Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers and Pirates
By Bob Levin
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Comics is an artform of weirdos and iconoclasts, an often solitary pursuit that, like my broadcasting professor told me about radio way back when, "You do because you have to, not because you want to -- and certainly not to get rich." Comics Journal writer Bob Levin profiles a number of the artform's most colourful creators in this collection of essays, just about the best book about comics that I've ever read.
Levin's personal approach is key to the book's appeal, coming at his subject matter by way of a childhood spent loving EC Comics and dodging parental and societal disapproval, giving his adult self an informed and insightful overview of comics and the world's (often grudging) relationship to them.
This perspective makes Levin an ideal chronicler of such unique individuals as R. Crumb (and his various, even stranger family members), Chester Brown, Bill Gaines, Jack Katz, Dori Seda and others. Seda and Katz are mostly forgotten by today's comics audience, even most of the smart ones, so Levin's insights and information are particularly appreciated.
I find Katz ripe for discussion, as his First Kingdom was a formative alternative comics experience for me, and it remains a title that I still don't quite have a grasp on after all these years. Levin's piece on Katz offers enough information to convince me the book deserves another look -- but I suspect Levin's look is all the scholarly examination it's ever going to get. Luckily, it's enough.
Outlaws is a fairly unique volume, in that there are plenty of books about comics, but few that are both intelligent and deeply personal. There's a bit of Lester Bangs or Hunter S. Thompson in Levin's writing, and that's exactly what the subject demands: Subjectivity, rabid interest, and just a bit of madness. Essential. Grade: 5/5
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