The Expert You've Never Heard Of

By | Tuesday, April 24, 2007 2 comments
One of the reasons I switched from focusing my studies/research on comic book characters to comic history itself is that it's much more expansive. There are a huge number of stories featuring Spider-Man, for example, and I could read each and every one of them and have them all memorized backwards and forwards. And at that point, I would know everything there is about Spider-Man. See, he's a fictional character. Which means that his existance, despite his longevity, is decidedly finite. We (collectively) know everything there is to know about him because anything that is known about him has already been published in the forms of the stories themselves. What we don't know about him simply doesn't exist. We don't know, for example, what he had for breakfast yesterday because, simply, breakfast didn't exist for him yesterday. More to the point, Spider-Man himself didn't exist yesterday to have breakfast.

So, continuing to study these characters, it seems to me, was becoming decreasingly useful because it would cost (financially) more and more to learn about increasingly trivial minutia. And I started studying the art form itself, as well as its history and its impact in the real world. There's more there to study and a greater challenge to uncover that obscura since much of it happened but was not recorded. What about that infamous golf game where Martin Goodman was told how great the JLA was selling? If it wasn't with DC's publisher -- which I always thought sounded questionable -- who was it with? (For the record, my money's on Paul Sampliner, who founded Independent News, the distributor of both DC and Marvel's comics at the time.)

In any event, in my studies of comic book writings, the name of M. Thomas Inge has cropped up repeatedly. On my lunch hour today, I started on his book Comics as Culture and was impressed with his chapter showing the preponderance of common expressions and collaquialisms that came directly from comic books and strips. He also had an impressive arguement for embracing the word "comics" despite many of them not actually being funny. I haven't personally seen most of them, but he reportedly has over 50 books to his credit and has donated quite a collection to Virginia Commonwealth University.

From the little I've read of his work thus far -- I have a few scattered essays on top of the book I cited earlier -- he not only treats comics with an inordinate amount of respect, but he understands them in a way few people seem to. He's able to keep things in a historical context, and show their social relevance at the time. I can't think of anyone offhand who really has this sort of perspective across the entire medium and speak to it in a freshingly simple, yet intelligent manner.

If you haven't come across Inge's work -- and it would honestly surprise me if you did -- I recommend trying to track down some of his comic book writings, and seeing if he can't enlighten your own comic book sensibilities.
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Anonymous said...

Isn't that the guy that Robby Reed at Dial B did a big thing on, a while ago? I'd forgotten all about that, still meaning to take a look...

I don't recall seeing anything about Inge on DBfB, but I didn't follow it that closely. A quick search didn't turn up anything, either, but let me know if you do find something about Inge there.