L’IL ABNER: The Dailies 1934-5 collects the first year of Al Capp’s once legendary comic strip (the introductory text material establishes Capp’s wife helped him draw it, at least in the early years). It’s a familiar set-up — a goodhearted, brawny but naive hillbilly gets plunged into society (one of his aunts married rich). The result is a constant culture clash, plus Abner (with the help of his unstoppable Mammy) derailing various fraudsters, phonies and schemers. This alternates with stories back in Dogpatch where sexy Daisy Mae pines hopelessly for Abner and conniving preacher Marryin’ Sam plots to line his pockets. The strip isn’t as zany as it would be a couple of decades later, but it is a lot of fun.
SPIDER-MAN CONFIDENTIAL: From Comic Icon to Hollywood Hero by Edward Gross is a good overview of Spidey’s history: his creation in the early 1960s, the changes that followed as different writers and artists took over, the creative conflicts and changes in direction. There’s also lots of information about the different TV cartoons, the live action series, the 1990s Spider-Man film that vanished into limbo (as someone who likes behind-the-scenes stuff, that was really interesting) and the approaching (at the time) Sam Raimi film. This could have been deeper in spots, but overall a good job. Illustration by John Romita, all rights remain with current holder.
DISCO: The Music the Times the Era by Johnny Morgan shows how the music I vaguely assumed had come from nowhere in the 1970s has roots going all the way back to post-WW II Paris. “Discotheques” developed there, distinguished from regular night clubs by using records rather than live bands to provide the music. The concept spread to London, then New York (where small private clubs provided a refuge for gays who couldn’t dance together publicly); that growth in turn led to the development of star DJs who could keep the platters spinning and the birth of disco music specifically oriented to dancing (the original source of those “dance mix” tracks that turn up on so many albums). Morgan does a great job looking at the musical stars, the clubs and the trends over the years until disco burned itself out around the dawn of the 1980s (less to do with the “death to disco!” movement than simply having nothing new left to say). A specialized topic, but worth it if you’re interested.