Review: ‘The Comics: The Complete Collection’
<strong>The Comics: The Complete Collection
By Brian Walker
Abrams ComicsArts, 672 pages, $40
Growing up the son of cartoonist Mort Walker, Brian Walker clearly had four-color ink flowing through his veins. Learning at his father’s side, the boy absorbed folklore, myth, and legend; not just about the characters Mort wrote and drew in Hi & Lois or Beetle Bailey, but the creators who preceded his fathers and Brian’s own peers who practiced the craft.
Over the years, Brian used that knowledge to curate museum exhibits around the country and even work with his dad in the short-loved Museum of Cartoon Art. He’s also written extensively about the field, including the noteworthy collections The Comics: Before 1945 andThe Comics: Since 1945. In April, both volumes will be combined for the mammoth Comics: The Complete Collection.
For those who own the two books already, you won’t need this book. Not a thing has been changed or updated, which is a shame really, since the field has moved further since the second book saw print in 2004. If you don’t have these books, then this edition is for you.
Walker organizes the events by periods of time with an overview that details the evolution of the newspapers that printed the comic strips, the syndicates that grew from the successful strips, the merchandise that flowed from the most popular features and the men and women who executed these daily flights of fancy. Once the overview is done, we move into biographical sketches of the cartoonists, beginning, naturally, with the father of the American comic strip, Richard F. Outcault. After all, it was his Hogan’s Alley, taking advantage of the advent of color printing that gave the world the Yellow Kid, the first recurring newspaper character and a sensation. His success led to not only merchandise but within two years, a collection of strips, which can be argued to be the first graphic novel following the modern definition.
The greats and near greats, the well-known and the forgotten turn up here with a bountiful assortment of sample strips, many reproduced in their original colors. The book’s 9.25” x 12.5” size allows the art to be reproduced at a legible sixe, reminding us what it was like back in our parents’ or grandparents’ days when newspaper comic strip merited a sizeable section, letting the art and color breathe.
Paging through the book, you get to watch the artform mature as the gag-a-days added continuity followed by serials. You’re reminded of Blondie’s fast to protest her family refusing to let her marry Dagwood Bumstead, considered beneath her. You watch the dramatic strip arrive followed in 1929 by the dual arrival of Buck Rogers and Tarzan that in many ways set the stage for comic books.
By 1945, the comic strips had become fixtures not only in America but around the world. The Allies beat the Axis and the soldiers came home and the world seemed a brighter place. A new generation of homegrown characters took their place next to the aging greats. As a new era began, so does Walker open volume two which begins with Milt Caniff. He was the popular and influential so his move from Terry and the Pirates to a new strip, Steve Canyon, was a good way to show changes in the field. We rocket through the 1950s through the 1990s before the book screeches to a halt with a profile on Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman who are the geniuses behind the delightful Zits. Our current decade gets half a page, ignoring the explosion of web strips, the shrinking of the strips and their gradual demise. Several of the longest running strips have recently closed shop, such as Brenda Starr filing her last story in January and many of the survivors are showing their age.
While I wish this were repaginated and organized into a single whole rather than two volumes slapped together, the book is a delightful celebration of the comics, their characters, and the creators.