As a lifelong fan of all things creative and comic bookish, I’ve always been fascinated by the dark corners of popular culture: the overlooked stories, the uncredited creators who defined generations of entertainment, the characters that become household names while the artists behind them languished in anonymity. And over the last couple months, there’ve been a few books released that focus on particularly deserving subjects. So this column is dedicated to discussing a trio of these volumes – three books that shine light on forgotten (or under-recognized) figures, and add invaluable perspective for any fan with an interest in understanding the landscape and history of mass media.
The Alluring Art Of Margaret Brundage
(by Stephen D. Korshak and J. David Spurlock, published by Vanguard Productions)
So this book is quite an accomplishment: a brilliantly-researched volume tracing the never-before told story of not just a great artist, but a woman who rose to the top of an industry dominated by men, who created some of the most striking illustrations ever seen on the newsstands of mid-century America, and who played a previously-untold role in the Chicago renaissance and the first stirrings of American counterculture. Authors Stephen D. Korshak and J. David Spurlock dig deep to unearth long-lost interviews, and present a complete and well-rounded picture of his woman, her work, and her personal life – profusely illustrated with photos, sketches, and high-quality reproductions of Brundage’s indelible imagery. The drama and intrigue of her story could be the basis for a great Hollywood film, the true details of her life every bit as compelling as the demons and damsels in fantastic pictures she composed.
Bazooka Joe And His Gang–60th Anniversary Collection
(by R. Sikoryak and others, published by Abrams ComicArts)
This is a heaping helping of history, full of all the stale jokes and childlike wonder that the Bazooka name conjures up for generations of Americans – and in a perfect nostalgic touch, it’s even packaged in a wax paper dust cover that emulates the look and feel of classic candy packaging.
Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures Of Jerry Seigel And Joe Shuster–The Creators Of Superman
(by Brad Ricca, published by St. Martin’s Press)
And despite the major beats of Superman’s creation being well-known to most comic fans, there have been many details that just haven’t been discussed. Comic history isn’t always well-documented (it wasn’t until the 70s, four decades after the first comics appeared on newsstands, that long-form scholarly works on the field began to appear), and much of the existing documentation comes from oral sources, or recollections of long-ago events. Remember, comics were a disposable medium through the mid-20th century, drawing mostly mainstream scorn and derision, and very few people thought it was worthwhile to compile contemporaneous accounts of their production. On top of all that, Siegel and Shuster were intensely proud and private men, willing to talk about their famous character, but not always to speak candidly about the circumstances surrounding his genesis.
But in this book, Brad Ricca works something little short of a miracle. He creates a complete and well-rounded picture of the creators and the process of creation, builds a complex narrative from a staggering amount of research, and gives far greater insight into the genesis of Superman and the circumstances surrounding those events than any previous account has accomplished. The writing is crisp and easy, the narrative is compelling, and the pages are profusely illustrated with pertinent images (many of which have never been reprinted in other volumes) – it tells an often-repeated story in a whole new way, and sheds fresh light on a vital piece of cultural history.