We are talking about books about Comic Books, to be exact, not comedians. That will be later in the Gift Guide.
Today’s picks are three books that will cover a lot of historically significant details about some of the most interesting comics of the Silver and Bronze Age.
Two of them spotlight publishers, while the third is a great collection of interviews with some of the top creators of comic books in the 1970s and 1980s.
All of these books provide a fascinating insight into the creative process and the lasting influence of these particular comic books. The history is important, because those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, and nobody wants to repeat Super Green Beret or Pre-Teen Irradiated Samurai Tadpoles.
So here are three books I’ve reviewed over the past eleven months that are entertaining, informative and filled with all sorts of trivia and arcane knowledge about the comic books that a lot of us grew up reading. Recommended for any comic book fan who is partial to the Silver and Bronze age.
The Charlton Companion
by Jon B. Cooke
ISBN-13 : 978-1605491110
Charlton Comics, the perennial “also-ran” comic book company that had bursts of creativity and innovation at various times in their history, is a favorite of your humble blogger, and this book is a goodsend for us fans of the plucky little mob-connected publisher from Derby, Connecticut.
In this long-awaited book, Jon B. Cooke expands on his previous efforts, and with the help of many collaborators, puts forth the definitive account of Charleton. He covers the entire bizarre story of Charlton Publications, which was born out of a chance meeting in a county jail, and spent several decades as the nation’s only “all-in-one” magazine publisher, printer and distributor.
The Charlton Companion is an exhaustively-researched slice of manna from heaven for fans of Charlton Comics. In this book we learn how the company grew from publishing HIt Parader magazine to encompass a comic book line, hundreds of magazines and even their time as the original distributor of Hustler, before they finally shut down in 1992.
The focus is mainly on the comics, and this book has the full stories on the different eras, editors and creators that made Charlton, despite their lousy printing and distribution, one of the most interesting comic book companies around. While often derided for publishing substandard comics, the presence of Steve Ditko in their pages put the lie to that idea.
Among the revered comics pros who got their start at Charlton were Dick Giordano, Dennis O’Neal, Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Don Newton, Tom Sutton, John Byrne, Joe Staton, Mike Zeck and many others.
The book is profusely illustrated and wondefully laid out, which is pretty ironic, since Charlton was notorious for their low production values. This book simply looks spectacular.
The Charlton Companion is a must-have for anybody with an interest in Charlton Comics, but the book is really recommended for anyone with an interest in pop culture, publishing, music or the changing face of comics in the Bronze Age. You can order The Charlton Companion directly from the publisher, or from any bookseller, by using the ISBN code.
The Pacific Comics Companion
by Stephan Friedt, edited with additional writing by Jon B. Cooke
ISBN-13 : 978-1605491219
The early 1980s was a great time to be a comic book fan. Although mainstream comics were disappearing from newsstands, as companies like Gold Key, Charlton and Harvey struggled through their final years, the rise of stores devoted to comic books and the direct market created a demand for more sophisticated storytelling and more creator-friendly contracts for the hottest artists and writers who’d sprung up in the previous decade.
The first company to meet that demand with independently-produced four-color comics in the traditional format was Pacific Comics. The Schanes Brothers, Bill and Steve (along with their eventual editorial director, Dave Scroggy), had been running a successful chain of comic shops and a distributor for the direct market, handling DC and Marvel as well as underground comix and “ground level” publishers like Star Reach and Eclipse, decided to take the plunge into publishing and make their own comic books.
They began by seeking out top-name talent who’d left comics for greener pastures. Their first book published was Captain Victory by Jack Kirby, who had famously been screwed out of full credit and fair pay for essentially creating most of Marvel Comics’ characters. The first artist signed, but the second published was Starslayer by Mike Grell, who had created the successful Warlord for DC, and who had become a fan favorite, but who had moved on to the Tarzan comic strip because the pay was better. By offering contracts where the creators retained ownership of their characters and received a more equitable split of the profits, Pacific Comics changed the way comics publishers did business.
I still remember the excitement of buying the first issues of Captain Victory and Starslayer, and I recall having my mind blown at the awesome artwork of Dave Stevens on The Rocketeer. The Bruce Jones’ books (Alien Worlds and Twisted Tales) remain among the finest anthology comics ever assembled and it’s nice to be reminded that for four brief years, there was one comic book company who was consistently entertaining. Even their missteps were worth looking at. I recommend The Pacific Comics Companion for any comics fan who lived through that era, and any younger fans who want to find out what they missed, and how much of a debt they owe to this company. It’s possible that, without Pacific Comics, we might be stuck with just Marvel, DC and Archie Comics today.
Available from TwoMorrows Pubishing, or from any bookseller by using the ISBN Code.
DIRECT CONVERSATIONS: Talks with Fellow DC Comics Bronze Age Creators
by Paul Kupperberg
ISBN-13 : 979-8373651769
For an aged comic book nerd like me, this book is pure gold. As the title says, it’s a collection of conversations between writer, Paul Kupperberg, and the people he worked with at DC Comics back when he was breaking into the business in the 1970s. This was a crowdfunded project, but it’s now available for general sale while we eagerly await Kupperberg’s next collection of interviews with comic book veterans and legends.
In Direct Conversations Kupperberg engages in trips down memory lane with Howard Chaykin, Jack C. Harris, Tony Isabella, Paul Levitz, Steve Mitchell, Bob Rozakis, Joe Staton, Anthony Tollin, Bob Toomey, and Michael Uslan. These are casual, but very informative chats that serve as a terrific oral history of a pivotal time in the comic book industry, as seen by some of the younger creators of the time.
On the creative side, comics were making the transition from being produced by long-time pros who’d been around almost since the begining of comics to the first generation of comics creators who had grown up as fans. On the business side, comics were changing from a ubiquitous form of cheap, disposable entertainment for kids into a niche market sold in specialty shops aimed at teens to adult readers.
These guys were there for that. Some are still producing great comics, while others have moved on to other pursuits…and Michael Uslan gets a new mansion and yacht every time they make a Batman movie. In Direct Conversations we get treated to the kind of candid exchanges between friends that a hardcore researcher might not elicit.
This book really hits my sweet spot because I’m the perfect age to have lived through this time as an enthusiastic fan, primarily of DC Comics. I already knew all the names of the folks interviewed here. I’m even Facebook friends with more than a few of them. They’re all six to fifteen years or so older than I am, so when I was just getting heavily into collecting comics, they were the fresh new faces behind the scenes. It’s weird to realize, but I’ve been fans of some of their work for damned close to fifty years.
Direct Conversations is a fun read for anybody with an interest in DC Comics of the 1970s, or anyone with an interest in comics, period. You can order it from Amazon, or try using the ISBN code to order it from a local bookstore…or get a signed copy directly from Kupperberg himself (that’s the best option because he has several other great books for sale).