by Ron Goulart



378pp/$49.95/October 2004

Comic Book Encyclopedia
Cover by J. Scott Campbell

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Ron Goulart's Comic Book Encyclopedia is a lavishly produced, heavily illustrated book with  detailed entries on numerous comic book characters (not just superheroes), comic lines, artist and writers.  Beginning with a description of A-1 Comics, which ran from 1944 through 1955, the encyclopedia continues with entries through to Zorro.  While this isn't to indicate that the Comic Book Encyclopedia is universal in its coverage, it does cover a great many comics and characters.

The information in the book actually includes the beginning and end endpages, which provide a timeline of comic books from the introduction of Comic Monthly in 1922 through the introduction of the DC Focus line in 2004.  This chronology is extremely useful in laying out some of the important dates in the history of comic books, most notably, but not limited to, explaining what is meant by Golden, Silver and Platinum Age comics, terms used throughout the book.

One of the useful aspects of the book is that Goulart has not limited himself to just the big two publishers (Marvel and DC) nor to superheroes.  The book includes entries for Mad Magazine, Nickel Comics, and Felix the Cat.  All of these entries are informative and interesting manner.  They provide enough detail to explain what or who the entry is about without getting into too much minutiae.

As noted, the book isn't complete.  Some characters who are mentioned quite a bit in other entries do not have entries of their own.  Green Arrow and Hawkman are characters who do not rate an entry of their own, although they are referred to in 11 and 7 other entries respectively.  Obviously this is a matter of editorial selection since the book had to have a limited length, but it would have been nice if Goulart had provided some indication of what his criteria were for including or not including characters.

Goulart provides a detailed look not only of characters, but also of the history of comics, which includes his look at various writers.  These range from short career sketches of some of the Golden Age writers like Gardner Fox to some of the latest names like Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore.  Illustrators are also given credit in the book and the reader can not only read about Dave Gibbons, but can also see examples of their art.  It would be nice, however, if Goulart could have given indications of which books and which issues the art samples are taken from near the actual pictures instead of the more general art credits relegated to the back of the book.

In addition to tracing the history of comics in words, the book appropriately gives an indication of the manner in which comic art has changed over the years, showing influence of other art forms, most recently anime, in the depiction of humans and their settings.  The multiple illustrations of Captain America on pages 72 and 73 (including two different versions of the Red Skull) clearly show that while some aspects of the characters remain the same, there are significant changes in style and detail through the years.

While Comic Book Encyclopedia has its drawbacks, most notably its inability to  be comprehensive, it does an excellent job in providing information on the topics Goulart is able to cover and does so in a colorful manner befitting the subject.  The book not only wets the appetite, but it delivers the goods.

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