Typically, these types of books tend to offer one thing. An analysis, an account, humour, an exploration etc. It’s rare that an academic recount of a comics movement can offer all those things. But Greg Carpenter has managed it.
Author: Greg Carpenter
Publisher: Sequart Organization
With 465 pages Carpenter expertly teaches readers about the effect three British writers had on the comics industry in the ‘80s. But that’s not all he does. He also offers some pretty in depth analysis of seminal issues and graphic novels from that period. This is possibly the deepest exploration of the ‘80s comic book industry ever published.
If that sounds a bit dry then don’t worry, Carpenter has a real knack for telling the reader everything they need to know with a friendly tone. He’s like that smart friend you go on a night out with and learn facts from. He has a dry sense of humour that feels like the contemporary adult equivalent of the Stan Lee ‘hey pal how’s it going’ tone. But that tone never compromises the work. In places he has harsh words for certain comics or publishers but it never feels unjustified. His humour works well to make any serious condemnation come across as a critical joke.
Likewise the tone never makes him favour any writer over the others. While there is possible bias towards the work of the three writers over the likes of The Death of Superman (although who can blame him) the book talks about each writer fairly and gives everyone a equally critical examination. Career highs are celebrated and missteps are mentioned. The book is structured well so the reader is guided through the careers of the writers near enough at the same time. It gets somewhat formulaic with the ‘Moore chapter, Gaiman chapter, Morrison chapter’ structure but luckily the strong analysis pushes the reader on.
As for actual content this book is a goldmine for comics fans. Or anyone interested in how three people can change an industry so much. I must admit if you know a lot about any one of the three writers there’s a chance you won’t learn much new about them. Personally, I got the book to help with my dissertation on Morrison and didn’t pick up much new information about him. But I learned a great deal about Moore and Gaiman. And assuming there isn’t that many people like me who read up on writer’s like Morrison then I’d say there’s a good chance many will learn from this book.
Concerning the analysis, it’s pretty good but I have some issues with it. If you’ve studied any of the comics included in this book (which is a lot) then chances are you’ve considered the arguments Carpenter will make. He tends to compare everything to their creators however and it can get tiring. I almost wanted to make it a drinking game, a shot for every time Carpenter says, “this could represent [the writer].” But this book is too informative to disrespect like that.
I firmly believe there should be more books like this getting published. Carpenter treats comics as literature and barely stops to argue why. It was writers like Moore, Gaiman and Morrison who first suggested comics could be ‘grown up’ and intellectual back in the ’80s and yet we still get academic articles on why comics should be taken seriously. Just take them serious. Analyse them like the art they are and that shows why we should take them seriously.
If you’re really into comics history or the British Invasion period then Carpenter’s interview with Karen Berger that’s also included is fantastic and interesting. As far as historical accounts of comic book periods go this is really one of the best. Certainly the one I’d recommend for the ‘80s onwards.
It’s a minor note but the decision to name every chapter after a song by a British Invasion band is funny and adds to the tone Carpenter has created for himself. I can only imagine him saying it with a sly smile, aware what he’s said is funny but not expecting laughs.
Overall I’d recommend this to any fan of comics. The information offered is second to none. Literally nothing compares to this. If any of the three writers explored interest you then pick this up. I read this to learn about Morrison and came away with so much knowledge on not just Moore and Gaiman but also the comics industry and possible comic interpretations. There should be more books like this, ones that treat comic books with respect without beating you over the head that they can be for adults too.
Recommendation: read this book – if – You’re interested in the comics industry or the three writers examined.