Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Discuss: Your Favorite Reference Books

Doug: Back on the 1st of the month, the tome The Silver Age of Comic Book Art came up in our comments on Avengers #93; and then darned if frequent commenter Richard didn't bring it up again yesterday! What are your favorite reference books?


david_b said...

With the slew of great new books coming out this winter on some of our favorite artists, it's really a buyers market out there for gifts for fans of DC, Marvel, Kirby, you name it.

Schumer's book is the only one I have, having bought it for $10 at Half-Price Books. Initially I bought it for potentially removing/framing some of the large Kirby and Colan art, then buying another for the shelf, but haven't touched it yet, it's so nice.

I find a lot of books haven't done well in providing a great analysis AND showcasing the art (it's usually one or the other..). Schumer's book is definitely an exception, but I have to confess, I haven't gone to great lengths on research. I enjoy either googling on-line interviews, or buying some back issues of 'Back Issue' for my Bronze Analysis. For instance, I HAD to have the BI ish with the Spidermobile schematic cover, just TOO cool.

Doug said...

I also enjoy the TwoMorrows magazines, particularly Back Issue and The Jack Kirby Collector. For our reviews I've from time-to-time also used The Thin Black Line about Vinnie Colletta and various John Buscema biographies. The Art of Neal Adams is a good book, particularly if you want Neal's perspectives.

A note -- Karen and I have both purchased Marvel Comics in the 1960's: An Issue-by-Issue Field Guide, as well as the 1970's sequel. Both books are from TwoMorrows and both are authored by Pierre Comtois. Neither of us particularly cares for the tone of these volumes, as Comtois writes more from an editorial perspective than from a historical perspective. His prerogative, yes, but we each thought we were buying books tending more toward history and less toward opinion. I'm sure they have their place on any shelf -- we are just both trying to get over our initial reactions to the text.

If anyone is interested in any of the books I've mentioned (not the Neal Adams one, however), TwoMorrows is having a book sale for the next two weeks -- 50% off all books except their new releases. Check it out!


J.A. Morris said...

Yeah, I'm with Doug on the TwoMorrows 70s book. Seemed like he generally hated 70s comics.

I don't know if it counts as a "reference" book, but I'm reading "The Marvel Comics Guide To New York". I picked it up at the New York Public Library, it has lots of info about real New York locations that have been used in classic(and not so classic) Marvel stories. More info here:


Matthew Bradley said...

Quite coincidentally, I just finished reading Schumer's book, which I borrowed from a friend. Although I love the subject, the artwork he reproduced, and his insights, I didn't like the design of the book itself, which I found very hard to read. As for other books, while I have more than 100 in my personal reference library on my primary subject, which is horror and SF films and TV, I only have a few on comics. Offhand I can think of the late Les Daniels's invaluable book on Marvel, my trusty Overstreet guide, and the interesting Julius Schwartz bio MAN OF TWO WORLDS. I was excited when I heard about the Comtois books until I read the comment about him hating '70s comics, which are my favorite. Don't know how much I'd enjoy that one! Have seen numerous references to TwoMorrows on BAB but have yet to sample any of their wares. Sounds overdue.

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

Let's try this again:

The two volumes of The X-Men Companion has yet to be surpassed.

Karen said...

C.K.: I have two very well-worn copies of The X-Men Companion. They are a treasure trove of info, and capture a particular moment in time, with the interviews taking place after the end of the Claremont-Byrne-Austin era, but not too long after.

Doug and I have sent some emails back and forth over the Marvel in the 70s book. I simply had to stop reading it, as it was making me angry! The straw that broke the camel's back was when Comtois said there were no worthwhile stories in Captain America once Stan Lee left! Even if Englehart was not his cup of tea, to not cover what is acknowledged by most as some of the finest stories in Cap's existence is just ludicrous. Yet we get page after page on Supernatural Tales -that's right, the Living Mummy. Feh.

david_b said...

Incidentally, how would you all rate Tom Brevoort's "Assembled" and "Assembled2" books on the Avengers..?

I recall some great reviews of it here a while ago. Perhaps not a 'reference book', but more analysis and editorials on our A-Team.

Doug said...

Well, David...

First off, Brevoort merely provided the introductions to the books. Both volumes, as well as the yet-to-be published volume 3 were all solicited, compiled, and edited by Van Plexico. Van is the owner of the Avengers Assemble website and message board, which is where Karen and I "met" many years ago. You can check out "Doug and Karen -- the early years" if you go to the message boards. Her handle is "Tana Nile" and mine's "dlw66". There was actually some great commentary going on before many long-time posters began to fade away. Of note is the "Silver Age Artists" thread in the "General" section -- some very cool and knowledgeable discussion lies within.

Anyway, you'll recall that the Hank Pym and Crystal/Quicksilver essays that I serialized recently are actually intended for publication in Van's mythical 3rd volume of Assembled!. We shall see if it ever sees the light of day.

But I'll leave it to Karen to give her true feelings, as only she can, on Assembled 2. Hahaha -- just wait.


Doug said...

Here's the Silver Age Artists url, if anyone is interested:


Anonymous said...

I wish I had some invaluable-but-unknown gem of a tome to lay on you at this point, but I really don’t.

I love Les Daniel’s 5 Decades of Marvel Loveliness or whatever it’s called. Just the right mixture of pics & text, great history, beautiful layout. If I have a criticism it’s that it’s too sanitised, too ‘official version’. With a foreword by Stan, it was never going to dish much dirt, I guess.

Overstreet is, of course, the Bible, but much like the Bible, the more you look at it, the more you realise that a lot of it is completely made up. Just out of interest has anyone else noticed this: if you take the GD price of almost any comic and double it, you get the VG price? If you triple it, you get the FN price. Now, does the comic buying public just happen to buy ALL comics in such a way as to create that exact mathematical relationship or has Mr. Overstreet done his field work in Excel?

As Doug says, I’m a Schumer-booster. Matthew, I do agree with you that the design puts the art layout way ahead of the text and for that reason, it lends itself more to appreciating the art than as a textbook, but I would highlight that as a plus, not a minus. There is, after all, a clue in the name.

I have just bought a couple of weighty little numbers (largely because they were 70% off in the discount store), which are Marvel Comics: A visual history and DC Comics Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle.

I’ll let you know how I get on (if they’re both famously crap, please don’t tell me).


Garett said...

One I've had since I was a kid is The Golden Age of Comics, by Richard O'Brien. It blew me away when I bought it, tantalizing me with the great covers and making me wonder what the insides of those comics were like. The few panel pages they reproduced were super--Will Eisner Spirit, Lou Fine The Flame. It was a distorted perspective, as most Golden Age pages weren't nearly as good, but the covers in full color were spectacular. Eisner's pencils with Fine's inking were my favorites.

Anyone else seen this book?

Garett said...

After reading Doug's reaction to Marvel Comics in the 1970s--it gets all positive reviews on Amazon, but there's a more in-depth review here, more critical of the book:

Doug said...

Garrett --

I'll admit to only have done a few skims of the book. However, Karen has read it in several sittings. My biggest gripe was that there's nary a mention of John Buscema in the book. His Conan work alone is most noteworthy, and he had stints in the decade on the Avengers and the FF as well (shoot, with the exception of Romita's few fill-ins, Buscema basically replaced Kirby on the FF!). As a big Buscema-backer, that alone has put me off of the book.


Karen said...

On Marvel in the 70s: I got up to around 1975 before I gave up on it. Basically, Comtois dismisses nearly all of the super-hero titles after Stan Lee quit writing, with the exception of a few that Roy Thomas was helming. As mentioned before, no review of Steve Englehart's Secret Empire storyline in Cap, nothing much on the Avengers after the Kree-Skrull War, no FF or Thor after Lee left. He also has favorite artists, so there is a great deal on Colan and Barry Smith, but as Doug says, he has a very dismissive attitude towards John Buscema, basically saying he went way downhill after Silver Surfer 4! There are also a number of putdowns of certain artists and writers that I thought were unprofessional. So that's my two cents on it. As J.A. noted, Comtois doesn't seem to like the Marvel 70s titles much, so I am puzzled why he would even bother to write about them.

Karen said...

Doug has left the door open for me to comment on Assembled 2. Oh boy.

First off, I should say that I do appreciate that Van Plexico invited me to write for that volume. It got me writing again, and without that, I probably wouldn't have wound up writing for Back Issue, or working on fiction again.

But the Thor essay I wrote for Assembled 2 was badly mangled by someone assisting Van, to the point where so much had been cut out that entire paragraphs made no sense! I didn't see the essay before it was published and I was really chagrined. Actually, chagrined is putting it mildly; I was furious. Van was apologetic and promised me I would get to see the edited version of my Vision essay for Assembled 3 prior to publication, but as Doug has said, that seems to be a dead project.

So I generally pretend that Assembled 2 -or at least my essay in it -doesn't exist, as I would hate for people to think I am so completely incompetent as a writer.

(I'm only mildly incompetent.)

William said...

Here are a few of my favorites…

"SPIDER-MAN THE ICON" by Steve Saffel
Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about Spider-Man is in this book. It goes beyond the comics and covers the cartoons, movies, TV Series, newspaper strip, action figures, toys and more. A must have for any fan of the 'ol web-slinger.

"AMAZING MARVEL UNIVERSE" by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas
Entertaining and informative with lots of great classic Marvel artwork, and actual recorded commentary by "The Man" himself.

"BATMAN ANIMATED" by Paul Dini and Chip Kidd (with lots of cool art by Bruce Timm)
A must have reference for any fan of "Batman The Animated Series" or Batman in general. Covering the entirety of the BTAS Universe, from the origin of the show, to the final episode. Includes behind the scenes facts, character development and much more. One of my favorite books I own.

"AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 500 COVERS" - by Jonathan Couper-Smartt
A hardcover reprinting every ASM cover from from Amazing Fantasy #15 to ASM #500 (and all of the annuals as well). A really fun book, especially if you are a rabid Spidey fan like myself.

Possibly my favorite Spider-Man reference book. Loaded with fun facts and tons of cool, classic artwork from throughout Spidey's long history.

"HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY" by Stan Lee and John Buscema
The ultimate reference on drawing comics. Stan and John take you through the comic creation process, step by step from concept to penciling and inking. I got this book when I was fifteen and I absorbed every ounce of knowledge I could from it. Highly recommended reading for the aspiring artist or any fan of comics and how they are created.

This is a book of in-depth interviews with every writer who ever worked on Spider-Man. Chock full of behind the scenes information and little known facts. A fascinating read.

"COMIC BOOK ARTISTS" by Alex G. Malloy
For me, this is the ultimate comic-book artist reference guide. It is an index of most every great or good comic artist and every book they worked on. If you want to know if Jack Kirby drew that particular issue of the Avengers or not, or which two issues of X-Factor Art Adams penciled, just grab this handy volume and look it up. It was an invaluable tool for me in completing my John Byrne collection.

david_b said...

Ah, well, I humbly retract my mention of 'good reviews' regarding the 'Assembled' series.

I'll blame my faulty memory on my intake of mood-altering holiday coffee of late. Looks like I'll just stick with the glorious pages of Schumer's book.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I loved about growing up in the 70's was the plethora of golden age reprints that were available. So to me, the golden, silver and bronze ages all blur together a bit. Now I can rationalize my choice, which is...

The Steranko History of Comics! Two exquisite volumes that chronicle DC, Timely (Marvel), Quality, and Fawcett in the 1940's. They were meticulously researched, and drew on plenty of interviews. Steranko really brought the magic of comics alive to me in these volumes, and I'm still sad that he never completed the rest of the projected six-volume series. Well worth checking out.

Gerard Jones' Men of Tomorrow is another favorite of mine.

I'm dismayed with the apparent incompetence that Comtois demonstrated in Marvel in the 70's. Englehart's Captain America is the version that all others should be measured against. How about The Avengers/Defenders fight? Did that at least get some respect?

James Chatterton

Karen said...

"How about The Avengers/Defenders fight? Did that at least get some respect?"

Nope. In fact, the only Avengers issues that I think were mentioned after the Kree-Skrull War were the Count Nefaria issues by Shooter and Byrne.

david_b said...

Geez, ignorin' both Englehart's CA&F and the Avengers/Defenders Summer..?

As Mr. Grimm would say, 'Those are fightin' words..'

These events, with Gwen's death, were my doorway into the Marvel Universe.

What a silly ignoramus.

Garett said...

Wow Doug and Karen--to not put Buscema in a '70s Marvel book is crazy! Conan alone is enough, especially the Savage Sword stories. There are some great Thor storylines he drew, and of course FF and the rest! One could argue about his very best work and SS#4 is a big candidate, but Conan was his "baby", as I read him say somewhere. It does sound like this book misses the mark.

Rip Jagger said...

Many of the classic tomes (Steranko's History of Comics, the Origins series from Marvel, DC's Encyclopedias, etc.) have been displaced by outstanding online resources.

I find that the first place I go to investigate most comic book related question is the Grand Comic Book Database. It not only features a dizzying array of covers but offers up fantastic details on creators and such.

Marvel's Index series was great too, but I find I never consult that stuff, I just go online.

The advent of magazines such as Alter Ego and Comic Book Artist also have pushed the classic volumes out of the way. They still exist for sure and are worth the effort for certain, but their primacy is much less.

Once upon a time I suspect we might all have the same ones. I doubt that's the case today. Even Overstreet has given way.

Rip Off

Karen said...

To clarify, John Buscema IS mentioned in the Marvel in the 70s book, but there's not a lot of emphasis on him (despite statements that he replaced Kirby as the House style). Just to be fair, I dragged the book out. Here's a couple of comments:

While discussing Avengers 82, Comtois says Buscema went to more standard layouts at this time and his art "from this point became less exciting." He goes on to say if Buscema had stuck to his original style (large panels), his work on FF and Thor "might not have ended up as unexceptional as they did."

Discussing Conan 26, when Buescema took over, he describes his work as "good but prosaic."

There may be more examples but you get the idea.

Matthew Bradley said...

Interestingly, the omission of both Buscema and Romita was one of the things that bothered me about Schumer's book. Garett, thanks for the review of the Comtois, which has sealed my decision to avoid it. I'm sure I can find--or write--more enjoyable analysis online, although the reviewer is correct that it is an eminently worthy subject for a book...just not this one, it seems. I've actually pinpointed my peak period as 1975-76, so a disdain for that era, and in particular for personal heroes such as Englehart, would only annoy me.

Karen, having seen some of my magazine work mangled by careless "editors," I can empathize completely with your ire over ASSEMBLED 2. Totally unprofessional.

Karen said...

Matthew: I felt the same way about Schumer's book, as I consider Buscema and Romita the two artists who really exemplify "the Marvel style," at least in my head.

As for editing, I do appreciate when an editor comes in and helps my writing flow or points out things that aren't quite clear. After writing and rewriting something, I lose my objectivity. But when someone comes in and strips out sentence after sentence, leaving behind an incomprehensible mess, well, I sort of have a problem with that!

OK, let's be more positive shall we? I wanted to throw another title in here: All in Color for a Dime by Richard Lupoff. I must have checked that book out of the library half a dozen times as a kid. I have little interest in the Golden Age but it's important to have some history and this was a very good introduction to that time.

I also enjoyed the Marvel Chronicles, although there are a number of factual errors which Doug and I have caught.

Matthew Bradley said...

Karen: Being an editor as well as a writer, I agree that the skills of a good editor are invaluable. But when people heedlessly remove things that, as you said, leave other passages incomprehensible, that is no help at all.

When I was growing up, I was exposed simultaneously to Andru's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in the first-run issues and Romita's in the MARVEL TALES reprints (and even a few older hand-me-down issues), so for me, they were "the look" of Spidey. Much as I respect Ditko's contribution, I consider Romita's interpretation definitive, and preferred Ditko's work on Dr. Strange. As for Buscema, I regard him in some ways as the quintessential Marvel artist.

Like you, I have little interest in the Golden Age, but I did enjoy Lupoff's ERB bio, MASTER OF ADVENTURE. Of course, the massive two-volume Irwin Porges tome outweighs it by about a factor of ten! :-)

vancouver mark said...

My favorite book on the subject is The Comic Book Heroes, by Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs, which I don't think has beem mentioned yet.
I've seen two different editions, one from the mid-80s and a bigger and much better version from 1997, which I've probably reread more than any other comics book.
They open the Silver Age with the revival of the Flash and work their way pretty comprehensively through to Kingdom Come and the 1990s decline.
It's a comics cultural reference as opposed to an artistic one, and looks it, with lots of text and minimal (but effective) art. It's a great read and a fun one.

And Karen, Tana Nile? Excellent handle. One of the hottest babes in the history of comics, but only Kirby understood her.

And aside to Anonymous, either we've been reading two different Bibles or you might have some difficulty with comprehension imho etc.

Anonymous said...

Richard Lupoff and Don Thompson's All in Color for a Dime, its sequel The Comic Book Book, Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes, Steranko's History of Comics, Jim Harmon's Nostalgia Catalog.

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