Comics : Comic Book Encyclopedia

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

This review was first published on: 2006.

Background...

A few years back, Marvel produced a run of Marvel Encyclopedia which compiled and updated character profiles of many of their big (and not so big) names. But what if you're looking for something a bit broader? What if you're looking for a more general Comic Book Encyclopedia? Well, then I guess something like this book here is a bit more what you need.

In Detail...

Comic Book Encyclopedia
Oct 2004 : SM Guest
Find ISBN 0060538163
Summary: Spider-Man Entries
Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers
Senior Editor:  Josh Behar
Writer:  Ron Goulart
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Review

This is a large hardcover book. We're talking 9.5" wide by 10.5" tall, and over an inch thick. The cover boasts "Nearly 400 Big Pages". It doesn't say how many small pages. Solid bindings with an embossed dust-jacket, gloss pages and rich edge to edge color clearly signal that this book is designed to be bright and bold, with immediate eye-catching appeal.

Of course, that's all very well, but content is king in a reference book, so let's have a look at the articles. Since most articles are half a page to maybe two pages tops, I'm guessing there are roughly 600 or so articles in the book. The bulk of the topics are (a) Major comic creators and personalities, (b) Key titles and publishers, and finally (c) A few (but not many) of the big name characters.

The article content is informative rather than exhaustive. There's a good background and overview, but certainly no complete appearance lists, or anything like that. Dates are given to the year or the decade, rather than the day or the month. The content in general is descriptive but not heavily detailed.

The book layout matches the mid-detail style. Each page has a thick colored border, the font is nice and large, headings are huge, and the illustrations are large and plentiful. That doesn't give you a lot of words to play with. The entry for "Ditko, Steve" is for example is roughly 250 words. That's not a lot, all things considered.

Checking the Amazon online reviews of this book, I see that a number of reviewers complained about factual errors. I didn't spot any, but I did quickly spot some strangeness. Referring back to the Ditko article, it opens with: "He was present at the creation of Marvel's most successful superhero." Heh, Steve "was present"? That's a very stingy credit for a man generally regarded as the equal co-creator of Spider-Man!

Picking another article at random, "Machine Man" I noted neglected to mention his original codename "X-51", and though it mentions that he was called "Mr. Machine" for a while, it doesn't say that it was changed for copyright reasons because of a conflict with Hasbro. They seem like interesting details to me, and I'm surprised they were omitted.

In General...

So what's the final verdict? Well, this is an attractive book, and the price is quite reasonable, especially since you can pick them up nowadays half price in remainder sales. It's a nice coffee-table book, and there's some good browsing. I'm going to keep my copy handy, so when somebody says "What do you think of Daniel Clowes' style in general" I can easily grab a reference book and see who on earth they're talking about, without having to fire up my computer (on those rare occasions when it isn't already powered up).

On the other hand, if I want any serious detail - or if I care about my information being up to date, and fan-verified, then I'll head over to wikipedia or google and get the full story. Sure, there's still a place for a good reference book, but you can't deny the value of the internet and sites like spiderfan.org when you want a hyperlinked chronology indexed by character appearances.

Overall Rating...

As mid-to-low-level detail, hardback, picture rich, general purposes comic book encyclopediae go, this one is pretty much what you might expect. I'm going to give it points for style, and nudge it to a just-above-average three and a half webs. If you can find it cheap, then it's a nice book to have on the shelf.

Footnote...

Spider-Man by the way, is the character who graces the front cover of this Encyclopedia. His article runs to two pages, though most of it is illustrations and reproduced comic panels.