Comic Book Confidential (1989)

Director: Ron Mann
0, PAL



This documentary tells the story of American comics from their very start right through the 1950s and the moral scare that led to public comic book burnings (I kid you not!) until today - or at least 1989, the year in which it was made.

It attempts to this within a mere hour and a half of running time. Obviously it ends up being a mere fleeting glance at what is ? along with jazz - one of the truly original art forms to have come out of America.

Let's face up to it here, folks - comic books deserve a documentary of Ken Burns-ian proportions to do it justice! We're talking an entire TV series here, not just a once-off documentary like Comic Book Confidential.

However, within its limited time frame, Comic Book Confidential still does a good job. As a lifelong comics fan - I have several huge trunks of the stuff I've dragged along with me since childhood - I found it fascinating to finally attach some faces to names well known to me. Watching some of the writers/artists featured here read aloud from their own works with semi-animated examples of their art accompanying them is an unexpected bonus.

One of my favourite vignettes is of a short story about an obsessive jazz collector written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by the legendary Robert Crumb (of Fritz the Cat fame). Being a somewhat compulsive, if not obsessive, collector of 1960s jazz on the Blue Note record label this particular story held special meaning for me.

Watching clips from the 1950s moral scare about comic books corrupting the youth and resulting in juvenile delinquency also made me chuckle appreciatively, not just in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of way, but because they reminded me of my own parents who also blamed a whole variety of ills - particularly any of my bad school grades - on comic books. (One of their complaints was that the bad grammar and spelling in the comics I read would lead to bad grades. This conveniently ignored the fact that I consistently got the highest marks for English in my entire class. To be fair though, comic books usually do contain bad grammar and even worse spelling. Enuff sed.)

Unfortunately the documentary's chronology stops in 1989, so there isn't anything about the boom and bust years of comics in the 1990s for instance. Depending on one's tastes one may also feel that the movie spends too much time on obscure underground adult comics than the superhero stuff you dig, but that's also because of the running time limitations.

THE DISC: This region 2 disc has . . . a menu and scene access. Not even a trailer in sight. Apparently the Region 1 disc (US & Canada) has an introduction by Chasing Amy director Kevin Smith - it is apparently one of his favourite movies. Still, I picked it up for so cheap that I wasn't expecting much in the line of extras.

WORTH IT? If you're a comics fan, then yeah - but just how many of those are there left nowadays? Today's younger generation have computer games instead and statements like "I have never so much as opened one of the Spider-man comic books, but still enjoyed the movie" are depressingly enough becoming more common nowadays. Are there any twentysomethingers out there who still read? As a child I may have been reading crap according to my old man, but at least I was reading something . . .

RECOMMENDATION: Long-time comics fans who haven't yet seen it yet should buy this disc. It may be outdated, but they'll have a blast. However, this documentary is unlikely to win any new converts for what has become a minority interest in the past decade or so. Non-comics fans should try picking up some good graphic novels instead . . .



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