Monday, August 15, 2011

Sidebar: The Essential Marvel Age Reference Project 1961-1977, by Barry Pearl

  • If you're a regular reader of this blog, and specifically the oft-illuminating discussions that go on in the comments of each post, you might have noticed the name Barry Pearl attached to some of the most thorough and frequent thoughts. Like his longtime friend Nick Caputo, Barry grew up in 1960s New York City, which provides a specific utility to his insights; after all, he was absolutely the target demographic, being a school kid in this decidedly magical era, picking up his comic books at the newsstands and candy shops every week. He's never lost his love for early Marvel, and for the last few decades - no joke - he's been steadily compiling a book about those transformative comics: The Essential Marvel Age Reference Project 1961-1977. And it's finally out!

  • So: What's in this book? I'm glad you asked! Simply put, it's a stunningly rich and comprehensive look at the early years of Marvel, with a scope and scale never before attempted. For instance, after some background material on Marvel's Golden Age and setting the scene (the early 1960s), Barry delves into the seismic shift that 1961's Fantastic Four #1 delivered, then charts how this new kind of comic gradually affected all of Marvel's output through the rest of that decade, and into the 1970s. In fact, you might recognize that particular approach as similar to the remit of this very blog! There's a reason that readers such as Barry and Nick were drawn to the discussions that grow in these posts, after all. Great minds think alike!

  • And it's this contextual insight that I find the most fascinating, wherein Barry discusses growing up in that specific time and place. See, some of the most welcome additions that readers have brought to the comments in this blog are the moments when one of them (for instance) point out how a certain Iron Man story was influenced by a hotly-anticipated blockbuster film. Which might then segue into a discussion on how films were released back then. Or which public figures certain characters were based on. And these kinds of details are so valuable! Due to the reprint editions currently available, often in a variety of forms, anyone who wishes to can read the old comics that were so incredibly foundational to today's comic book industry - but the one thing those reprints can't deliver is the historical context in which these comics were published. In this book, thankfully, Barry provides that in spades.

  • But that's not all! As indicated by its title, this is first and foremost a reference book, and the amount of data he's compiled is truly staggering. Every issue of every comic has a listing - with cover dates, characters, and full creator credits. Additional charts show the entire Marvel output on a year-by-year, month-by-month basis, so you can see at a glance exactly what the House of Ideas was releasing in any given period. And, most impressive of all, character maps purport to list every appearance in every title of just about every character - in chronological order. If you're familiar with the Marvel resources available on the Internet, you might recognize this as similar in design to the awesome Marvel Chronology Project - but in this case, it's era-specific and, most usefully, doesn't require one to be online to access it. And unlike the community-created MCP, this gargantuan undertaking is largely the work of one author! As I said before: Staggering. (A full list of the features and contents is detailed here.)

  • Yet even with all that insight, all that context, all that data and more ... it's still not done. After all, Da Vinci famously said that "Art is never finished, only abandoned" - a thought that most artists can probably sympathize with, as they keep seeing opportunities for improvement in their works. In fact, Barry continues to tinker with the book. And this is good news! See, even though the book is more than complete - staggeringly more - he keeps refining it; keeps finding more and more additions that belong in this fantastically comprehensive study. For instance, when Barry sent me the then-current edition of his book last year, I was amazed at just how much it contained. And yet the newest edition now features extensive hyperlinks, audio snippets of interviews and theme songs, and video clips too. It's a full multimedia experience!

  • In conclusion: Hopefully you'll forgive me for this bald and overly-blatant plug - but with any luck I've been able to convey to you that this is a product I am absolutely excited by, and think is entirely suited to the tastes of the readers of this blog. After all, over 1000 pages of context, data, reference and reviews? At $35, that's a steal! No, I'm not a paid shill in any way; I really am just that bowled over by the enormity of the work that Barry has put in on this compendium over many, many years, and would love to see it reach as much of its intended audience as possible.

    If you think that might be you - I strongly urge you to check it out!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not Dead Yet

Sorry for the lack of updating here. For the past several weeks, I was hit with the double-whammy of swamped under work AND sick from multiple causes. I'm just about recovered on that front, and have (mostly) dug myself out from under the other, so hopefully content should resume very soon...!