I don't know about you guys but I'm a sucker for books about comic books. I have a large number (probably more than twenty) and most of them are devoted to the golden or silver age. I'm always looking for more to add to the collection, and last week I found (whilst browsing on Amazon) "Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and the creation of comic book culture" by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor.  

I bought it from one of the merchants who sell used books on Amazon and got it for the princely sum of 4 pounds (that's about 6 bucks) and it arrived today.

It's a work of genius! Straightforward, jargon-free writing, taking the reader from the 30's, comic-strips and the advent of Superman, right up to the appearance of Obama on a Spider-Man cover in 2012. Superb images throughout including some that this reader had never seen before! Interviews with Steranko, Kubert and Adams help to make this a book among books.

This, together with "Men of Tomorrow" will henceforth be my top two of my book collection.

Anyone else collect books about comics?


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I have a bookshelf of 'em, Steve! I use them primarily for research or for quotes. But some are actually good!

My recommendation: Kirby: The King of Comics by Mark Evanier, who was (briefly) a Kirby assistant. He writes with insight and love. He also doesn't color outside the lines, by presenting his opinions as facts. His take on the Stan Lee issue: "Neither could have achieved what they did without the other." And he moves on.

I used to try to pick up every one out there, but then the market got saturated and I gave up. It was a bigger deal back before Google, when any reference had to be looked up in a book from my shelves.


So yes, I have a long shelf of reference books, going back to Comic Art in America by Stephen Becker (1959), the classic Comix: A History of Comic Books in America by Les Daniels (1971, the first one I owned), Crawford's Encyclopedia of Comic Books (1978) and The International Book of Comics by Denis Gifford (1984).


There were a bunch of genre books (GA, SA, Crime, SF and Horror) by Mike Benton awhile back, and of course the DC books by Les Daniels and more recently Paul Levitz. I just saw the latter on sale last week at the Art Institute of Chicago, showing how far comics historians have come.


-- MSA



Mr. Silver Age said:

I used to try to pick up every one out there, but then the market got saturated and I gave up. It was a bigger deal back before Google, when any reference had to be looked up in a book from my shelves.

Good lord, I hear you, bro. Back before this "internet" thing, you had to go to the library or bookstore to get books. God, what a pain. Thank God for the Internet.

I have the second volume of The Steranko History of Comics. Prepared in the early 70s, it mixes amusing and opinionated descriptions of stories with background information about creators, partly based on interviews. It has chapters on Captain Marvel, the Marvel Family, Fawcett's other heroes, Blackhawk, other aviator heroes, Plastic Man, other Quality heroes, and the Spirit. The pages are tabloid size and it's illustrated by small B&W images of covers and large reproductions of selected images, including some unused cover art. V.2 has a Spirit story at the end. I understand V.1 covers Golden Age DC and Marvel (and kid gangs, Amazon tells me) and has the opening sequence from the Superman newspaper strip. More volumes were projected but only these two were done.

Crawford's Encyclopedia of Comics by Hubert H. Crawford is a history of Golden Age American comics company by company. It describes stories using panel extracts and includes stories and story extracts. I learned a lot from it. I don't trust it to be completely accurate, but the only egregious error I know of is a mistake about the Buck Rogers newspaper strip.(1) The volume talks about newspaper strips as they were reprinted in comics in the Golden Age. I believe the illustrations were originally in colour but in my copy all the colour illustrations are greyscale.

If you want to learn more about British comics look for works by Denis Gifford. I have copies of his Victorian Comics and Happy Days, both of which mostly consist of page reproductions. Happy Days includes colour reproductions. The introduction of Victorian Comics describes the origins of British comics.

The World Encyclopedia of Comics ed. Maurice Horn is a genuine encyclopedia. The first edition was a giant one-volume one and covered comics and newspaper strips from all over. The updated version, which I haven't read, was multi-volume.

I know I also read The Penguin Book of Comics by George Perry and Alan Aldridge, or rather the extracts in it, but I don't remember it. My recollection is it's not systematic, partly covers newspaper strips, discusses British and American and perhaps European examples, and doesn't have too much in it about superheroes.

Frederik L. Schodt's Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics was published before mangas started being translated into English, and describes features and genres.

(1) It says Buck vanished from the newspaper strip and Wilma searched all over for him. There may have been a storyline like that - I can't say - but what actually happened is Wilma was dropped.

In the chapter on Fiction House Crawford takes the company's credits at face value. It signed many features with pseudonyms.

The Steranko books are fascinating, and well worth owning. I have the originals and have desperately tried for decades to keep them from falling off their staples. (I guess I should sell them before they do.) But it's terrible history. You can't trust it, because it's essentially "history as Steranko saw it or heard it and spent an afternoon in a library looking it up." But he presents everything he "knows" as fact.

It was, though, one of the earliest efforts at a comprehensive comics history, and is to be praised for that. And it's useful for setting up a historicial framework. But, again, the books are not to be trusted. When I quote them, I always say, "Steranko says ... "

I forgot about the Steranko "books," as they're big, oversized books that were saddle-stitched like a comic book rather than perfect bound like a book. They are probably the first ones I bought--I got them from ads in Marvel comics.

My second volume includes a handwritten postcard from Steranko, in his distinctive lettering, in response to my complaint that I'd ordered the book many months earlier and still hadn't gotten it. He basically told me to shut up and sit down, it was coming and would be worth the wait. It was.

I have a bunch of paperbacks like the Penguin book that I didn't mention as they're on different shelves in another room. There are a lot that are about the history of comic STRIPS, as that was deemed worthy of historical review (probably because adults allegedly read those and would buy books about their history) much earlier than comic books got that attention.

There also was more history there to talk about with strips when I started to find them, in the late 1960s. At that point, only some fanzines had begun to care about comic-book history.

Back before this "internet" thing, you had to go to the library or bookstore to get books. God, what a pain.

Yes, well, some of us could make our name on that lack, since we owned the books. I won a bunch of comic-strip trivia quizzes on CompuServe because I had a ton of comic strip history books that I could look stuff up in, given the knowledge I already had. I won a few pieces of original art that way. Nowadays, those would be laughably easy for everyone to get right.

Needless to say, Mr. Silver Age had a lot more stuff to write about back when nobody remembered every comic's plots and didn't have the entire run of every title sitting on their shelves!

 -- MSA

In 1970 the American comic book industry had only existed for about 35 years. Stan Lee, Julie Schwartz, Jack Kirby, Curt Swan, Irv Novick, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert all started in the industry in the Golden Age.

I also highly recommend the Kirby King of Comics book by Evanier. Actually, I recommend anything written by Mark Evanier.

Thanks guys - I somehow guessed you would all be interested in books about comics. One of the first I ever bought was Craig's own "Baby Boomer Comics" so I guess I can 'blame' him for my predilection. I shall certainly make a point of purchasing "Kirby King of Comics" by Evanier.  It sounds excellent.  Most of the others that you've referred to, I already have.

Now, here's my dilemma.

Please don’t think that this is morbid, but what will happen to my lovely collection of books about comic books when I die?  I’m 58 and I say this for a reason - my dad died last month, aged 82, and a death of a close family member always makes you question your own mortality.  Mum and I are stymied as to what to do with his large collection of books and we shall probably end up taking them to the local charity shop. This makes me ask myself - what will happen to my collection?  Will they end up at the charity shop too? No-one in my family likes comics, other than me. None of my friends care about or are remotely interested in comics. My wife doesn’t like them either. So, unless I make some sort of provision, these books will end up unloved and unwanted.

Last week I had an idea.  Maybe my local library would like them! My local library is gigantic - it caters for our local university student body as well as the population of Worcester.  I’ve emailed the chief librarian and asked if a bequest of books about silver age comics would be appropriate. She has replied asking me for a list of requisite ISBN numbers, but indicating that such a bequest would probably be looked on with approval. So my collection may end up staying together!

That's an excellent idea. I've had that same thought, especially since I'm older than you. Many of the history or reference books are probably not very much in demand due to the vast quantity of material on the Internet. Some of the reference books I have were pretty hard to come by, but I doubt there's much of a market for them now.

Donating them to the library would at least ensure they continued to be useful. Putting together ISBNs for all I've got would be a real project, but I suppose that's what retirement is for. I'll keep that in mind, as it definitely beats Goodwill or the recycling center!

BTW, I'm glad I helped inspire your collecting addiction. It's good to know my book had a purpose!

-- MSA

That's great, Steve!

Donating them to a library is a great idea. They might not all make the cut -- the initial acceptance would be at the librarian's discretion, and then there's a certain amount of culling that librarians do for books that don't circulate much -- so they'll eventually be kept or removed from the shelves based on their usefulness. But those that are removed from the shelves are likely added to a library's book sale, which would bring many of those books to a good home -- they're a lot more likely to find the right book lover there than at Goodwill or another generalist charity. 

In the spirit of "Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine," here are two of my shelves of reference books (separate from reprint collections). The top shelf is hardbacks, the bottom shelf is paperbacks. (The paperbacks in plastic on the end are the Steranko books, which are still intact, thank you.)

There's another shelf of TwoMorrows Companion books (less reference than I'd like), all the George Olshevsky Marvel indexes, the Fleisher Superman/Batman/WW Encyclopedias, the Kingdom Come Companion and other assorted odds and ends.

I hope I can find a good home for them someday! Sadly, I'll bet eBay would not be a place to start.

-- MSA

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