If you care one lick about one of the most significant art forms of the 20th century then Comic Book Confidential is a not to be missed. Every kid who collected comic books to the chagrin of their parents knew that comics were an important storytelling medium. They burned marvelously feral images into our heads even if we didn't understand them completely. Most importantly they made us laugh and gave us something to talk about in school.
Directed and compiled in 1988 by documentarian extraordinaire Ron Mann Comic Book Confidential covers the history of comic books from it's inception as 10 cent comics for kids, through the censorship years of Tales of the Crypt in the 1940's and 50's into the superhero comics of the 1960's and 70's and finally into the independent comic artists of the 1980's like Robert Crumb (Zap Comix) and Art Spiegelman (Maus).
Mann seems to have made this documentary for two primary reasons. One to show that comics are a worthy art form that too often has been ignored by the academic establishment and two for Mann to show whom he particularly likes. On the latter point Mann shows his preference by spending a lot of time with Robert Crumb (Zap Comix) and Harvey Pekar (American Splendor Stories) rather than with Stan Lee (Spiderman) or Jack Kirby (Captain America).
Mann focuses a lot on the independent scene because it seems to be where real creativity (without a Comic Code oversight) is being done. Whether or not you agree with some of his personal choices it still provides a good insight into the world of comics that few outside the comic world appreciate. Particularly the work of late 60's mavericks Dan O'Neil (who did a parody of 'Mickey Mouse' and got slapped with a huge lawsuit), Victor Moscoro and Spain to lesser known artists of the 80's Lynda Berry, Sue Cole and Bill Griffith (who tells us that his alter ego is 'Zippy the Pinhead').
One of the more interesting side notes is the way the documentary shows how the Comic Code Authority was formed in the 1950's. In an era when politicians were afraid that Communists were hiding around each corner they decided that they were also to be found inside the white, pulp pages of horror comics. So they resolved to hamper them with a rating system that, momentarily, took them from a thriving art form to simple funny books.
Mann uses many devises to keep the whole documentary flowing. One of the better aspects of the film is that Mann utilizes animation to bring the comics alive. He also neatly segments each era in the comic book history thus making it easy to follow as well as easy for DVD chapters to be set. Less successful is the redundant use of the artists reading from the comics while we watch them frame by frame.
The only real criticism of the film is that it is too short at 88 minutes and consequently leaves the viewer wanting more. This is answered in some ways on the DVD by a fabulous comic archive extra that features full length comics to scroll through (via a remote) at your leisure.
The DVD audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and sounds good especially in light of the fact that Mann provides many sound effects to accompany the images. There are also a lot of interviews all of which can be heard just fine.
The DVD is presented in 1.33 to 1 and looks very good. Mann shot with film as opposed to video and the images looks good. Particulary strong are the colorful devices he uses to illustrate the history of comics. The images come across well saturated and colorful.
This DVD features one of the best extras currently available: Comic book archive: a story by each featured artist, which is twenty-two full length comic books. Let me repeat that – twenty-two full length comic books! On a two page menu item you can choose the artist and then one of their famous comics comes up on the screen and you can scroll through it frame by frame. All in all this can provide the viewer with about five or six hours of fun. The two other significant extras are a four minute Introduction by Kevin Smith, which is good and an Interview with Ron Mann that is okay, although he doesn't have much to say that he doesn't already reveal in the documentary. There is a neat inside booklet that gives brief bios on over 20 of the artists highlighted in the film. There are also trailers for other Home Vision Entertainment DVD's.
Ron Mann's documentary Comic Book Confidential is a must for any comic book fan. Actually, it's a must for anyone skeptical of the fact that comics are a legitimate storytelling art form. The documentary succeeds as both an introduction and a celebration of comics. The extras are excellent if only because they let the viewer investigate each of the comics and artists a little closer. After seeing this DVD you'll wish it were longer. At the very least you'll have an appreciation for all the kids (and grown-ups) who collect comics and at the most you'll go out and start your own collection. That's reason enough to make this a highly recommended viewing.