Thoughts on Comic Book Encyclopedia

In Josh Behar’s “Letter From The Editor” foreword to comics historian’s Ron Goulart’s Comic Book Encyclopedia, the Senior Editor of HarperCollins Publishers proclaims the book as “the greatest thing out there – bar none.”

It is a beautifully produced encyclopedia, I will grant you; lavishly illustrated, packed with detailed entries both obvious and obscure. It is quite the Christmas gift for a comics enthusiast, although keep in mind that the gift-giver will be set back $50.00. Unfortunately, it must also be taken into account that there are problems with this weighty tome.

Be prepared for some unforgivable omissions. No comics encyclopedia with almost 400 pages and being touted as the “best” has the right to overlook such industry giants as Julius Schwartz and Robert Kanigher, or such popular characters as Green Arrow and The Joker. I’m not saying they’re not mentioned at all (sadly, I can do that for artists Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell), but for them not to have their own entries, well, it’s as bad as the new Rolling Stone Album Guide omitting the work of ex-Beatle George Harrison.

There are unsightly errors. For example, the Green Lantern II entry is on Hal Jordan, but the comic cover that goes with it depicts Kyle Rayner. In the same entry, Hal Jordan is cited as meeting his demise in Zero Hour, when actually it was in The Final Night. There are also many historical dates that are off by a year or two. All Star Comics was revived in 1975, not 1974. Comic book historians are going to have a field day listing boo-boos like that, and they are sprinkled throughout the book.

Some of the entries are questionable. A full page on Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, but nothing on Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor? Almost a full page on Blue Devil, but nary a mention of Justin Green’s influential Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary (which I’ll be touting until the entire world wakes up and gets it)? A detailed entry on Marvel’s Longshot but no information on writer/artist Peter Kuper’s body of work? While playing the game of What Is And Isn’t Included, this book will provoke a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking.

And that’s a shame, because there is so much to praise about the Comic Book Encyclopedia. Goulart’s entry on The Creeper focuses on the sadly neglected Beware The Creeper miniseries published by DC in 2003. That was a genuine surprise. Goulart does not skimp on obscure comic book characters, and this book is much the better for it. I had never heard of The Eye, easily one of the strangest superheroes of all time because the character was nothing more than a flying eye with the ability to expand, shrink, shoot bolts of flame and power rays, and project a searchlight beam. The Eye appeared in Keen Detective Funnies in 1939 and 1940. What a captivating entry! And I give Goulart points for including entries on Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth and artists Ruben Moreira, Joe Maneely, and Bernard Baily. Honestly, this is a tremendously ambitious, informative, entertaining, and welcome book, but, argh!, the blatant errors!

I recommend Comic Book Encyclopedia to die-hard comic books fans, with reservation. And I recommend this book to new comic book readers, also with reservation. It is undoubtedly a labor of love on Goulart’s part, and that does show. There are hundreds of entries here on comics, characters, writers, and illustrators, spanning almost seventy years of comics history. It’s quite the overview. But it’s the kind of reference book that invites scrutiny because of its lofty ambitions, somewhat sloppy proofreading, and noticeable omissions. Still, this particular reader’s discovery of a wealth of flaws should not bury this book, because its heart is in the right place. It simply deserves to be better. I hope a revised and improved edition of the Comic Book Encyclopedia is under consideration so I can cancel my reservations.

About The Author

Jim Kingman

Jim Kingman is a writer for Comics Bulletin