Comic Book Confidential is a fun and intelligent look at the history and evolution of comic books, mostly through interviews with some great talents and/or innovators, portraying comic books as the wonderful, subversive, unique 20th century artform that it is.
Unlike most documentaries on comic books, this film does not fall into the trap of focusing on those stereotypical comics (i.e. superhero comics) which usually represent the lowest level of the artform. In fact, the film makes the point that superhero comics would have remained low in popularity if it weren't for the existence of the Comic Book Authority which helped turn the majority of comics into mediocre drivel. The film does note how Stan Lee tried to inject some relevance into superhero titles by turning the characters into human beings, and how others like Frank Miller (with his Dark Knight Returns) have attempted to make artistically valid superhero comics. However, the film is far more concerned with the individual expression of such artists as Robert Crumb, Sue Coe and Paul Mavrides. But even collectors more interested in the mainstream will find much of interest in this documentary.
The film begins with a look at E.C. comics and the backlash created against such titles by Wertham's "Seduction of the Innocent". There is an excerpt from a U.S. government documentary (easily as amazing as the old "duck and cover" how-to-survive-a-nuclear-war documentary) about how reading one 8 page story will turn a child into a homicidal maniac who sticks knives into trees (I'd like to know who gave them weapons in the first place), plus footage of mass comic book burnings reminiscent of the brief Beatles backlash which will break the hearts of most lovers of pre-Code comics. Footage of Congressional investigations into comics (Bill Gaines is shown testifying) also clearly parallels the then-contemporaneous HUAC red scare.
The film then shows how the Comic Code Authority (the industry's Senator McCarthy) was formed and ruined the artform with its contextual blacklist (one of their more racist decisions is shown), and how the Authority was largely abused by some companies in order to destroy their competition, e.g., forcing E.C. to fold with the exception of Mad Magazine which did not fall under the Code's mandate. It then goes into how the underground comix arose as a backlash against both the Code and/or mainstream society and illustrates their vital role as part of the late 1960s counterculture. This is followed by the underground movement's evolution into more artistically meritorious individual expressions (vs. mere backlashes) in such titles as Art Spiegleman's Raw and Los Bros. Hernandez' Love and Rockets. There is also a look at Dan O'Neill's legal problems with Walt Disney and the banning of his Air Pirates comic by a court unfamiliar with artists' rights to create parodies.
Along the way, there are visually exciting montages of comic book art and photographs and films of, e.g., the early 1970s San Fran scene accompanied by lots of great music (jazz, bluegrass, etc.). Also, many of the artists interviewed (Harvey Pekar, Gilbert Shelton, Charles Burns, etc.) do a wonderful job of performing some of their short stories while their artwork is shown on the screen.
This is a thought-provoking film which will have you laughing out loud even while you're learning, and is highly recommended to anyone, whether they just read mainstream comic books or don't read comics at all. Those not already familiar with the best the industry has to offer will be pleasantly surprised.