Comic Book Confidential

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Arts Documentary published by Sphinx Productions in 1988 - English narration

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Image: Comic-Book-Confidential-A-Film-by-Ron-Mann-Cover.jpg

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A Film by Ron Mann


This classic Ron Mann documentary profiles 22 of the most significant artists working in comic books in North America today. With interviews, historical footage and state-of-the-art animation, it traces the creative development of the incredibly popular comic medium. From Jack Kirby's Captain America via the irreverence of Mad Magazine, to the underground movement of the ' 60s, with it's "anything goes" cartoonists, Comic Book Confidential also updates the story to the ' 80s, when comics exploded into so many genres and styles that even our superheroes can't keep up with them anymore. With : Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Al Feldstein, Harvey Pekar, Gilbert Shelton, Lynda Barry, Stan Lee, Victor Moscosco and many others.

Reviews :

- Comic Book Confidential is documentary by Ron Mann that examines the phenomenon of comic books in the United States since their inception in the 1930's up to the present (which at the time was the late 1980's).

The film does a nice job of explaining the history of the medium through an array of quality interviews with comic pioneers like William M. Gaines (founder of EC Comics and MAD Magazine), Jack Kirby (creator of Captain America) and Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit). The documentary also examines much of the controversy that surrounded comic books in their early days when many, including the US government, were of a mind that comic books could be the downfall of the nation's youth.

The film touches on the super hero genre (with interviews with Marvel's Stan Lee) but mainly focuses on the outsiders and underground comic evolution. There are many great interviews with R. Crumb (Zap!, Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat), Art Spiegelman (RAW, Maus), Gilbert Shelton (The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) and Harvey Pekar (American Splendor). There is also an examination of the role of women in comic books with the likes of Lynda Barry (Ernie Pook's Comeek) and Shary Flenniken (Trots and Bonnie). The film also visits with some then relatively new faces to the art form like Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Frank Miller (The Watchmen) and Sue Coe (How to Commit Suicide in South Africa).

The interviews are fantastic and are juxtaposed together nicely with examples of the artist's work, often narrated by the artist themselves. Fans of comic books will definitely enjoy this trip through the diverse and wonderful world of comics. -

- While Canada's feature film industry is usually in flux, our backbone has always been documentaries and industrial filmmaking. Continuing in this tradition is Ron Mann, the most famous Canadian documentary maker of the last 20 years. His 1988 film Comic Book Confidential even won a Genie award, and still stands out as his best work, which includes other documentaries like Twist and Grass. What qualifies Comic Book Confidential as Canuxploitation is it's decidedly low-brow subject matter. While hundreds of documentaries are produced every year in Canada, few dare to waver from social or political topics. The fact that Mann is apparently more interested in Zap Comics than the Zapatista, can be seen as subversive to the mainstream of Canadian documentary film making.

This movie is one of the most comprehensive studies I have ever seen of the comic book industry-- it's even better than most books on the subject. It's main strength is that it gracefully jumps from super heroes to underground comics, "arty" comics and back to MAD to provide an overview of the last 70 years of the whole comic book industry.

Interview driven, the film begins in 1933 with Famous Funnies, the first modern comic book. From there it briefly discusses the origins of superhero comics and the post-war crime and horror publications. There is a lengthy discussion with William Gaines, one of the most influential cultural producers of the past 50 years who fueled young minds with his EC (Entertaining Comics) line that included such titles as Tales From The Crypt and Two Fisted Tales. This branches into Dr Frederic Wertham's attack on comic book violence, which led to the self imposed "Comics Code." There are clips from anti-comic book films, people burning comics, and even William Gaines' testimony to the Supreme court. The self-censorship board eventually led to a superhero renaissance spearheaded by Jack Kirby.

From there, the film looks at Gaines' next publication, MAD magazine, as the father of the San Francisco underground comix scene. We see several film clips of influential artists like Robert Crumb and Spain. The discussion of the underground and copyright infringement leads to the final third of the film, the "modern" alternative comics scene, with books like Maus, Love & Rockets and Raw. One of the most interesting aspects of this section is that Mann had many of the artists narrate their strips. Particularly good is Harvey Pekar's narration about stealing jazz records from American Splendor, but my favourite segment is Bill Griffith dressed up as his creation, Zippy the Pinhead, shopping for Ding Dongs.

What I like about Comic Book Confidential is that it updates the traditional Canadian documentary style by eliminating the voice-overs, and adding animated introductions to each of it's "chapters." All of this is delivered in a style that does not pander to the audience, but provides an unbiased discussion and chronological survey of an often ignored art form. Unfortunately, since the film was completed in 1988, many of Canada's more recent comic talents like Joe Matt, Julie Doucet and Seth were just slightly too late to be featured. Perhaps a Comic Book Confidential II: Canadian Edition would be in order? -

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[edit] Technical Specs

Video Codec: XviD ISO MPEG-4
Video Bitrate: 1147 kbps
Video Resolution: 704x544
Video Aspect Ratio: 1.294:1
Frames Per Second: 25.000
Audio Codec: 0x2000 (Dolby AC3) AC3
Audio Bitrate: 128kb/s CBR 48000 Hz
Audio Streams: 2
Audio Languages: english
RunTime Per Part: 1:25:15
Number Of Parts: 1
Part Size: 822,601,040 Bytes
Subtitles: no
Ripped by: DocFreak08

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