Comics : The Art of Spider-Man Classic

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: Jun 2013.

Background...

This book is landscape format, 11.5" wide x 10.25" tall. It has a sturdy hard cover with a dust jacket, and contains 240 glossy full-colour pages. It's one of several "Marvel Art" books published around that time.

In Detail...

The Art of Spider-Man Classic
Dec 2011 : SM Title
Find ISBN 9780785157502
Summary: Part of the Marvel Arts Series
Writer:  Chris Arrant, Dugan Trodglen, Jess Harrold, Robert Greenberger
Writer/Editor:  John Rhett Thomas
Cover Art:  John Romita, Sr.
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Review

I hadn't really expected much from this book. I figured I was going to see a series of reprinted covers of Amazing Spider-Man, like some sort of poor man's version of The Amazing Spider-Man 500 Covers 1962-2003.

I was quite mistaken. Instead, this book is a well-guided tour of Spider-Man comic book artwork from 1962 to 2011. It features covers, splash pages, panels, and the occasional bit of pencil sketching.

The book is entitled "The Art of Spider-Man Classic", although the term "Classic" is used in its widest sense to also include "Modern Classics".

Most of the chapters are separated by decade, although there is a dedicated chapter for Spider-Man's top twelve villains, and another which spotlights the women in Peter Parker's life. The final chapter is indeed the obligatory sampling of classic covers.

Each of the decade chapters begins with a one-page summary of the key Spider-Man events during that period, then breaks down to cover those key periods in more detail. Then within each period, there is a focus on the individual artists who put their stamp on Marvel's best-loved hero at that time.

For each artist, there's a well-chosen portfolio of their work, along with information about their background and previous experience, comments on their style, and summary of the legacy they left to Spider-Man.

In General...

Despite having been a Spider-Man collector for three decades, it is only in the latter half of my collecting career that I came to develop any real appreciation of the creative talent behind my favorite comic book.

For the first ten years of collecting, I really paid no attention at all to the names on the credits page. I considered the label "Spider-Man Comic" to be full and sufficient. It was no concern of mine who Marvel paid to create the comic. I judged each book as "good or bad", with no particular interest in who had made it thus.

Then my thick skull gradually began to acknowledge that certain story runs seemed to be consistent in art style and tone of story-telling. I came to recognise the extreme art of Bill Sienkiewicz and Fred Hembeck, then Sal Buscema. Writers like Peter David and J.M. DeMatteis had a style so powerful I eventually had to recognise it. Then I went back and learned to tell Ditko from Romita Sr, and Stan Lee from Marv Wolfman.

It's a little embarrassing to confess my former ignorance. All I can say in defence is that my affection for Spider-Man was so strong that it overwhelmed the underlying details.

But that's a poor defence. As comic lovers, we all owe our debt to the individuals who write and illustrate the comics we read, collect, dissect and critique. At the very least, we owe those people recognition.

Overall Rating...

This book is attractive, well-constructed, interesting, and informative. You should buy it, especially if (like me) you feel an urge to improve your recognition, understanding and appreciation of the various contributions made by the key artistic creative forces behind Spider-Man.

The only downside I can suggest is that the later chapters referring to the most recent events (One More Day, Brand New Day) are perhaps a little bit careful to avoid any sense of criticism. The writers seem to lose their objectivity when addressing any modern story-lines.

Regardless, I'm going to give this book a near-perfect four-and-half-webs.

Footnote...

The "old" artwork in this book has been thoroughly cleaned-up to look just as fresh and vibrant as the modern artwork. In one sense, that's a shame. Those sixty-year-old comics have done great service, and they should wear their antiquity as a badge of honor. But I can understand the difficulty of mixing old and new artwork in a single book - there's a real danger of ending up with something that looks muddled and confused.