As a pop culture historian and critic, I own a fairly large collection of prose works
on comics history. In what I hope will be the subject of several more columns, I present
some of the essential reads from my collection. This is by far not all there is but it's a start.
The Great Comic Book Heroes
by Jules Feiffer (Dial Press, 1965)
The first history of comic books, cartoonist Feiffer, who later won a Pulitzer Prize,
delivers a fascinating account of super heroes comics alongside some of the more
obscure creators. For example, Detective Comics #1, the first National title
that spawned the company's much better known by the nom de plume DC, received a full critique
of the artists (future great Craig Flessel, pre-Superman Joe Schuster, text-heavy
Tom Hickey, Caniff-wannabe Will Ely, and Mandrake-copier Fred Guardineer) and
the actual content. Feiffer follows the heroic trail in an approachable and
engaging style. Still one of the finest introductory texts to the origins of the
super hero comic book. The original hardcover volume included reprints of the
comics that Feiffer mentions throughout. In 2003, Fantagraphics reprinted only
the text portions in an affordable trade paperback.
All in Color for a Dime
Edited by Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson (Arlington House, 1970)
In the dark days before the Internet, genre fans often shared ideas and concepts
through fanzines. Beginning with the first issue the Hugo-winning Xero (1960-1963),
comics played a central role with the regular column "All in Color for a Dime," featuring
an extraordinary cast of rotating writers. Lupoff (who co-edited Xero) and
Thompson selected eleven pieces for inclusion in All in Color for a Dime. Highlights
from the entertaining book include Ted White on M.C. Gaines, Lupoff covering Captain Marvel,
Roy Thomas recounting the Fawcett stable of heroes, Ron Goulart revealing lesser-known,
second tier heroes, and Harlan Ellison showcasing George Carlson.
Thanks at least partially to these writings, the popular conception of comic books within the
science fiction community began to change from contempt to at least a grudging
acknowledgment. Open enjoyment and acceptance of the medium would have to wait another 30
years until the arrival of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, et al.
The World Encyclopedia of Comics
Edited by Maurice Horn (Chelsea House, 1976)
Maurice Horn's indispensable reference work remains essential even in our instant data-saturated
Internet age. Countless pieces of comic book history remain buried inside this massive,
oversized 790 page tome that have yet to make it online. Even though it was updated in 1998
as a multi-volume edition, the original remains fascinating reading some 40 years after
its publication. Littered with black and white illustrations and smart, concise
entries, The World Encyclopedia of Comics remains an essential work for comic book scholars and historians.
The Art of Jack Kirby
by Ray Wyman, Jr. (The Blue Rose Press, 1992)
Though many books and articles have been written about the immense talents and legacy of Jack
Kirby, they all pale in comparison to Wyman's outstanding artistic survey. The oversized volume
offers countless color and black and white reproductions of the master's work, many rarely seen,
from his teens through 1991. Not only does The Art of Jack Kirby chronologically
follow the creative life, but supplies an indispensable Jack Kirby book list, publication
timeline, character list, and his extraordinary career statistics.
From 1938 through 1991 (the entirety of his career), Kirby averaged
376 pages year
31 pages a month
1 page per day
26 covers a year
2.2 covers a month.
During his longest uninterrupted period of publication (July 1958-January 1978), he averaged
670 pages a year
56 pages a month
1.8 pages a day
52 covers a year,
4.3 covers a month.
It's enough to drive any mortal artist into a fetal position.
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko
by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics, 2008)
The first critical retrospective of the co-creator of Spider-man, Strange and Stranger
grants an inside look into the workings and artistic life of this unusual man. Blake Bell successfully
argues Ditko's place within the pantheon of great artists while at the same time presenting
the many shortcomings of Ditko the person. Ditko's strong adherence to Ayn Rand's philosophy
of Objectivism ostracized the artist and made him a pariah. Bell shines light on many
diverse corners of the comics industry in an attempt to understand the reclusive Ditko. Lavishly
illustrated throughout, the well-crafted Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko is
a must-read for fans of the artist, in particular, and comic book history, in general.
Copyright © 2012 Rick Klaw
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including
The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy,
Moving Pictures, RevolutionSF,
Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe,
Steampunk, and The Steampunk Bible.
Coming in March 2013 from Tachyon, he is editing The Apes of Wrath, a survey of apes in literature
with contributions from Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert,
Joe R. Lansdale, Pat Murphy, Leigh Kennedy, James P. Blaylock, Clark Ashton Smith, Karen Joy Fowler,
Philip José Farmer, Robert E. Howard and others.
Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.