COMIC BOOK CONFIDENTIAL
Review by Michael Jacobson
Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, William M. Gaines, Bill Griffith, Jack Kirby,
Director: Ron Mann
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 85 Minutes
Release Date: July 23, 2002
Mann has an eye for all things modern and cultural, particularly those things
that delighted the youth and scared the crap out of the parents.
His documentaries have included amusing takes on the history of marijuana
(Grass) and sinful rock dancing (Twist), plus one on the evolution
of every parents’ burden at one time or another:
the comic book.
Book Confidential is a look at the evolution of an art form, how it both reflected and
acted upon changes in modern culture, and what American views concerning comics
over the years were. It talks to
many of the giants of the industry, from the big-name successes to the
underground smugglers…each sharing his or her own part of the history and
giving their views on the comic book revolution-turned-evolution in the process.
must confess, I never got into comics as a kid, so I never had to go through the
“stop reading that trash” experience with my parents the way a lot of other
youths did. As such, I was hoping
for a documentary that focused more on the comics themselves and less on the
cultural perception of them. Many
of the names featured in the film mean nothing to me; had I been an aficionado,
I might have considered this collection of talent the holy grail of ink and
traces the history of the comics from the early superhero pages that reflected
good, pure American values through their inevitable troubled times.
Comics, like the rest of the country, started losing their innocence when
the horrible reality of the nuclear age became a part of our everyday lives.
William Gaines started a revolution by incorporating horror into his
comic books. The kids were
disturbed, but loving it, while the parents were shocked and outraged.
eventual conception of a “code” to insure decency in comics may have been
nothing more than an attempt at censorship, but it really only served to drive
the art form underground. There,
artists like R. Crumb and Spain found the freedom to draw whatever they wished
and to tell whatever stories they wanted to tell.
my perception, the biggest problem was simply that at no time during the
evolution of comics was it clearly mentioned that these books weren’t always
for children. Parents who were
comfortable with their kids reading “Little Lulu” probably had a right to be
up in arms about them perusing “Tales From the Crypt”. By the time artists were experimenting with more adult
oriented material, it had already been ingrained in our collective conscience
that comic books were a kids’ medium…nobody ever said otherwise, and
that’s why kids still ended up buying books that were arguably too advanced in
subject matter for them.
that’s just my point of view. Mann
and the artists he assembled prefer to argue that keeping horror and sex comics
out of children’s hands was a censorship issue.
They were probably right in assuming that the more their works were
withheld from youngsters the more they would want to see them.
nice touch is that many of the artists included actually read aloud one of their
comic stories as the camera focuses in on their art panels.
That gives a more intimate feel to some of the work.
The background stories are usually sparse (there are 22 artists squeezed
into an hour and a half), so for my money, those moments are really the closest
we get to the creators and their creations.
Comic Book Confidential is a documentary made by a fan for other fans.
I’m not one of them, and I didn’t get my wish in hoping the film
would be geared toward appreciating comics more.
For those who already love the art form, go ahead and add another star to
my rating…this movie might be just the ticket you’re looking for.
not much to get excited about here…the film is over a decade old, and
obviously wasn’t created with cinematography or texture in mind.
The stock is a bit dingy from time to time, and images are sometimes a
tad murky as a result. It’s a watchable effort, but not an exemplary one.
the audio is a simple stereo mix for a picture that’s largely dialogue
oriented…a few subtle sound effects and bits of music are welcome, but don’t
particularly stand out. Spoken
words are clean and clear, and that’s really the best you could ask for.
a bad selection of extras here…for starters, the insert booklet has a short
bio blurb for each of the featured artists, including some of their artwork.
On the disc itself, you get a short introduction from Kevin Smith, a
seven minute interview with Ron Mann, a comic book archive featuring a story by
each artist, plus trailers for this and two other Mann films, Grass and Twist.