Thursday, 30 May 2013

Review: A History of Underground Comics

I was asked to write a review of this, so here we go...

A History of Underground Comics, 20th Anniversary Edition, by Mark James Estren

Ronin Publishing, 2012  -  326 pages, $29.95  

As reviewing goes, I'm going to have to be partisan on this one. And not just because I'm thrilled that History is finally back in print, but because Mark James Estren's account of the rise and reasons for the Underground Comics Phenomenon, speaks directly to those of us who know or ought to know the importance of the Artists who founded it.

This book is not an impartial document, it is an impassioned and thoroughly informed tale of the men and women who made this history, and of the cultural artefacts (Comix to you and me!) that they produced for us.

Estren's account of these times is lucidly composed of research, essays and first hand accounts (The conversation between the author and Harvey Kurtzman, discussing S Clay Wilson, ((p 67)), is one of its many gems!)

From our vantage point of 21st Century hindsight, we can see the politics (The Cold War, Nixon, Vietnam) and then the Counter-Culture that inspired these drug taking, art school drop-outs to risk their liberties drawing scurrilous, pornographic cartoons. But, when we look at the insipid state of culture today, we must applaud Estren for reminding us of the gung-ho attitudes, reckless bravery and sheer insane creative genius that produced these innovative, funny, provocative works to inspire us.

There have been other studies of the Underground Comix scene, but Estren's, if not a "definitive" one (as he says), certainly feels like one of the most authentic.

A History of Underground Comics, 20th Anniversary Edition is a must-have keep-it-close-by item for all of us "Alternative" cartoonists/Artists, and everyone else who should know this stuff.

Steve Gibson

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