The Silver Age of Comic Book Art (Archway Publishing)


Rating: 5/5 – Fabulous Examination of the Greats of Silver Age Art.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

If you’re a fan of comicbook art in general and the Silver Age of comics in specific, you must get this book.  If you own the first edition (like I do) consider upgrading to this revised edition.  Arlen Schumer has outdone himself with this refresh, incorporating the text into the layouts in a way that’s an art in itself.  I was able to immerse myself into this book over the past few days, examining it from cover-to-cover, Schumer helping me remember, appreciate and really understand why the art of Carmine Infantine, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Jim Steranko, and Neal Adams is still examined and revered 40-50 years after it was first published.

02.INFANTINO Flash 24-25 ASR

There have been a lot of histories of comics, but this isn’t a history it’s an examination of art with observations suggesting why these images connect with the reader in such a visceral way.  If you’re a comics art historian you may already know some or all of the information imparted by Schumer.  Heck, I knew a lot of it myself, but the way he has of laying it all out on the page made it so entertaining to me to read that I didn’t mind one bit having him remind me of some things and teach me some others.  Once I read the introduction I knew I was in for a heck of a ride, Schumer gives a concise and informative tour of the Silver Age in words and pictures, placing the world of the super-hero comics into the context of key events happening in the real world the fans were living in.

After the introduction we switch gears and dive into eight meaty sections, each devoted to one of the premiere artists of the Silver Age.  What I liked most was the inclusion of so many quotes from the artists themselves and their contemporaries talking about the art and their process.  Extracted from numerous interviews (all annotated and credited in the bibliography), Schumer matches these quoted passages with pictorial examples that bring them to life in full color so much more so than in their original publication format, which was generally text-heavy interviews in fanzines that may have been accompanied by a few black & white pictures.  I have to give huge kudos to Schumer for managing to get permission from Marvel, DC, and the original sources of these interviews to beautifully aggregate all that previously published material with his own observations into something that expands on the source and makes it into something more.  The whole delivered here is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts.

03.COLAN DD 132-133 ASR

Look at the combination of images of Daredevil by Gene Colan shown above (click the image to make it larger).  Read the word balloons, they’re Gene Colan’s words.  Read the other text integrated onto the page with the images.  This is what I’m taking about when I say that Schumer has taken existing art and existing words and combined them together through the lens of his design sense into something so much more.  I’ve loved Gene Colan’s art since I was a kid, he was the first artist I ever saw drawing Daredevil.  To me, this double-page was breathtaking.  And there is so much more just like this throughout the book.

I love comics.  I love comics art. This review is more of a love letter to Schumer and all these wonderful artists than a dissection of anything I’d like to see done differently.   Except I wanted MORE!  I wish the section on Gene Colan was longer than 8 pages.  We get a quick section in the back with 2-4 pages each on Murphy Anderson, Wally Wood, John Buscema, Nick Cardy, and Curt Swan.  I’d love to see a volume 2 of this book with each of these artists examined in more detail.   That’s my only real criticism,  I wish there had been more of this to love!

The Silver Age of Comic Book Art made it into the 2014 NY Time Holiday Gift Guide on November 28th and I heartily second that recommendation.  Buy it for yourself or ask your family and friends to give it to you as a gift this holiday season!  If you own it already, consider giving it as a gift to show someone else just why you love comicbook art so much.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am reviewing a copy of this given to me by the author, the book is being officially released December 5th.  You can buy it direct from Arlen on his web-site and get it autographed!! This book gets my highest recommendation.  Even though I got my copy for free, I’m going to take my own advice and “pay it forward” by gifting copies of this book to a couple of people.  I hope they’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
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