pictures that gives comics their unique communicative character. Among other things he outlines the critical elements of the comics medium narrative breakdown into panels, panel composition, page layout and drawing style and usefully debunks the all-too-frequent tendency to align comics criticism with film criticism, which overemphasizes analogous traits between them. Ostensibly about comics aesthetics, in large part the book is really a basic narrative history of the comic book industry and popular comics genres, tangentially but helpfully enumerating how the cutthroat economics of a Depression-born business have shaped the artifice of comics to this day, retarding their development if not their mainstream commercial popularity into a serious art form. On occasion his prose can be a bit stilted, but the discussions of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzmann and Gil Kane alone and the very liberal reproduction of their artwork would recommend the book. His narrative history carries right up to the alternative comics and artists of today, culminating, naturally enough, with the most inventive, insightful investigation of comics aesthetics: Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. Jan.
Library Journal
Daniels Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, LJ 10/1/91 has produced an institutional history, and as such it is fatally flawed. Far too much space is spent on the recent Batman and Superman films, television series, and marketing schemes, while the revolutionary Neil Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow series merits a mere two pages. The Teen Titans, DC's answer to the popular Marvel X-Men, gets short shrift as well. Despite the terrific reproductions of art and novelty items including a 1954 book entitled The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, this will prove nostalgic for those who have thrown out their comics, but of little use to collectors or students. In contrast, Harvey's The Art of the Funnies, LJ 8/94 scholarly study ignores corporate boundaries and attempts to situate the comic book in terms of its evolution from the comic strip to the world of publishing as a whole. Comic books became an entrenched medium during World War II, when they were popular with soldiers who enjoyed the often lurid, sexy detective stories as well as the comparatively cleaner Westerns and superheroes. Harvey details the sea change brought upon comics by the institution of the Comics Code in 1954, which put horror and detective stories out of business and ushered in the primacy of superheroes. He also engages in close, critical readings of the art itself, focusing on the development of the vocabulary of panel, layout, story, and style, and the relationship between writer and artist during various stages of comic book history. In addition, he pays close attention to the masters, including Will Eisner who merits only two mentions in Daniels's book, Gil Kane, Frank Miller, and Robert Crumb. The reproductions are ample and illustrate the points made in the text, not the other way around. Highly recommended for collections in popular culture and the history of publishing.Adam Mazmanian, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780878057580
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
  • Publication date: 2/8/1996
  • Series: Studies in Popular Culture Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 8.25 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Table of Contents

A Word to the Fore Beats a Pair of Anything
Ch. 1 Slouching toward an Aesthetic: The Beginning of a Critical Vocabulary 3
Ch. 2 Legions in Long Underwear: The Advent of the Comic Book and the Reign of the Superhero 16
Ch. 3 The Search for Art and Meaning: Westerns and the American Spirit 50
Ch. 4 But Is It Art?: The Spirit of Will Eisner 66
Ch. 5 The Heroic Avenue to Art: Experimentation and the Mark of Kane 100
Ch. 6 The Comic Book as Individual Expression: Harvey Kurtzman and the Revolution 126
Ch. 7 Style and Flash and Filigree: Manipulating Breakdowns, Composition, and Layout for Effect 152
Ch. 8 Only in the Comics: Why Cartooning Is Not the Same as Filmmaking 173
Ch. 9 The Lonely Hearts Club Band: Autobiographical Angst and Other Adventures in Topics and Treatments 192
Ch. 10 All Together Now 263
Notes 275
Index 285
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  • Posted March 5, 2013

    The Art of the Comic Book: A Bland History

    Robert C. Harvey's telling of the history of comic books is quite boring to say the least. It is roughly 270 pages of monotone words mixed with a few comic book strips from various series. Actually, the only thing not bland about this book was the various comic book examples that he put into them. Despite the boring tone in which it was written, it is filled with fascinating information. It discusses the entire of history of comic books starting from the 1930's all the way to modern times. It gives you insight on how and why the comic books we know today became so popular and the meaning behind some of America's most iconic characters such as Captain American and Superman. It also discusses how the comic book was and still is an entirely unique and different medium of entertainment from any other. It was a way for authors to express their feelings about particular issue including Harvy Kurtzman who was famous for creating patriotic heroes. The use of pictures for storytelling was a revolutionary idea that has turned into one of the most successful industries in history. However, despite the interesting things this book has to offer, because it is told in such a boring and monotone manner, it makes it difficult to read. It requires being a rather large fan of comic books and/or history. Of which I am the former. If you don't fit into either of these categories, unfortunately i must suggest that you steer clear of this book and all of its insightful facts. -Francisco Padilla

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