Written by: John Wells
Edited by: Keith Dallas
Published by: Twomorrows Publishing
Reviewed by: Kristian Horn
Over the past several years there have been many volumes dedicated to the history of comic books. Many of these have focused mostly on individual characters (like the fantastic Les Daniels’s books dedicated to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, etc.), separate comic book companies (again, Les Daniels’s books on the histories of Marvel and DC Comics), or certain periods of time during the growth of the American comic book (such as The Ten Cent Plague by David Hadju). As far as I’m aware there hasn’t been a comprehensive volume that analyzes the history of American comics as a whole. A book or series of books that breaks down the development of the comic book industry from its beginnings to the modern day has surprisingly not been written in this current era of comics. Twomorrows Publishing, with the release of American Comic Book Chronicles, seeks to change that fact.
This volume, American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960’s, 1960-1964, is the first in a series of encyclopedic like tomes that Twomorrows Publishing is putting out about the complete history of the comic book in the United States of America. Twomorrows apparently intends to release several editions of this series which will research the history of comics during every decade of the last century all the way through to the beginnings of the current one. Each ten year span will be broken down into separate hardcover volumes and each year within those time periods will be split up into intimately researched chapters. For some reason, though, it seems as if this series will begin chronologically during the 1940’s and not the 1930’s which is the decade during which one of the most influential and iconic characters in the history of the medium was created. Despite this wrongheaded omission, I can say that after having read this entry that looks into the early sixties that this is a series of books that I think every fan of comic book history is going to want to own.
American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960’s, 1960-1964 does a fantastic job of detailing what many may consider to be one of the most exciting times in comic book history. You had the birth of Marvel Comics in response to the increasing popularity of the characters at DC Comics as well as other small companies struggling to survive and make their mark in a market that seemed to be continually shrinking. Writer John Wells splits his time evenly between the different factions and even handedly covers all of the developments that were occurring not just at Marvel and DC but at other companies such as Harvey and Gold Key. As much as this period of history has tempted other writers of the subject matter into just focusing on the battle between what would become the big two comic companies, Wells resists that temptation. Wells balances the narrative with an expert deftness and gives the reader the full story on just about everything that was happening in the world of comic books from 1960 to 1964. No stone is left unturned as Wells walks the reader through a four year period that would begin with the dominance of Dell Publishing and then end with Marvel making its mark and moving into the future with bravado. All the key players are looked at and the prevalence of every genre that existed in the comic world is examined. Humor, kids comics, romance, westerns, and ,yes, superheroes are all looked into with equal depth until it becomes obvious that the men in tights would rise above the fray and claim their place at the top of the heap. Wells does a great job of presenting the facts and lays them out in an interesting and informative way.
The book looks great as well. Full of illustrations, the design of this hardcover is classy indeed. The outer cover gives it an air of respectability and the visual content of the inner pages should give fans familiar with the four color world of ‘60’s comics something to be happy about. The design and editing team responsible for this book should hold their heads up high as they have put together a project that looks to be exactly what it is: a history of comics that strives to give the history of the comic book industry the respectability it deserves.
Twomorrows Publishing should be proud of this achievement. If all of the American Comic Book Chronicles books are as comprehensive as this one this series could very well be regarded as required textbook reading in any course that studies the historical aspect of comics or pop culture in general. I know that I, for one, will be ordering the next book American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980’s as soon as it becomes available as well as all of the other subsequent tomes that follow it.