Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book

That’s the subtitle of a book that I just finished, formally titled Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones. Fantastic book. As the title suggests, it’s about the birth of the comic book industry.
It starts out during the early 1900s, and the one comic that everyone knows about isn’t mentioned until about a hundred pages in. This is where the real history comes in.
Men of Tomorrow isn’t just about comics. It’s about the social and political culture in which they formed, explaining not only the environment just prior to the first publication of Action Comics #1 in 1938. The book takes us from there on a rollercoaster ride that the two creators, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel were taken on though the rest of their lives. From Superman, we find the orgins of Batman, then Captain America, followed the troubles and censorship that the comic industry faced, the ups and downs of the market, the creation of DC and later, Marvel Comics, through to the first Superman movie, the rise of geek culture through to today.
It’s amazing what that first issue did, and the impact that it’s had.

The book is a nice representation of a history that not many people will ever really see. Everyone knows about World War II, World War I, Watergate, Vietnam, the Waco Seige and any other number of political and military events that’s shaped our culture. This is the history that I’ve grown to like, because when I first came to Norwich, I discovered that everyone else is obsessed with military history. Cultural history is one of those things that’s really overlooked.
The story of comics is facinating, dark and full of enough squabbles and backstabbing to take on an entity of their own. The two creators of Superman, Joe and Jerry, were ruined by the lawsuits that they brought against DC to get full credit for their work as creators and the compensation that they felt that they needed. It wasn’t until the 1980s, almost 50 years, when they were able to do so.
Comics faced huge hurtles from the government and internal functions over content and what should be in comics in the first place. There were times when the government put huge restrictions on the content and when civil groups encouraged stores to return comics because of their content. Then there were market fluctuations. Comics boomed in the 30s and 40s, died off a little during the 50s, came back with Marvel Comics during the 60s through to the 80s, then a bust in the 90s and are currently resurging a bit now. During this time, writers and artists are hired and rehired.
All in all, it’s a wonderfully facinating narrative about American culture, and about one of the more facinating parts of the literature world.

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