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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But I'll gladly accept the argument that what comics needed was a ratings system -- a way for parents to parent, guided by product labeling. That's responsible capitalism, and I'm all for it. 

The counter argument is that a rating system makes it easy for little kids to figure out which comics they shouldn't be reading, which are the ones they want to be reading. And, as with movies, no teen wants to be seen reading a "G" comic, even if he used to like it.

An article in yesterday's Tribune discussed the trend of giving iPhones to kids when they're eight to 10 because it's important to stay in constant touch and iPhones get "better reception." Oh yeah. The story was about a group that wants parents to pledge to Wait Until 8th (grade) to give them their own hand-held computer-connection to all things Internet. I don't think comic books are a big issue.

I do agree with your premise. You don't want your kids reading comic books? Don't read. If they can't model the behavior, they'll equate reading with homework and dull classics in English. Lots of parents don't read anything for pleasure, and kids never consider that option. Quite often, people who buy books and read a lot do it because their parents read or read to them as kids--before they were buying their own comics.

-- MSA

IIRC, Dungeons and Dragons got a bad rap not because it inspired young people to horrible crimes but because a defense attorney used it to explain the horrible crimes.

Another urban myth (that has basically destroyed the Halloween I had as a kid) is the razor blade in the apple. Some outfit was offering to xray halloween goodies and they used the razor-blade-in-the-apple as a visual example for the TV cameras. To the best of my knowledge it never happened in real life.

There was a case where parents claimed their kid had eaten a cocaine-laced candy bar. Turned out they were trying to cover up that she'd gotten into her uncle's stash.

Richard Willis said:

IIRC, Dungeons and Dragons got a bad rap not because it inspired young people to horrible crimes but because a defense attorney used it to explain the horrible crimes.

Another urban myth (that has basically destroyed the Halloween I had as a kid) is the razor blade in the apple. Some outfit was offering to xray halloween goodies and they used the razor-blade-in-the-apple as a visual example for the TV cameras. To the best of my knowledge it never happened in real life.

The razor blade in the apple scare began back in the late 1960s and some of them were true, although a lot of them came from family members. Nowadays, nobody in their right mind gives out apples or other home-made treats or open food of any kind as a result.

Some places go so far as to hold "Trick & Trunk" events, where kids and their parents gather in a parking lot and go from car to car to get candy, while other suburbs (including my brother's) MOVE Halloween to the earlier weekend so it can take place in the afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m.

I'm glad I grew up when I did!

-- MSA

I wonder if the growing number of tv viewers also played some role in the decline of comics purchasing as potential comics buyers had more entertainment options to fill their free time.  My parents, btw, were teens in the 1950s (dad born in 1940, mom in '43) and both came from fairly poor families and neither had a tv until after they had married in 1961 (I came along a year later).  If they wanted to watch tv when they were kids, they had to go to the home of a somewhat wealthier friend or relative.  For my brothers and I, we always had tv in the various homes we lived in, although that didn't keep me from buying comics.  Still, maybe many of the older comics readers, the military veterans, kicked the habit when they could get escapist fare from the boob tube and I'd imagine when comics were tamed & dumbed down in the mid-50s,they probably got too boring for most of them.

Captain Comics said:

The biggest year in sales history for comics was 1953. 1954 was second or third. After that it drops off a cliff. I don't think bad publicity was hurting the industry as much as has been assumed here.

And, yes, the Code knee-capped the industry. It outlawed what was bread-and-butter for not just EC but a lot of the smaller publishers. They had to cancel their best-selling books because they wouldn't pass the Code, and without a Code stamp you didn't get distribution. (Dell, as noted, was an exception.)

EC couldn't get distributed even when it produced Code-approved books. Without distribution, it was doomed. 

The distributors gained even more power as they shrank the industry, because the Code drove so many books out of the market that a great many publishers went out of business, which had a domino effect on distribution, which also lost some players. The remaining distributors were able to determine what got distributed and what didn't -- and what did get distributed wan't much.

You'll recall that it was 1953 when Fawcett threw in the towel on Captain Marvel -- because it saw the handwriting on the wall and was getting out of the comics biz. Other publishers that went out of business or dropped their comics arm from 1953 to around 1958 are Ace, Ajax/Farrell, Comics Magazine, Comics Media, Eastern Color, EC, Farrell, Fiction House, Hillman, Lev Gleason, Magazine Enterprises,  Mainline,  Orbit, Standard, Quality, St. John, Star, Superior, Toby Press and Youthful.

The Code was responsible for most of this. What it didn't kill directly it killed by distribution or by reducing the remaining field to banal crap that even kids didn't want to read. 

The tameness of the comics probably drove most older readers away in the second half of the 50s, but sales were down before that. There was also a perception, which lingered for many years, that comics were only for kids and mental midgets. The shorthand used on TV and the movies to show someone was hopelessly immature and/or stupid was often to show them reading a comic book.

I don't think TV hurt the comics directly. Video games and hand-held computers/smartphones have driven kids away from reading comics and anything else they aren't forced to read. Associating reading with forced behavior hasn't helped.

The direct market, while it saved comics, has also made comics something that have to be hunted. When all comics were distributed everywhere, a non-reader might make an impulse purchase of a comic with a good cover and turn into a life-long reader. Because comic stores buy non-returnable comics, unless they have deep pockets they will only order what sells to their existing customers, narrowing the variety of comic genres available even if someone manages to find a store. Trade paperbacks in bookstores are more likely to be found by someone who likes reading, if they can find a bookstore.

Thanks to everyone for their comments.  I realized my review could spark a debate and I'm glad I finally got round to writing it (even if I did delay the review for two months!)  I'm especially grateful for the long post from Captain Comics. It was extremely well-written, detailed and to-the-point.  The Captain's and my point of view differ and I applaud that  - vive le difference - as my friends in France would say.  

I'd only seek to make one further point -  in 1955 British Parliament passed The Harmful Publications Bill (Children and Young Persons), seeking to protect the nation’s innocence. The Act (which was repealed in 1969) applied to any book, magazine or other like work which was of a kind likely to fall into the hands of children or young persons and consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter), being stories portraying the commission of crimes, acts of violence or cruelty; or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature “in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall.”

Those breaking the law faced imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months or a fine and, of course, the offending comics would have been destroyed.

 Therefore in Britain an Act of Parliament forbade the importation of "horrible" comics for a period of 14 years.  No such Act ever saw the light of day in the US. Publishers voluntarily introduced their own code, for fear that legislation might follow if it didn't. 

Maybe UK society is (or was) more repressive than US society. It took an Act of Parliament (in 1959) before D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" was finally published here - 33 years after it was written and 32 years after it was published abroad.  Maybe my point of view stems from the place where I grew up, rather than the result of logical and objective thinking.  Who knows?

I believe US publication of Lady Chatterly was about the same time.

Book and magazine publishers will often self-censor to avoid bad public relations. Prohibiting the publication of anything in the U.S. would violate our Constitution.

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