This review first appeared on Fourth & Sycamore.
There have been a lot of books about craft beer in the last few years, but nothing like the new one from 10 Speed Press. The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 B.C. to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution written by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith and illustrated by Aaron McConnell aims to tells the long, long history of our treasured libation in graphic form, while also introducing readers to many popular modern beer styles and brewing techniques. This creative team (we mustn’t forget letterer Tom Orzechowski) succeeds handily.
I was skeptical going into The Comic Book Story of Beer. I’m not a big reader of comic books or graphic novels (and it’s much more the latter, despite the name), and I was fearful the book would dumb down the history, technique, and appreciation of beer in its aim to reach a wider audience with the gospel of good beer. I was pleasantly surprised the book doesn’t sacrifice accuracy for style, and doesn’t cut corners. At close to 200 pages, The Comic Book Story of Beer faithfully recounts humanity’s long relationship with fermented grain, from the earliest happy accidents of our nomadic ancestors, to the birth of agriculture, to ancient Rome, the middle ages, medieval Europe, Prohibition, and the modern craft and homebrewing phenomenon. Some of the stories presented as historical lean toward the apocryphal (the history of beer, like that of any passionate craft, is rife with anecdotal fables), but for the most part the book faithfully conveys the history of our favorite drink.
Aspects of the book were more compelling to me than others. I chose to skim over the periodic asides explaining particular styles. It’s hard to picture a novice beer drinker wading through the intricate historical accounts to get to these pages and learn about a new style, but I hope I’m wrong and some new drinkers are in fact introduced to lambic or Trappist dubbel through the book. The enthusiasm of the authors and illustrator are plainly evident, so it’s certainly possible.
The artwork by McConnell is lovingly rendered and enjoyable to take in. The page layouts are creative and varied but always intuitive and never confusing. Due to beer’s long history, and its role in various ancient mythologies, McConnell has much of human history and religion to draw from in selecting his subjects. The result is entertaining and visually compelling. Similarly, the breadth of time covered by the book allows the authors to cover a lot of information without the reader feeling bogged down in data. Thousands of years are included in these pages, but the story never feels like it’s rushing or dragging.
The Comic Book Story of Beer is quite an accomplishment. If you already know and love good beer, this will be a fun book to flip through on a Friday night over a glass of your favorite brew. If you know someone who loves graphic novels or comic books but is stuck drinking bland mass market light beer, hand them this book and you might just find you have a new craft drinking buddy. Either way, The Comic Book Story of Beer is a ton of fun.