Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Golden Bookshelf:

Comix: A History of Comic Books in America

Columnist Rob Salkowitz directs interest to the seminal book of comic book references, and explains why this monumental accomplishment – which includes broad collections of hard-to-find classics – belongs on your golden bookshelf.

Comix is a two-fer: not just a great early history of American comic books, but an unprecedented (and probably never-to-be-repeated) assemblage of classic reprints from nearly every publisher and genre, from Superman to Mad, Donald Duck to Robert Crumb. Les Daniels brings scholarship, readability, and passion to the subject of comics at a moment in fandom where the far-flung community of collectors and enthusiasts was just beginning to awaken into the mainstream of price guides, pro-zines, conventions, and aspirations to artistic legitimacy. How seminal was this book? With Comix, Daniels literally doubled the size of the comics reference bookshelf and was the first since Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic-Book Heroes (in 1965) to actually accompany his history with reprints of complete stories.

And what a great bunch of reprints! Superman, Batman, The Sub-Mariner, Blackhawk, Plastic Man by Jack Cole, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, Carl Barks’ Donald Duck, Crime Does Not Pay by Charles Biro, Fox and the Crow, EC stories by Kamen, Kurzman, Davis, Wood and Elder, Al Williamson and Archie Goodwin’s great “The Success Story” from Creepy #1 along with several other choice nuggets from Warren’s amazing first two years, a Captain America story from the late 1940s horror era, Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four (#11), Ditko’s introduction of Doctor Strange, Steranko’s horror short “At the Stroke of Midnight” and an exhaustive selection of underground strips from Crumb, Wilson, Spain, Trina Robins and Kim Deitch, and Gilbert Shelton. All complete stories, mostly black and white, but with some color. Other notable work is reproduced in panels for example purposes.

The depth and quality of Daniels’ selections are as impressive as their breadth. Hardly any of these works are the familiar origin stories, and to this day, little of the more obscure material has ever seen reprinting in any format. The black and white reproduction is muddy in some spots, and it’s inconvenient to turn the book sideways to read the stories printed two-up the long way on the page, but really, these are small blemishes on a monumental accomplishment. It is inconceivable that such a wide range of classic American comics will ever be reprinted in complete form between covers again.

Comix was readily available in bookstores throughout the 1970s and is not terribly hard to find at conventions or on the Web. Two 1971 hardcover editions exist, from Bonanza Books and Outerbridge & Dienstfrey. Random House subsequently re-issued the hardcover. The 1973 Wildwood TPB edition appears to be UK-only, and in any case, the sideways format of the reprints makes the hardcover format far more desirable in this case.

Comix: A History of Comic Books in America

Bonanza Books

Publication Year: 1971
Writer: Les Daniels
Artist: various

Hardcover w/dust jacket, 200 pp.,
black and white with color tip-ins

Rob Salkowitz is a Seattle-based writer and authority on all manner of aging newsprint. You can e-mail your comments and queries to Rob at rob_comics@yahoo.com. Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

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