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REVIEW: Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present

Although it has its blind spots, Comics: A Global History does an admirable job balancing breadth with depth and draws fascinating connections art, narrative, readership, publishing, and more across time and geography.

Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present
Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner
Thames & Hudson, 2014
publisher site | WorldCat

Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner construct their impressive history by breaking down significant periods mostly in the United States, Japan, and Europe, where they examine developments in the comics culture. Among many others, these developments include the evolution of manga genres based on audience age and gender in Japan, a progressive darkening in the tone of American superhero comics, and the many aesthetic and philosophical schools of European comics collectives. The book is made more accessible (and more beautiful) by reproducing hundreds of pages or panels of comics from around the world, many of which have not been published in English.

As the subtitle indicates, Mazur and Danner begin their history in 1968, which they suggest is the approximate year that cartoonists around the world began truly creating comics for an adult audience. As a result, not only are works before 1968 are barely acknowledged, but also works for children makes very little appearance. Also absent are large geographical areas (most of Asia and Latin America, and all of Africa are left out) and newspaper strips. Up to a point it's understandable -- constraints have to be created somewhere -- but I still would have preferred an explanation for why the authors made these choices, or at least recommendations for further reading in those missing areas. More than anything, I lament these gaps because the authors do such a great job at what they do cover, and it's hard not to wish for a follow-up volume that covers the years prior, a history of children's comics, and so on.

Even with its flaws, this is a book I feel all comics librarians should read. The connections that Mazur and Danner illuminate would inform any librarian's work whether that's academic research, archival interpretation, or reader's advisory at any age (though children's and school librarians are left with abstract guidance rather than titles to list). To a lesser extent it could also be used to aid collection development and, because of its deep examination of certain creators and titles, could aid in programming. Comics: A Global History isn't a perfect book, but it's one of the best out there.