Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s.


307 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9412-4
DDC 741.5'99409049





Reviewed by Tami Oliphant

Tami Oliphant is a Ph.D. candidate in Library and Information Studies at the University of Western Ontario.


In this well-researched and scholarly tome, Bart Beaty explores the cultural upheaval of the 1990s in a neglected field of study: the production, publishing, and marketing of comics. Beaty argues that, during the 1990s, small press publishers and artists in Europe transformed the comic book by grappling with a new comic aesthetic—an aesthetic that emphasized the comic as visual art over the traditional idea of the comic as literary art.


At the outset, Beaty outlines the differences between bestselling comic albums and small press, small print-run comics that, he argues, are often an entirely different form. Despite the shared label of “comic,” the differences between these two types of publications are far greater than the similarities. Beaty’s tome focuses on small press comics—the comics that follow a visual aesthetic. By focusing on these particular comics, Beaty is able to examine the innovative and avant-garde cultural space that has been eked out by some European comic book artists and publishers.


Beaty’s examples come mostly from France and Belgium—the two countries he argues were at the forefront of the transformation of comic books. Indeed, the first chapter opens with a discussion of L’Association, a French publisher Beaty dubs as the most important single player in this new milieu and the publisher who would provide the model for much of what would transpire. However, Beaty also discusses comics produced in Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Finland, the United States, and Canada as a way of contextualizing the international scope of the small press ethos.


Through the use of rich examples, case studies, and thought-provoking arguments, Beaty has crafted a readable and ultimately fascinating glimpse into a movement occurring in an often-overlooked cultural space. This book is recommended for academic libraries and those interested in comic books and visual arts.


Beaty, Bart., “Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/32651.