Crawford’s Encyclopedia of comic books

1st prinitng.438 pages, B&W. Sobrecapa em mau estado. Despite the title, “Crawford’s Encyclopedia of Comic Books” is not a look at the comic books, characters, writers and artists all arranged in alphabetical order. Instead, Hubert H. Crawford is organized around the companies that published comic books in the United States during the 20th century. Crawford’s volume is something of an apologia for an art form that was essentially discarded as “trash” by the 1970s, mainly as a result of the controversy that created the Comics Code Authority. Pointing out that while there have been some elements of certain comic books that have justified such criticism, Crawford contends that the positive aspects of this highly creative art form have been completely overlooked. Consequently the encyclopedia is more of a series of brief histories of the major and minor comic book publishes from 1935, when Superman was created, through the mid-1950s, when the comic book industry toppled, personified by what happened to E.C. comics. Crawford examines the comic book as a magazine of pictorial fantasy that combined the three essential creative elements of the cover, the story concept, and the graphic execution of the story concept. The book is richly illustrated with covers, panels, and even examples of pages and short stories from various issues (some of which are reproduced in color). Included within these pages you will find the following: (1) D.C. Comics/National Periodical has two-page color reprints of the original of Superman and Batman, and focuses much more on the Caped Crusader than the Man of Steel, including almost two dozen examples from some of Batman’s key moments in those early adventures. Crawford also coves Wonder Woman, the Flash, the Green Lantern, the Specter, and the original Justice Society of America; (2) Quality Comics Group, eventually absorbed by D.C. who took over Plastic Man and Blackhawk, also created Doll Man, Samar, the Black Condor, Madame Fatal, and Hercules; (3) King Features Syndicate brought us Popeye (in Segar’s “Thimble Theater”), The Little King, Bringing Up Father, Flash Gordon, Henry, Mandrake the Magician, Blondie, the Phantom, and Prince Valiant, with both original stories and reprints of weekly/Sunday comics; (4) Fawcett Publications was home to Captain Marvel and the entire Marvel family, as well as Spy Smasher and Captain Midnight; (5) Fiction House introduced Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Wambi the Jungle Boy, playing off the Tarzan craze, as well as having space adventures with “Planet Comics”; (6) Dell Publications had both Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates in its stable, as well as Supermind (and Son), but made its reputation with Walter Lantz’s Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker, the Walk Disney titles such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and the Looney Tunes gang starring Bugs Bunny; (7) Gilberton Publishing Company provided Classic Comics; (8) Lev Gleason Publications had the original Daredevil and his juvenile sidekicks, and published “Boy Comics.” (9) E.C. Publications was the center of the storm over comic books in the 1950s, but Crawford focuses more on the company’s celebrated science fiction titles, “Weird Science” and “Weird Fantasy,” as well as the original comic book version of “Mad,” than on “Tales From the Crypt” and the company’s horror titles; (10) Fox Features Syndicate had the Flame, the Blue Beetle, Rex Dexter of Mars, and the Dart; (11) Timley/Marvel Comics focuses on the big three of the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America, especially in terms of fighting World War II, only touching on Spider-Man; (12) United Features Syndicate covers comic strips from Tarzan to “Peanuts,” including the transformation of “Fritzi Ritzi” into “Nancy and Sluggo,” to the superhero known as the Sparkman; (13) Eastern Color Printing Company owed its success to an invention of an engraving process that allowed for color to be added to black & white comics and made reprinting old Sunday comic strips possible, such as Buck Rodgers, although the company also had original superheroes such as Bill Everett’s “Hydroman’; and (14) Other Publishers covers all of the comic book publishers circa 1938 to 1942 who did not introduce any significant trends or new characters. The back of “Crawford’s Encyclopedia of Comic Books” includes a chronological summary of the development of comic book literature, starting with the introduction of the dime novel in 1860 to 1978, when Buck Rogers was revived for television. Overall there is a nice balance between learning about some of the main staples of comic books, such as Batman and Captain America, with discovering long forgotten comic book heroes like Nyoka the Jungle Girl and Bulletman. I also appreciate the way Crawford deals with the economic aspects of the industry and the impact of various technologies and innovations along with the creative side. Some of the examples of stories Crawford chooses to reprint completely and full page sized might strike you as strange, but you have to admit he provides a flavor of what comic books were like during the 1940s and 1950s that goes beyond the mainstream. One caveat: For years I would read students the description of the Classic Illustrated version of “The Iliad” by Homer, because the description of the comic book was so off base: Briseis is a cousin of Achilles raped by Greek soldiers, Hector accidentally slays Patroclus, Agamemnon was supposed to be married to Helen. Reading this aloud to my students was always interesting because there was always a point where they would raise their hands and say “Wait, that’s WRONG!” Of course when I had an opportunity to actually get a copy of “Classics Illustrated” #77 I bought it and discovered that it was not the comic book was wrong but the detailed description in Crawford’s book. Actually I was relieved because the thought that a Classic Comics version of an example of great literature could contain so many mistooks that needed to be corrupted was rather unsettling.

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