Wertham Was Right!
by Mark Evanier
Mark Evanier’s Wertham Was Right! is the follow-up to his previous collection of essays, Comic Books and Other Necessities of Life. Like that book, it contains a selection of columns that originally appeared in The Comics Buyer’s Guide from 1994 to early 2002. Revised and updated with some new material here, Evanier’s “POV” (Point of View) column was dedicated to his take on all the various and sundry aspects of the business we call show. But the focus was on telling the tale of one boy’s adventures in the comic book business, where Evanier has worked since 1969.
But he has lived there, to hear him tell it, pretty much since he learned to read. In the decades that followed he met or worked with some pretty big four-color legends, including his frequent collaborator Sergio Aragonés. Aragonés illustrates this volume as he did the first, and appears in one or two of the funnier stories as well (“I’m still sorry Sergio never rushed the camera…”).
A look at how much credit Bob Kane deserved (and didn’t deserve) for the creation and early production of Batman is an example of Evanier’s best work as a comics historian. During much of Kane’s lifetime, it was an open secret in comics that most of the stories which carried his signature were ghostwritten and drawn. Other writers contributed key parts of Batman’s mythos, such as the creation of Robin and the Joker. Yet for years Kane received sole credit and he’s still acknowledged as Batman’s only creator on almost everything published about the character. This has led both pro and fan alike to accuse him of, shall we say, less than super-heroic attributes. Evanier’s piece here (written shortly after Kane’s 1998 death) does not shy from addressing these flaws and he points a finger where it seems justified. But he also looks at the palliating circumstances of when Kane did the things he did and why he probably did them. Not to excuse, but to attempt to explain and finally understand them.
Indeed, understanding is a key part of Evanier’s best material; he sees the world from his unique corner of it and is able to create lines which let us see it that way too. In this sense if no other, he is like the artists he so admires such as Gil Kane, whom he memorably eulogizes here. Speaking of how Kane successfully adapted to the revolution of artistic style which Jack Kirby brought about in the Sixties, Evanier writes,
“He did not copy Kirby. He figured out how to get to a like-minded place (visually, at least) via alternate routes, methods that were original with him and that accentuated his uniqueness, rather than suppressing it.”
My only complaints about this book, as with it’s predecessor, are small: I wish a couple of essays from the “text pages” Evanier used to publish in the back of his comics in the ’80s had been included. Not only were these pieces generally the forebears of the POV column, a couple directly relate to the tales in this book. When Evanier speaks of the things he’s learned from children in recent classroom appearances, I think it would inform the piece to be accompanied by the story of his first such experience. And he mentions his T-Bird in passing here; the story of how he came to acquire it would also have been worthy of inclusion. Finally, I still prefer non-fiction books to have indexes.
Still, this is a better book than Comic Books and Other Necessities of Life; and that was pretty good. I especially liked the “This and That” sections which collect short takes and stories not long enough to warrant chapters of their own but too good not to include. One favorite is the story of the priceless “It’s a Gas” record with which Evanier and a friend reduced backyards full of children to hysterics.
Another, a longer story about Evanier’s nearly fruitless (sorry) attempt to purchase a particular brand of orange juice, shows him at his finest as a written humorist.
Evanier’s experience of the comic book life from both ends (as overexcited, zealous fan and jaded, cynical pro) gives him an enjoyable perspective on both. But then what else can you say about a man who can boast, as Evanier does here, that of the first four professional comics creators he ever met, one was Jerry Siegel, one was Bob Kane, and one was Jack Kirby? You can say the fact that he also wrote Pink Lady & Jeff is proof of karma, the universe trying to bring some balance to one man’s blessed life, that’s what you can say.
But those blessings, and that balance, make for a valuable contribution to the library of books about comics.