DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main

Ron Mann
Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, Sue Coe, Robert Crumb, Will Eisner
Charles Lippincott, Ron Mann

Not Rated.

Standard 1.33"1
English Dolby Surround

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 7/23/2002

• Interview With Director Ron Mann
• Introduction From Kevin Smith
• Comic Book Archive
• Trailers
• Booklet


Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Comic Book Confidential (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

During my teen years in the early Eighties, I simply adored comic books. I liked them all through childhood, really, but 1981 brought a major interest in the superhero mags I previously avoided for the most part, and I gobbled up everything I could find from DC and Marvel. This obsession didn’t last, of course, but I maintain an affection for the form.

Because of this, I felt interested when the DVD release of Comic Book Confidential arrived on my door. The 1988 film offers a loose history of comic books. It starts back in the Thirties when the format originated and follows the field’s growth and setbacks through then-modern times.

Confidential does this in two ways. Most significantly, it offers scads of then-current interviews with scads of folks in the business. These include older giants like William M. Gaines, Will Eisner, and Stan Lee, and we also hear from relatively newer artists like Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, and Jaime Hernandez. They reflect on their work and the field as a whole.

In addition, we see a lot of archival material and examples of the comics. In the former domain, we find some cool footage. For example, we get melodramatic propaganda films intended to paint comics as an evil force that will lead kids to become amoral criminals, and we also see excellent shots of hearings at which Gaines and Frederic Wertham - a noted anti-comics force - spoke. I also really like the snippets of the Comics Code process, in which we watch as they censor some work.

As for the latter category, Confidential films comic pages and provides voice-overs to “act out” the stories. Much of the time, the artists involved do the performances. This seems clever, though it leads to some rather stilted readings of the material.

While Confidential indeed covers the whole history of comic books through the late Eighties, it doesn’t provide an objective view of the field. Underground, independent and obscure works receive a great deal of emphasis, while the mags from Marvel and DC barely register. This means we hear much more from someone like Bill Griffith than we do from Stan Lee, and it seems odd. After all, most people equate superheroes with comic books, so it comes across as weird that we learn so little about that domain.

In addition, we hear almost nothing about other mainstream genres. Archie comics have been around for many decades, but we get virtually no information about them or other comedic mags. Clearly director Ron Mann wanted to emphasize the more obscure works, and that’s fine to a degree. However, I don’t think the project should have maintained the façade that it offers a general history of the format since it skirts over so many major subjects.

I also feel that Confidential focuses too much on the comic book samples. To a degree, these seem interesting since they illustrate the work in question. However, they go on too long, and the film includes too many of them. Combined with the poor acting, they become fairly tiresome once the novelty dissipates.

Confidential does include a number of positive elements, though. While frustrated with the lack of editorial balance, I did enjoy the look at less-known material. Yes, this warps the view of the business as a whole, but it offers information that most people won’t know. Occasionally, the film takes on an aura of propaganda, as though Mann touts the underground works mainly to publicize them, but it still seems interesting to have a look at more obscure comics.

The interview segments provide some fairly useful tidbits as well. Most of those appear during the segments that deal with older comics, though; the newer artists tend to come off as somewhat pretentious and self-congratulatory. Gaines offers the most compelling commentary, especially as he discusses the anti-comics efforts he endured in the Fifties.

Overall, Comic Book Confidential fails to provide a full documentary about the field, but it includes a reasonable amount of interesting material. The combination of cool historical footage and occasionally stimulating interviews helps carry the day. It can drag at times and the lack of balance becomes irritating, but Confidential manages to seem fairly interesting much of the time.

The DVD Grades: Picture C- / Audio C+ / Bonus C+

Comic Book Confidential appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The erratic picture varied between solid portions and some much less attractive pieces.

Some of the problems I observed related to the archival nature of much of the film’s footage. It included a lot of older material, and I didn’t expect those segments to look good. However, the somewhat poor quality of the interviews conducted for the program came as a surprise. They generally looked adequately well defined, but they showed some softness at times, and they also displayed rather drab colors. Print flaws became a major concern for those elements. They demonstrated instances of grit, speckles, marks, hairs, blotches and nicks. In addition, those shots included fairly high levels of grain.

On the other hand, the footage that showed filmed comic books tended to look quite good. These suffered from a few marks, but they remained crisp and distinct, and they featured bright and vivid colors. Why did some of the film’s elements look so strong while others apparently shot around the same time presented such weak visuals? I have no idea, but this left Comic Book Confidential as an inconsistent piece of work.

While the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Comic Book Confidential seemed steadier, it displayed a limited scope that made it seem average. The soundfield remained fairly monaural much of the time. Music demonstrated decent stereo spread when possible. Some of the songs came from one-channel sources, and they remained true to those recordings. Newer stuff showed acceptable breadth and imaging. The surrounds kicked in some general reinforcement, but overall, the track stayed heavily anchored in the center.

Audio quality came across as good but unexceptional. Speech appeared reasonably crisp and natural, and I heard no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects accompanied some of the comic book illustrations, and those elements sounded fairly distinct and accurate. Music seemed acceptably bright and vivid and also showed nice depth and dynamics when possible; again, the older material displayed more limited range due to the technology of the period. Ultimately, the audio for Confidential seemed serviceable but nothing more than that.

One major omission on this DVD: it includes neither subtitles nor closed-captioning. Quite a few DVDs lack formal subtitles, but to leave out any form of text seems unforgivable, especially given the chatty nature of this program.

Comic Book Confidential provides a moderate roster of extras. The Kevin Smith Introduction provides a two-minute and 54-second monologue from the world’s most prominent comics fan. As usual, Smith offers some fun and entertaining comments, especially as he discusses his attempts to convince friends that comics aren’t just for kids.

During a 2001 Interview With Ron Mann, we get seven minutes and 33 seconds of information from the director. Mostly he covers his early interest in film and the path he took to become a director. Unfortunately, he never addresses the most pressing question: what’s up with the hair?

Within the Comic Book Archive, we find examples of the work from all 22 of the folks featured in Confidential. Presented as a stillframe feature, we can step through their covers and comics in this very useful domain.

Theatrical Trailers presents ads for Confidential as well as fellow Home Vision Entertainment releases Grass and Twist. Finally, the package includes a decent booklet. This starts with an essay entitled “Are Comic Books Art?” and then provides short biographies for the film’s 22 subjects.

While not a strong and objective examination of the genre, Comic Book Confidential offers enough good material to make it worthwhile. Despite many indulgent moments, it packs some strong historical footage and comments from major forces in the field. The DVD suffers from erratic picture quality but it usually remains acceptably attractive. Sound quality appears average and it includes a few decent extras, headlined by the cool “Comic Book Archive”. Comic fans will probably enjoy Confidential.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 5
0 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.