I think Fred Van Lente is a great writer. Action Philosophers and Super-Villain Team-Up M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 were great books. He’s doing a great job working with Greg Pak on Incredible Hercules. I don’t have the budget considerations to be able to buy the multitude of Marvel Adventures and First Classes and such, but I would if I could. I just really dig the guy. He’s got a very natural voice to his writing, and often does a great job of boiling down concepts to the lowest common denominator without robbing it of its importance. Two weeks ago saw the release of Fred’s return to Evil Twin Comics with artist Ryan Dunlavey, their humorous look at the history of the comic book, Comic Book Comics.
This seems like a good move for Ryan and Fred. I loved Action Philosophers, but I could easily see that it wouldn’t be something to buy for those people out there who don’t at all care about philosophy. A comic book about the history of comics told in a funny way seems like it would have a much wider audience. If you read comics (and one would assume that you do if you’re reading this blog), you have a vested interest in the medium, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a stretch to assume a vested interest in the history of comics themselves. And that’s what you’re getting. The first issue covers the very early years of comics, dealing with the Yellow Kid and other early strips and moving up through shortly after the release of Action Comics #1, and finishes with Jacob Kutzberg, who is referred to as the hero of our story, changing his name to Jack Kirby.
But what really shines here is the way that Ryan and Fred tell the story. They are not sticking simply to illustrated comics in the printed medium. Much of the early part of the first issue covers the history of motion picture animation, which isn’t specifically tied to comics, but is still important to the continuation and maturation of the medium. This is why I think this will be a cool title to read, because Ryan and Fred aren’t afraid to go off on tangents to discuss offshoots pertinent to the medium. And it’s very likely that you’re going to learn something. When I was in high school history courses, I remember talking about the whole idea of Yellow Journalism, the notion of newspapers using scandalizing and sensationalizing news to drum up sales, was named after a dispute over the first ever sequential comic strip, The Yellow Kid, to the point that it appeared simultaneously in two warring newspapers.
Ryan’s art is basically the same style that we saw in Action Philosophers, a stylized cartoony version of the real world. We see things like a cameo from their Ubermensch version of Friedrich Nietzsche when discussing Joe Siegel’s Reign of the Superman story that predated the appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, with an awesome looking over stylized Cthulhu standing in a depression era bread line a few panels later. It’s fun and quirky and still perfectly designed to fit the Evil Twin Comics style (which makes sense, considering Ryan is the Evil Twin Comics style, but it definitely fits the narrative).
This is good stuff, which I’ve come to expect from Evil Twin Comics. It’s fun, it’s funny and it’s informative. If you folks out there are at all interested in the history of comics, try and find this book. The first issue is available in stores (maybe) and on the Evil Twin site (www.eviltwincomics.com). It’s not a monthly book, and the second issue has yet to be solicited through Diamond, so keep an eye out. And to close this little review, I thought I’d give you folks a taste of the madness that is the minds of Ryan and Fred, from an interview with Publisher’s Weekly:
PW Comics Week: Was it a conscious decision to give the series a name that would be totally infuriating to anyone using a search engine to find it?
Fred Van Lente: Yeah… I know. (laughs) I found that out the hard way the other day. But I liked the “meta”-ness of the title, you know? I refuse to allow Google to control our naming decisions! And besides, who needs Google when our URL is as insultingly easy asComicbookcomics.com?
Ryan Dunlavey: At one point, I tried to convince Fred we should call the series Comic Book History so that all our press releases would say “Van Lente and Dunlavey make Comic Book History,” but I got so confused trying to explain it to him that I passed out.