Rob Weiner, author of Marvel Graphic Novels and Related Publications: An Annotated Guide to Comics, Prose Novels, Children's Books, Articles, Criticism and Reference Works, 1965-2005, answered some questions about his 400-page book and his future projects.
How about some background? You're a librarian?
I have a BA in history and an MA in History from Texas Tech with a focus in American History and American Popular culture. While I was working on my MA in history, I was always in the library. People started asking me where things were as though I worked there. I thought I should probably get paid for doing that so I applied for a job and worked as a paraprofessional for a few years. Then I went and received my MS in Library Science at University of North Texas. I worked in a public library for 12 years and most recently took a position at Texas Tech as Humanities Librarian. I worked in the local music industry for about 10 years in Lubbock while going to college. I’ve always appreciated the “artsy” side of life so my position now is a real good fit.
Bibliography is kinda in my blood. I co-authored a bibliography on the Grateful Dead, I’ve published a filmographic essay on Johnny Cash, the Marvel Guide, and in my forthcoming book on Captain America, I co-authored Filmographic and Scholarly Bibliographic pieces. I don’t do just lists however; I have to read, or watch the piece and then annotate or critically judge it.
Why comic books?
Well, when I a little boy growing up in Michigan I remember certain images... I remember the image from Silver Surfer 1 and Tales of Suspense 39 (with the gray Iron Man)! I was mesmerized by those images. They stick with me today. I can’t say where I first saw them or how I started to read comics, but I remember those two covers specifically. I also remember I had a Batman bow tie that I was very proud to wear around at events. By the time I was around 10 or so I started actually collecting and reading comics. I was fascinated by characters like the Human Fly (I wish Marvel would do an Essential collection), 3-D Man (one of my ALL TIME favorites and one of the coolest characters Roy Thomas ever created), The Beast fascinated me (just his look), Nova the Human Rocket, Moon Knight, the Black Panther. It was these “secondary” characters that caught my eye more than the Big Guns (like Spidey / Thor / even Cap) at first. I was also fascinated by the Legion of Superheroes and those early adventures of Superboy. You know how a lot of people remember the "Death of Gwen Stacy" (which was a BIG BIG deal when it came out), for me it was the death of Chemical Boy. I cried and cried over that. (I loved Bouncing Boy also,) I have not read those 1970s Legion stories SINCE I was a kid. I would love to re-read them. I also went through a period of rediscovery when the first Tim Burton Batman movie came out and started collecting again, but then life / school / marriage got me busy again and I got out of the comic world for awhile.
It was in the late 1990s while working at the public library that I started to rekindle my love for comics through reading Graphic Novels. It occurred to me that perhaps we should try ordering some Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman books for the Public Library. I asked my library director about this and she said sure, let’s give it try. Well, that inspired ten years of collecting graphic novels for the Lubbock Public Library System. I helped build one of the best graphic novels collections in the country. There was some resistance to this as some people (on staff) did not want that sh**t in the library, but the director was always like “Do they circulate?” If they do, then let’s get more. Adults, kids, teens, all loved these books so we just kept buying more and more and built a great collection of over 4,000 items. At first, I tried reading EVERYTHING that I ordered or came in. This proved to be too daunting after awhile. There is a TON of stuff and more all the time being produced, so one has to pick their favorites and stick with them, occasionally reading something new and critically acclaimed of course.
I’ve always loved the Marvel characters. After reading Alex Ross’s Marvels I just became inspired. I realized that one could tell a story with Spider-Man that was equal to Shakespeare / Tolstoy etc. Although I had previously read The Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and the Crow, it just did not “hit” me until I read Marvels. The combination between the awesome art and the great storytelling just changed me (I was also highly impressed with DeFalco’s Spider-Girl). I thought wow, I should try to do something like the Grateful Dead bibliography with Marvel Graphic Novels and document and annotate them. Although some critics have pointed out that much of the info in my book is online, my book as “value added” material in that the annotations are fun to read and they provide at times a critical perspective to certain works. Frankly, I do document material that is not documented in quite the same way elsewhere, including online. Although Marvel Graphic Novels is a reference work, it is a fun book that anyone including fans, scholars, historians, librarians, should get something out of that they cannot get out of websites. For example did you know Marvel published a guide to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, or about all those weird children’s books they published in the 1980s? None of that is documented in all one place. Are there things I missed? Of course. Is the book perfect? No, of course not. I find mistakes all the time, but I hope that it provides a great service to the sequential art community as a whole.
It took me six years to read and annotate all this material which is why it stops at 2005. Working full time, teaching, and trying to have a life is very difficult, but McFarland never gave up on me. I also have a second book, an edited collection on Captain America (my all time favorite character), coming out soon and that is in the can. Two more books are forthcoming as well. One is an edited collection looking at how Graphic Novels have affected libraries and archives and another documents Marvel on Film/Video.
Do you anticipate updating your Marvel book? Perhaps online for collectors of Marvel?
At this point no, I have no plans for that. I suppose in a few years I could do a sequel and update the book with all the items that have been published since then and perhaps have an annotated list of Marvel-related websites as well. There are some things I missed too that I could add. I wish someone actually associated with Marvel would see and appreciate this. That would be great. I know some reviews have lamented the fact that I stop at 2004-2005, and it just got published in 2008, but I just could not read and annotate everything. Much of the recent material is online (such as the Trade Paperback website and so forth), but again not all of it. Keep in mind too that it is also available as an e-book which you can download to your device. So I think this shows that reference books are not just dry and boring, but can provide something useful for the fan, scholar, professional, artist etc.
Can you talk more about the new books you've mentioned?
I have an edited collection on Captain America coming out soon. It is called Captain America and the Struggle of the Superhero: Critical Essays which should be out soon. Cap is my favorite character and after they killed Steve Rogers, I wanted to do something to honor Cap. Since similar collections like Batman and Philosophy , Man from Krypton, and Unauthorized X-Men are all edited collections, I wanted to do the same for Cap. The difference is that scholarship in my book is all over the map, from fields as diverse as Geography, History, Cultural Studies, Psychology, etc. The scholarship is a little more intense in my book than in most books I’ve seen about particular characters. The book also has some well-known scholars in the field of comic book/sequential art studies including Jason Dimitter, Cord Scott, Mark McDermott, John Moser and Mike Dubose among others. They all have a previous publishing track record, but there are those getting published for the first time in the book as well. I hope that it won’t be so deep that regular Cap fans will be put off by the book and there is a wide variety of ideas (not all of which I agree with). But I hope it will provide a good solid example of the various ways in which one can produce sequential art scholarship. I have no idea how the critics are going to view the book. The only thing missing is a detailed look at the late forties Cap comics when he got rid of Bucky and had a girl sidekick and the “commie smasher” version. Apparently those three comics published in the 1950s are nowhere to be found. I hope they turn up someday as Marvel really needs to reprint those as Atlas Era Captain America Masterworks (along with that single issue of Captain America Weird Tales which did not have a Cap story. For historical and cultural value those books are priceless.
As a librarian and someone who help build a big collection of Graphic Novels when I worked at the public library, I want to give something back to the profession. So I am also in the coming year going to be working on a book of collected essays that shows with how libraries and archives have dealt with Graphic Novels in their collections. I think this would be a very good book for professionals in the library and archival fields to have and use. I even talk about Digital Comics and the changing of the industry as well. I mean it really has been only in the last 10 years that libraries have taken note of graphic novels as a way to get folks to read and not poo-pooed it. There have been libraries that have collected comics (such as Michigan State and Randall Scott for years), but they are the exception. I went through some growing pains with my library as well, with folks skeptical about having them in the collection. I think there is less and less of that because, just like the Internet, patrons demand graphic novels in their libraries. I mean graphic storytelling is as old as humanity! Nothing to be ashamed of in that. BTW your comics’ web bibliography is an amazing resource, as is your comic to film adaptations book! Speaking of which, I am also going to do a project documenting Marvel on Film and video etc., all in one place which will be pretty cool. And I am trying to finish and editing volume on Exploitation/Horror/Grindhouse/Arthouse cinema. I am working on with a PhD student at University of Texas and I have my regular job duties at the University, so I have my hands full for at least the next few years and beyond.
[9/26/08, 5:21 pm - copy edited after initial posting - MR]