Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'The Silver Age of Comic Book Art', by Arlen Schumer



Arlen Schumer’s ‘The Silver Age of Comic Book Art’ (Collector’s Press, 2003, 176 pp.) is a large trade paperback (at nearly 10 “ x 13 “, it didn’t fit into the confines of my scanner).

Author Schumer is a historian of comics and graphic art, and he knows his stuff, and how to present it. This book, as its title indicates, is devoted to the artwork of Silver Age (1956 – 1972) mainstream comic books, with emphasis on 8 of the artists who were foremost in the field. The printing quality of the book is very good, and even when enlarged, the Ben-day dot images of the old comics are rendered in a manner that is pleasing to the eye. 


The layout is consistently interesting and carefully places the covers of the featured comic books on the left and right sides of each page, superimposed on the background graphic – usually a blown-up panel or series of panels. Schumer further mixes things up by overlaying superposed quotes from the featured artist, or his own editorial comments, either as speech balloons or ‘comic book-style’ font headings. The final result is to lend the book its own colorful, Silver Age-inspired visual style. 

The Introduction gives an overview of the Silver Age and the relationship between its revolutionary effect on not just comic book art, but graphic art culture as a whole, particularly the Pop Art movement. There is also some discussion of the way the Silver Age books approached controversial social and political issues within the context of the Civil Rights and Antiwar movements.

The surveyed artists cover the Silver Age in roughly chronological order, starting with Carmine Infantino and his work for The Flash at DC in the late 50s – early 60s. 
Successive chapters turn to Steve Ditko:

Jack Kirby:




Gil Kane:


 Joe Kubert:

 Gene Colan:

 Jim Steranko:



and Neal Adams:

By taking advantage of modern printing technology, author Schumer succeeds in bringing out the artistry innate to these images, something difficult to grasp when viewing the actual comics back in the 60s (much less nowadays), with all the drawbacks of their cheap paper construction, hasty print quality, and crude color separations. 

One appreciates the effort of these artists, who were often assigned to illustrate multiple books each month, with all the attendant deadlines, yet received comparatively meager compensation for properties that brought in sizable amounts of money to the publishers.
If you were a fan of the Silver Age comics from Marvel and DC, you'll want to have this book in your library. And even if nostalgia isn't your 'bag', those interested more in the evolution of illustration and graphic art in American culture also will want a copy.

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