Sean Howe, editor,
Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers:
Writers on Comics

(Pantheon, 2005)

Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers! is an anthology with a simple mission. Editor Sean Howe, noticing the influence of comics in other media, threw open a mike for other children of the Atomsmashers to talk about the effect of the graphic world in their own work. And other writers answered it in proud numbers, with voices loud and eloquent in praise or remembrance of those less literary artists.

Well, mostly in praise. Every anthology has at least one or two entries that seem out of place, and Atomsmashers is no exception. Christopher Sorrentino and Steve Erickson both take a long time and a lot of words to say that they're essentially unimpressed with comics, dismissing them as kid's entertainment. Both also reveal a dreary if unsurprising ignorance of the medium, basing their opinions on a handful of decades-old works. Such limited interest makes for limited knowledge, and these unaffectionate essays are too cold and disinterested to fit a title like Atomsmashers.

Deeper and more enthusiastic essays earn the book its title. In contrast to the earlier dismissive essays, Gary Giddins' "Seduced By Classics Illustrated" offers his childhood enlightenment by a series specifically aimed at children without using that to dismiss either the series or his own feelings. Instead, he uses his experience to turn the supposed childishness of comics against their most famous critic. Geoff Dyer and Chris Offutt explore the unexpectedly deep meanings of comics in their lives. Brad Meltzer relives the throes of young love with a girl from another world in "How I Spent My Summer Vacation With 'The Judas Contract'." Andrew Hultkrans' deeply tongue in cheek "Steve Ditko's Hands" ends the book on a lighter note, taking a minor feature of artist Ditko's work as a launching point for a wry retrospective on Ditko, his art, the 1960s and Hultkrans' own unabashed love affair with the four-color world.

Like all forms of art, comics thrive on passion, from creators and readers alike. Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers proves that ingredient is plentiful on both sides of the page.

by Sarah Meador
11 February 2006

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