Writer: Fred Van Lente
Illustrator: Joe Cooper
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
WHAT IS IT?
A proverbial "storytelling basketball" is passed around to describe an overview of basketball's origins, significant players, evolution, and cultural impact in non-fiction graphic novel format.
It's a fast-break version of sports documentaries with the same layout as Fred Van Lente's other Comic Book History titles.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Basketball was created because a group of guys at the YMCA were restless and rowdy. In 1891, a man named James Naismith developed a crude version of basketball where players could only throw the ball to one another and try to shoot it into a closed-bottom peach basket. Thus, the name "basketball" took on a literal denotation.
Ironically, basketball evolved into an aggressive sport that did nothing to curb the disorderly conduct of the men – and later, women – it had initially sought to contain. Fred Van Lente's graphic novel history book details the cultural, social, and even racial implications that arose from the sport in a highly engaging – and high-speed – manner.
Fred Van Lente works his concise, yet immersive storytelling magic. Characters speak through speech bubbles when the dialogue functions as a conduit for their personality. Otherwise, Van Lente's dialogue boxes work well in pacing the story and providing personable, not stilted, factual narration.
Artist Joe Cooper captures the personality of basketball through hyper-realistic illustrations.
Dave Swartz slaps vivid colors onto every page. Swartz plays with shadows, angled lighting, and ombre-tones to clearly distinguish time or day, historical periods, or player jersey colors.
Author Fred Van Lente also letters the graphic novel, chiefly splitting up large amounts of text into cohesive, readable dialogue boxes.
While most history-rooted graphic novels are contextualized through a chronologized, factual lens, Van Lente's Comic Book Story of Basketball emphasizes the eponymous story aspect. True anecdotes about players, managers, or leagues throughout history – and even worldwide – inhabit the pages of this engaging graphic novel.
Whether it's of iconic faces and statuesque frames of popular NBA players like Shaquille O' Neal, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan or the dynamically framed compositions of action sequences, Joe Cooper's artistic depictions are exhilarating.
The artistic team support the simplicity of Van Lente's dialogue with almost metaphorical illustrations. Cooper transforms a straightforward caption like one describing how the Rens played integrated "team basketball" into an indelible illustration of three Rens players with distended necks coalescing into a single rendering of a human brain.
Paneling is loosely structured, granting each story its own memorable pertinence. Nine-panel grids alternate Larry Bird and Magic Johnson's dual POVs. Dr. J's winning dunk during the first All-Star Slam Dunk contest occupies a two-fold splash page that appears almost 3-D. A six-panel grid grants an air-pumping fist one, then two, then three rings when discussing how Michael Jordan secured the three-peat NBA Finals championship and MVP title. The same structure is emulated for his three additional, subsequent rings.
SuAnne Big Crow, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, first appears in the graphic novel as a child on a reservation practicing dribbling at age five. This is a fun spotlight, as we read about SuAnne’s dedication to greatness in the sport at a young age.
The comic revisits SuAnne later on as a successful high school basketball player who died in a devastating car accident before her 18th birthday. This is a heartbreaking story, made beautifully resonant through Cooper's five-panel, horizontal depiction of a car traveling down a road into the mountains while Swartz paints each frame with differing shades of sunset colors.
Chapters divide the weighty graphic novel, allowing readers breaks to parse the surplus of information provided. Additionally, the chapter titles work to encapsulate the general core of each chapter's contents.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
There are simply not enough pages to cover every historical moment in great detail, so some of the racially important facets of the story feel rushed. Again, this is due to the condensed survey course nature of the book, and Van Lente still manages to succinctly highlight racial issues.
In that same vein, I would have liked to see a slightly heavier focus on women's role in the sport. The first chapter of the book succeeds in this, but is glossed over slightly as the book progresses (again, because of the book's condensed format). The grittier, more in-depth details about women's basketball history could probably feel more satiating in a separate graphic novel focused only on this topic.
While I appreciated the sometimes exaggerated or caricature-like artistic renderings, there were just a few instances where these artistic interpretations appear too often and distract from the dialogue.
As a minor content warning, this comic does touch on sensitive topics like racism, racial slurs, murder, and even suicide.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
You'll want to grab some snacks and a seat at the court of The Comic Book Story of Basketball, because you won't be able to stop reading as you discover people, players, and facts you never knew about the game.
As a huge basketball fan and avid consumer of basketball-centric documentaries, I've retained a fair amount of basketball knowledge (since the Bird/Magic and Michael Jordan eras were beyond my time) over the years. Even so, this graphic novel illuminates an expansive scope of basketball history.
The Comic Book Story of Basketball will teach you about women's basketball, international basketball, and show an illustration of nuns cheering in the stands at a game. Fred Van Lente, Joe Cooper, and Dave Swartz dynamically chronicled a history of the sport in a far-reaching way that will engage even the most adverse of basketball fans.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Comic Book History of Comics by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue
If you like the art:
Scoop Vol. 1: Breaking News by Richard Hamilton & Joseph Cooper
Magnus: Robot Fighter Vol. 2: Uncanny Valley by Fred Van Lente, Joseph Cooper, Roberto Castro, Felipe Cunha, Sandy Jarrell, & Cory Smith
The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History by David F. Walker & Marcus Kwame Anderson
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Fred Van Lente – Writer & Letterer (@fredvanlente)
Multitalented: He is a New York Times bestselling writer of comics, comic book history graphic novels, several novels, and works as a letterer.
Award Winner: His book Action Philosophers has won multiple awards.
He hosts a podcast called KING KIRBY and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and cats.
Joe Cooper – Illustrator (@cooperdraw)
He is a comic book artist who has worked with nearly ever major American comic book publisher like DC, Marvel, Image, and Valiant.
He specializes in comics, storyboards, design, and illustrations.
Joe lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife and son and is a self-described action figure aficionado.
Dave Swartz – Colorist (@daveswartzart)
Multitalented: He is an artist, writer, teacher, philosopher, and comic book creator.
He has also worked as a storyboard artist and illustrator for companies like Amazon, AT&T, Warner Brothers, Ubers, the NFL, and the NBA.
He teaches in Detroit, MI, and is currently running an Indidgogo campaign for his original comic series, Confederate Monster.
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The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All The Comic Book Story of Basketball characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Fred Van Lente & Joe Cooper or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED