The Comics Go to Hell:
A Visual History of the Devil in Comics

by Fredrik Stromberg
(Fantagraphics, 2005)

Fredrick Stromberg's The Comics Go to Hell is a clever and surprisingly complete tour of the Devil's varied career in sequential storytelling. Stromberg has found an admirable array of examples from Europe, America, Japan, medieval woodcuts and Enlightenment engravings, Jack Chick tracts and web comics, all represented along with their cultural context and translations. There are even a few entertaining cameos from the Devil's relatives in other religions, from Loki of the Norse to Ahriman of Mazdaism.

The format, with a postcard-sized image from each example opposite an equally brief discussion of the creator, the context and speculation on the cultural significance of the culture, would seem to encourage shallow inspection of the subject. Each single epigram is easily digested, and doesn't encourage too much discussion, but with almost 300 examples and essays to develop his theories, Stromberg manages to develop strong insights into the Devil and his changing portrayals. His theories aren't always complete. Stromberg is Swedish, and admits that his own cultural bias is bound to influence his perception of the material he gathers. He seems entirely unaware of Jack Chick's status as a kitsch joke in America, for example, and so finds the laughably ineffective tracts frightening in their zealotry.

But a few missed bits of information can't diminish the depth of information here gathered, or the obvious thought Stromberg has put into his analysis. Brief enough to read for entertainment, but deep enough to prompt serous discussion, The Comics Go to Hell is a good thing in a small square package.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 10 September 2005

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