While I dabbled in comics in the 1970s as a young child, I didn’t dive headlong into collecting comics until I was around nine years old. Even then, in the 80s, the long shadow cast by artists of the Silver Age still influenced much of what I was seeing and experiencing in comics. Many of them were still producing work, albeit at smaller amounts and with less frequency, if at all, but their impression upon the industry left a lasting effect still felt to this day.
So when I had the chance to review The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, by Arlen Schumer, I was all over it. The Silver Age to me represents a special time in comics that did more than redefine the whole industry; it was, in my opinion, a time of some of the best comic-book stories and art. The Silver Age was also hands down the most influential in the evolution of the artwork.
Prior to the Silver Age, comic art wasn’t bad, and the basic fundamentals of the trade had already been well established, but the Silver Age is the time when conventional thinking on the subject was tested and stretched with new types of visual effects and layouts. The panels, which up until that time had been mostly static, became more of a tool for telling the story than just the borders in which the art was contained. Prior to the Silver Age, there were only a handful of artists, like Will Eisner, who transcended the traditional molds.
The Silver Age of Comic Book Art pays homage to this time period by focusing on eight of the industry giants at the time, most of which were comic-book veterans by the time the Silver Age came about. The book takes an in-depth look at the careers of Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Gene Colon, Jim Steranko, and Neal Adams. It also gives an honorable mentions to others like Murphy Anderson, Wallace Wood, John Buscema (a personal favorite), Nick Cardy, and Curt Swan. It does this by giving us collages of covers and individual panels from the books. As you drink in all the glorious art, you also have commentary by Mr. Schumer about the artist, their creations, and the stories these artists helped create.
Reading this book was a joy. Memories of some of the classics I had read, way back to when I first started reading comics, came flooding back to me. You can see great images of first appearances, and the reinterpretation of established classics from the Golden Age. As I flipped through the book, I couldn’t help but think one thing: more modern artists need to study these classic artists. Modern art, to me at least, seems to have become more cookie cutter in its approach, and it becomes harder to tell one from the other. There is a strong argument that many modern artists have more talent and overall ability than those the proceeded them, and there is some merit to that, but one thing that seems to have not translated from that time to now is the dramatic flare.
The art of the Silver Age brought a dramatic storytelling style, one I think has yet to be met since. You get glimpses of it with certain modern artists, those I consider the true masters of our time, but as a whole it seems the splendor that seemed to pack each page from that era has not been fully embraced by new artists.
The Silver Age of Comic Book Art is a perfect tool for any new comic book fan to get acquainted with this classic era. It’s a great tool for artists looking to study what came before them. I wish there had been more of the sweeping, full-page spreads that the artist of that era created, but the dynamic action and flow of their work can bee seen in what is here, as well as their early interpretations of many classic characters who first appeared during that era.
If I have one complaint about this book, it would be that it’s too small. I know trying to cram such a monumental era of comic-book art into one volume is nearly impossible, and Arlen Schumer did a good job in choosing the artists to represent the era, but I wanted more. I’m sure most who pick up this book, and fans of the Silver Age, could rattle off a handful of other artists who should have been included, but that’s the trouble of a single volume like this — limited space. It would be great if Mr. Schumer could expand this single volume into a series of books, taking a look at maybe two, or even just one artist per volume. I know, easier said than done, but one can hope. I personally would love to see one book on John Buscema all to himself.
I’d recommend The Silver Age of Comic Book Art to any fan of comic art, and especially to fans of the era.