They're Foreigners, I Tell Ya!

By | Saturday, March 28, 2009 1 comment
I recently finished Bad Language, Naked Ladies, And Other Threats To The Nation: A Political History Of Comic Books In Mexico by Anne Rubenstein. It's a fascinating (if occasionally dry) examination of the Mexican comic book industry, viewed through the eyes of politics. Hence, there's more discussion about censorship fights and publishers' business dealings than the actual content and creators. (Though those subjects are indeed covered.)

At the end, though, what ultimately struck me most -- aside from some curious parallels with the U.S. comics industry's fights against censorship -- was how few books are available here in the States discussing non-American comics. We can pick up reprints of Judge Dredd and Asterix, as well as a good selection of manga, but broader discussions are limited here, thanks largely to our collective ego-centrism.

So, in the interest of cultural awareness, I thought I'd note some sources available here which discuss non-American comics.

Manga is probably the most widely read non-American comics form here, and there are in fact a number of books on the subject. A quick search on Amazon turns up: One Thousand Years of Manga by Brigitte Koyama-Richard, Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics by Paul Gravett, Manga: Webster's Timeline History, 1615 - 2007 by Philip M. Parker, and Manga: The Complete Guide by Jason Thompson. All published in the past few years. Going back a few years, there's also Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics by Frederik L. Schodt from 1986. I can't say I've read any of these book personally, but I am familiar with some of Gravett's other books and he has a great grasp on the subject of comics overall and writes well.

Speaking of Gravett, one of his books that I have read is Great British Comics: Celebrating a Century of Ripping Yarns and Wizard Wheezes. It's a good overview of British comics, with lots of excellent examples. While I'm sure he had to gloss over a number of good comics because of limited space issues, he certainly provides a wealth of information for those looking to get caught up to speed. (Hint: there's a lot more to British comics than 2000AD.)

Martin Baker focused more specifically on the anti-comics backlash from the middle of the 20th century in A Haunt of Fear: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign. As this has some eerie-sounding echoes of the American and Mexican anti-comics attacks from about the same period, I'm interested in seeing this to make comparisons across cultures.

As far as Canadian comics go, the only book I'm aware of is The Great Canadian Comic Books by Michael Hirsh. It was originally published in 1971 and has been long out-of-print in book form. However, Roy Thomas was able to re-publish it (with some small updates/corrections) a couple years ago in Alter Ego #71. It's a bit shorter than I'd prefer, but still a solid overview with some concentration on the key movers and shakers, both in regards to creators as well as characters.

Finally, while not actually "foreign", I feel I should also mention some books focusing on other under-represented (at least here in the U.S.) comic histories...
You know, I'm all for good books on comic history like The Ten-Cent Plague and Men of Tomorrow but I'd personally like to see more inclusiveness in the overall tapestry of comics history. It is refreshing to see a lot of recent acknowledgment of Jewish influences on comics, but given the comparatively large number of Jews in the industry, it's difficult not to make that acknowledgment.

That said, I think it's important that people interested in comics have at least some knowledge or basic understanding of comics, as it pertains to cultures beyond American white guys making comics about American white guys for American white guys. Pick up a few of the books I've mentioned here, and expand your horizons.
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re : Canadian comics

Bell, John, ed. Canuck Comics. Montreal: Matrix Books, 1986.

Bell also wrote Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe (Dundurn Press, 2006)