Sean Howe, author of the exhaustively researched and rip-roaring new history Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, shares six of his favorite books about comics.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
“This one’s fiction, but superfan Michael Chabon brings alive the down-and-dirty comics industry of the early 20th century in his epic novel. More than any other work, this introduced the world at large to a sad truth that historians knew for years: the hard-toiling men behind the supermen weren’t usually the ones who got rich.”
Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous…
“Grant Morrison is best known as a slightly mad comic-book writer; he stuffs his tales with psychedelia and gnosticism and a love of all things pop. So it’s a thrill to learn that he’s also a first-class reader of comics as well. This half-memoir/half-history is at its best when he’s rolling up his sleeves and getting down to the essence of a character, like a comic-obsessed David Thomson. Here he is on the 1930s anti-hero the Sub-Mariner: ‘[T]he face of JD insolence, awaiting rock ‘n’ roll, Marlon Brando, and James Dean to ratify his power.'”
The Ten-Cent Plague
“A 1950s comic-book scare decimated the industry and cleaved comics history; the Golden Age was gone forever. David Hajdu’s extensively researched account of the human cost of that collapse is chilling.”
Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby
“Jack Kirby is finally gaining recognition as the co-creator of the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and hundreds more of the characters that the Marvel empire was built on. Charles Hatfield provided the first great book-length analysis of why, aside from all those characters, he was a genius artist and storyteller as well.”
Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth…
“With Will Jacobs, Gerard Jones co-wrote the wildly entertaining (and long out of print) The Comic Book Heroes, a dishy (if sometimes journalistically dodgy) account of the so-called ‘Silver Age’ of comics. For Men of Tomorrow, he went further back in time, to the 1930s and 1940s, maintaining the level of sensationalism but this time documenting his sources.”
Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth…
Bradford W. Wright
“Bradford Wright’s survey of the way that comic books reflected American society in the 20th century is so conversational—and entertainingly packed with jaw-dropping examples of outrageous panels—it’s easy to take for granted the rigorous scholarship that girds it.”
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.