söndag 10 juli 2011

Horst Schröder: De första serierna (The earliest comic strips")

Horst Schröder is the comics expert who went from critic and theorist to publisher and as such brought a lot of great European and American comics creators to the Swedish comics market. Unfortunately, he seems to have sort of overreached with his publishing venture, and it is now on a much smaller scale, even if it is still alive and kicking.

Illustration from the Swedish comics wikipedia, Seriewikin.
Despite its subtitle, "Dagspresserier i USA från sekelskiftet till 30-talet" ("Daily strips in the US from the turn of the century to the thirties") his book doesn't really chart the development of the earliest daily strips; it gives a cursory overview of that, and then it concentrates on a number of important strips and creators. These include Moon Mullins,Gasoline Alley, George Herriman, George McManus, Mutt and Jeff, etc. I don't have a big problem with that; the book is from 1981, and – as Schröder rightly points out – the research on comics wasn't very strong at the time, so this book is part of introducing some basic facts about comics for the interested public and (as is emphasized in the foreword) usually ignorant journalists and debaters.

So how does it work? Rather well, actually. Schröder is a good writer, an expert on his subject and also has analytical skills (and the doctor's degree to prove it). So as a quick introduction to the subject, and especially to the strips and creators he focuses on, it works very well. I think he's still a bit too rooted in the seventies – the book could have done without some of the references to Marxist class theory and Freudian theory – but unlike some more ideological Swedish comics critics (like this guy) he's knowledgeable enough about comics (and enough of a comics fan) to not let the ideology overwhelm and wreck the analysis.

Another problem is that he doesn't seem to have read very much of some of the strips he presents; he doesn't hide that, rather, he points out from the start how hard it is (or rather, was at the time) to find the old comics, especially those who weren't extremely popular. However, it does hamper the analysis when it is – as it seems in a few cases – based on the writings of other comics scholars and the occasional example they may have provided. It makes the book weaker than it might have been, but it doesn't ruin it; it's still worth a read. At 100 pages, it's not a hard slog, either.

So, in conclusion, if you're a Swedish-reader, I'd certainly recommend that you borrow this book at the library and read it – but for a really, really good work on the history of US newspaper strips, I'd recommend Brian Walker's excellent The Comics, which combines the history of the comic strip business, its creators and comic strips, with a look at the changes society underwent concurrently and how they affected the comics. It's huge, eminently readable and very interesting – especially the first part, about the pre-1945 strips. Get it and read it, as soon as possible.

Basically a must-read.

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