Brain Pickings

Comic Books as the Grimms’ Fairy Tales of Pop Culture

On making out the shape of our society through its gods of good and evil.

Comic books can be a medium for serious nonfiction and a canvas for creativity in album art, but they are their own medium with a singular visual vocabulary honed by generations of pioneering artists. In this excerpt from Masters of Comic Book Art (quaintly, only available on VHS), speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison introduces ten of the world’s greatest comic book artists, beginning with the great Jack Kirby.

(He also mentions in passing a curious factoid: there are only five forms of art considered natively American — the banjo, jazz, musical comedy, the mystery story, and comic books.)

Comic books were the training ground for me in terms of ethics, in terms of the things I learned about courage, good and evil, what heroism was, right and wrong. Comic books are the Grimms’ fairy tales of the popular culture — they’re done by serious people who care about the work they do, even as Van Gogh and Magritte and everyone else did.” ~ Harlan Ellison

It’s also fascinating to hear Kirby peel the curtain on the train of curiosity behind his iconic DC Comics series New Gods:

…I began to ask myself… Everybody else has their own gods — what are ours? What is the shape of our society and the form of myth and legend? Who are our gods? Who are our evil gods, and who are our goods ones?”

For a great primer on the making and milestones of the beloved visual storytelling medium, see the 2005 book Masters of American Comics.

Published March 8, 2012




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