My job at Full Sail University has me in the company of a couple of “Comic scholars,” and while I often think they’re blowing hot air (yes, I’ve told them as much), they’re a lot of fun to be around and to talk with…plus, they have some of the coolest books. So I recently borrowed The Comic Book Heroes from Dr. Simone Carati (don’t ask me how to pronounce it, even he doesn’t say it the same way twice! Just think of Count DeMoney from History of the World Part 1). The book, written by Gerard Jones (an acquaintance from my comic days whom I had the pleasure to edit all of once…yes, once!) and Will Jacobs, who, I don’t think I ever met, is a broad sweeping story of the comic industry.
First, let me say what a fun read it was. Beginning in the late 50s, the book covers the behind the scenes story of the writers, artists, publishers, movers and shakers of the industry through 1996 (which is about when this, the second edition, was published). Initially, many of the names mentioned I’d never heard of. As a long-time reader myself, I’m a few years younger than J&J and didn’t start reading until the early-mid 70s, a time by which authors J&J were already bored of the content being produced. Once the story gets to the late 60s, I’m familiar with just about every name mentioned.
A reviewer on Goodreads wrote that it is “an opinionated insider’s history,” and I’d have to agree…but disagree. I don’t think this can be taken as serious history. As much as I like Gerry Jones (and I do!), there’s a lot of details he gets wrong about Malibu. Granted, Malibu is a very small portion in the book and doesn’t even enter the picture until the final chapters, but that’s what causes me to say this; if he gets so much wrong about Malibu, then how much of the other material is also suspect? Much of it, I’d say. How do I know he gets the Malibu stuff wrong? Simply, I was there for most of it.
But let me be quick to add; do NOT let that stop you from reading this book. This isn’t a book for the casual comic reader or even for one not interested in comics at all. But anyone interested in working in comics should read it because—even if it is opinionated, it’s full of a lot of valuable information about the relationships formed in the industry and really, how vital they are to success of those working in the industry. The book reveals J&J’s love for the 50s-60s work…and then almost nothing ever matches up. They fill the book with aesthetic judgments, many of which I agree with, but all of which do not belong in a “legit” history. Often they come across as bitter and slightly jaded and sometimes that even caused me to laugh out loud.
A long read, but a very enjoyable one.