Last week's release of Sean Howe's <em>Marvel Comics: The Untold Story</em> was a reminder of the many wonderful (prose) books dedicated to the history of the comic book industry out there, telling the stories of the men and women behind the stories that we're all so familiar with. <p>It would probably be unfair of us to even include <b>Comic Book History of Comics</b> by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey (seen at our right). That one's not only comprehensive, but it actually tells the story of comics <i>as</i> a comic! So, we're sticking to prose only. <p>For those who want to start compiling their library reading list, here are ten of the best. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i>
Depending on your feelings about Grant Morrison, this is either the ultimate pop-history of the superhero genre or a book that spends far too much time thinking about the sociological implications of Superman and Batman. <p>Either way, it's an enjoyable and enjoyably casual romp through the history of the mainstream comic book industry that includes some fun behind-the-scenes stories as its timeframe starts to coincide with Morrison's own time writing the characters he's writing about here.
Marvel Comics' darkest days - including bankruptcy and the near-collapse of the direct market - are the focus of Dan Raviv's look at the battle for control of the House of Ideas in the 1990s, as Ron Perelman and Carl Icahn fight for ownership of Marvel, and Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arad quietly manage to take control of the company from within.
Itself a work of history, Jules Feiffer's 1965 essay was arguably the first attempt to create a critical history of the golden age of comic book superheroes, with the writer looking at the impact of both the depression and World War II in shaping the creation and early success of superheroes. Covering the period from the late 1930s through the early 1950s, Feiffer created a lot of the framework for comic book history as its currently understood with this book. Best read in conjunction with...
Covering much of the same period as Feiffer's book, <em>All In Color</em> offers something closer to the fan's view of events, being a collection of essays reprinted from the 1960s fanzine <em>Xero</em>. <p>Don't judge the contents based on their origins, however; there are essays from the likes of Roy Thomas, <em>Comic Book Guide</em> editor Don Thompson and even Harlan Ellison in here to savor.
While Lee has his own autobiography out there (It's called <em>Excelsior</em>, which seems fitting), Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael's take on his life - and his impact on the comic book industry - is the more complete, and more interesting - version of events that manages to stop short of the by-now-traditional demonizing of the co-creator of the Marvel Universe while still recognizing his shortcomings, leaving an impression of Lee as a flawed but fascinating individual.
Through a series of profiles of important creators throughout the history of the comic book industry - from Julius Schwartz all the way to Todd McFarlane, Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs create a mosaic look at the various eras of American comic books throughout the years. What makes it a particularly good read, though, is the fact that neither Jones nor Jacobs attempt to filter out their own opinions when it comes to the value of particular eras, making for a lively and at times argumentative look at the peaks and troughs of the industry and the companies involved.
Possibly the wild card of the list, David Bishop's history of the British anthology series <em>2000 AD</em> manages to act as an introduction not only to the classic series (and its particular brand of humor, action and in-jokes) itself, but also the British comic book industry of the 1970s through today in the process. <p>Considering the impact that creators (and <em>2000 AD</em> alums) like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and others have had on the American industry, it's a compelling look at a parallel history that hasn't stopped interacting with ours for decades.
Subtitled "The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America," David Hajdu's investigation into the impact of Fredric Wertham's <em>Seduction of the Innocent</em> and the demonization of comic books as something that was secretly corrupting the youth of America is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of comic books, of popular culture or even just of American society. <p>It's likely to leave you shaking your head in both disbelief and anger at the way everything happened, and just how much impact one man's scaremongering ended up having.
Apparently, <em>The Comic Book Heroes</em> was simply Gerard Jones warming up for this main event. <em>Men of Tomorrow</em> follows not just the creation and early days of Superman, but also of DC Comics as a company, revealing the publisher's hidden history amongst gangsters, pornographers and muscle men of the 1930s. <p>As colorful and entertaining as any novel - Michael Chabon's <em>The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay</em> makes for a good book to read afterwards, in many ways - <em>Men of Tomorrow</em> is proof that truth is often stranger, funnier and more entertaining than fiction.
And finally, Howe's latest book, which pulls back the curtain to reveal the hidden past of the House of Ideas from before it was even called "Marvel Comics" right up to its purchase by Disney a couple of years back. Why couldn't the company hold onto an editor-in-chief in the 1970s? What stopped a line-wide reboot of continuity and comic books in the 1980s? And what happened to cause the variant cover insanity of the 1990s? It's all here, told in fast-moving prose and with contributions from almost all of the big name creators you'd expect, and then some. <p>Not all of the skeletons in the closet are revealed, but more than enough are to make it well worth checking out.