The Comics Go to Hell (2005)
By: J.R. McNamara on May 26, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Cover Art
Author: Fredrik Stromberg
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Pages: 360
Without doubt the thing that makes both horror movies and comics so cool are the bad guys, and no matter how bad a Lex Luthor or a Freddy Krueger can get, neither will ever be as bad as the ultimate badass...
The Devil!
The Comics Go To Hell was written by Scandinavian comics authority Fredrik Stromberg, who clearly loves sequential art. He is the Chairman of the Swedish Comics Association and has written several books about comics. One of his other books, Black Images in the Comics, which like this book was published by American company Fantagraphics and is about the depiction of Afro-culture in comics, was nominated for the comics version of an Oscar, known as 'The Eisner's.
This book is a not-quite complete look at the depiction of the Devil in comics, but not just his visual representaion, but also the origins of the type of Devil depicted - be they The Bible, or Goethe's Faust or even mankind's own ability to be evil and how that face can be depicted.
The layout of this book is quite interesting. It is a beautiful, quite small hardcover, and it is divided into several chapters that subdivide the Devil in his different aspects. The Family of Evil looks at the origins of The Devil; The Religious Devil examines the Devil as seen from a strictly Old and New Testament point of view; Ancient Devils has us investigate the origins of the drawn Devil in historical texts; Hell is an adventure into the place that none of us really want to go but most probably deserve to; The Devil You Say takes us through the aspects of the Devil, from terrifying to sophisticated to tragic through to comical and sexual; Selling Your Soul gets a seeing to as we examine the Faustian idea of dealing with the Devil; Super Devils looks at the Devil in the world of super heroes; Funny Devils is where the Devil gets an amusing makeover; and finally The Devil In Us All looks at the inner turmoil we all face when making decisions each day, and how that Devil in our ear can lead us astray.
Each chapter is a double page with a comic frame or two on the left page, and Stromberg's text on the right, and his mini-essays on each aspect of each comic is fascinating, though it does more discuss the way the Devil is depicted in the tale the panel comes from, rather than the actual art or story style.
There are some well done appendices in this book as well, where Stromberg names his sources, and also has the English translation for any comic frame that may have been in a language other than English.
Stromberg covers many greats of the comic industry: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, John Byrne, John Buscema, Garth Ennis and Milo Manara, just to name a few, and he doesn't stick to American comics either: he looks at many European titles and even drops briefly into Japanese manga with a quick look at Dragonball and a few others but interestly avoids  Go Nagai's Devilman and Hideshi Hino's Panorama of Hell, which brings me to my only problem with this book.
I know Stromberg regularly claims this is not a definitive look at the Devil in comics, but I did find some almost unforgivable omissions, such as the aforementioned work by Go nagai and Hidesi Hinoand; even Tim Vigil's Faust. Stromberg refers to the many versions of Faust,  but fails to mention this seminal, well drawn and frankly kick-ass comic. Belasco from Marvel comics, and from the amazing 80s mini-series Magik (and who was a foil of the X-Men) is ignored as well and even though Futurama's Robot-Devil is examined, the 'Ned Flanders' Devil from The Simpsons is surprisingly avoided!! I must admit these five would have been in the forefront of my mind when writing a book such as this, but if everything were to be included the book would have been 3000 pages instead of 300.
Omissions aside though, this is a well thought out, well laid out examination of the Lord of Darkness that remains factual and unbiased until it approached the Christian comics of Jack T. Chick, whose comics made for the Church going community were incredibly manipulative on the minds of youngsters, and Stromberg clearly doesn't like that!
It started as an interesting look at the depictions of the Devil and his domain in the history of comics, but I found that by the end of the book I had received an interesting lecture on the history of the image and perception of the Devil, both from a pop culture point of view, and from a theological point of view. This book will be of interest both to fans of comics, and to those fans of the history of 'evil'.
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