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Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  1,293 Ratings  ·  105 Reviews
Animated by the stories of some of the last century's most charismatic and conniving artists, writers, and businessmen, Men of Tomorrow brilliantly demonstrates how the creators of the superheroes gained their cultural power and established a crucial place in the modern imagination. "This history of the birth of superhero comics highlights three pivotal figures. The story
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 11th 2005 by Basic Books (first published 2004)
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Aug 17, 2009 Greg rated it really liked it
Let me start with a couple of caveats. The focus of this book is not for everyone. It will likely be of some interest to those generally interested in popular culture and 20th century history. It's primary audience, however, consists of the geeks alluded to in the subtitle. (I count myself as a geek wannabe.)

Organized primarily around the evolution of Superman, Men of Tomorrow branches out to consider the cultural influences and the interpersonal relationships that shaped the growth of the comic
Wes Freeman
Jan 26, 2009 Wes Freeman rated it really liked it
Smart, concise history of how comic books became a thing and doesn't leave out any of the good stuff. Re-emphasizes the argument that all American forms of mass entertainment media in the 20th century are on permanent loan from the street culture of New York City -- a place that seems to own stock in every American cultural enterprise this side of the Civil War and will always get the big chair in the shareholder's meetings, even if the product under discussion isn't their own. Author is here to ...more
Apr 24, 2015 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
In the depths of the Depression, out of the crowded tenements of New York and Cleveland, the comic book superhero leapt into being. Out of a mix of geekiness, science fiction, and outsider yearning, a crew of young men from working-class Jewish neighbourhoods and shady backgrounds created a series of blue-eyed, chisel-nosed crime fighters and adventurers who quickly captured the imaginations of young and old. Within a few years their creations had spawned a new genre that still dominates youth e ...more
Apr 15, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
I read this as background for Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Research soon turned into fascination with the true story of the origins of the comic book and the superheroes that made the genre a cultural phenomenon. Well written and documented, Men of Tomorrow is an important social history of the comic book in America. Jones has done a fine job of interweaving the stories of the creators (writers and artists) and the publishing entrepreneurs who made the comic bo ...more
Oct 15, 2007 Dan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: EVERYONE who enjoyed Kavalier & Clay
I read this a few months before I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and I think I benefited from it. This book is the "real life" version (inspiration) of Chabon's novel - essentially following Jerry Siegel (and to an extent, Joe Schuster), all through the Golden Age of comics and beyond. Along the way we get stories from all of the major workhouses in New York, including some great anecdotes about Will Eisner (like his marathon run to finish a comic with his bullpen in he middl ...more
Jan 20, 2015 Johnny rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Growing up in the so-called “Silver Age” of comic books (‘50s-early ‘60s) and being such a geek that I attended San Diego Comic Con before it moved to the convention center, it’s a wonder I didn’t read Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book before. This history rings true for the limited information I have on comic book history (reading Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent many years ago, working for a company which briefly published comics (Ziff-Davis), devouring my au ...more
Tim Pendry
It is hard to praise enough this detailed (perhaps an edge too much so in the very first chapters), well researched, well sourced, well judged and readable account of the creation of the comic books industry.

Jones balances the human, creative and business stories and makes a convincing case for this being a peculiarly Jewish-American phenomenon grounded initially (though not today) in a particular milieu.

Comic book production in New York in the 1940s was a classic case of an urban centre of exce
More like 4.5, but I'm in a good mood today and rounding up. This is basically the nonfiction version of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It's easy to read and I think Jones and Chabon are friends. And so I kept having these weird flashbacks of "wait, where do I know this story from???" and many of the vignettes in Kavalier & Clay are things that really happened. Anyway, if you couldn't get through that one for stylistic reasons but are interested in the subject, I'd give this ...more
Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson
Jan 08, 2011 Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson rated it really liked it
I have read Men of Tomorrow a couple of times and use it for research and a starting point for my own research. What I like best about the book is that it is not only easy to read and very well written but I love the fact that Gerard places the history of comic books within the larger frame of historical events. It makes so much of the history more compelling and understandable. I know Gerard because there is information about my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in this book. The inf ...more
Bryan Cebulski
Phenomenally well-written book. Beyond disappointing to learn that so many iconic characters were mostly the composite result of decades of greed though. Yet such may be the very nature of trash: Meaningful material developing only after way long bouts of money-grubbing, ignoring original creators, failing to compensate writers, etc.
Jacob Wren
Aug 08, 2011 Jacob Wren rated it it was amazing
Gerard Jones writes:

No other fad in entertainment has ever paralleled real-life events as closely as the superheros paralleled World War II. Superman fist drew attention in the summer of 1938, as war fears grew out of the Czechoslovakia crisis, and it was after the war really began late the next summer that the superhero fad took flight. By 1941, as America moved inevitably into the war, the heros grew rapidly in number, popularity, variety, and aggression, and some of the most popular were taki
Matthew Lloyd
Feb 20, 2015 Matthew Lloyd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle of Men of Tomorrow promises that it tells "the TRUE STORY of the BIRTH of the SUPERHEROES". In many ways, it achieves this goal. But the narrative thrust of this history is not the creation of superheroes, although there is much discussion and some psychoanalysis of that phenomenon. The hook of the story, its beginning and its end, is the dispute regarding the credit for the creation of Superman and the battles Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had to endure to be recognised as his creat ...more
Aug 05, 2007 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Gerard Jones, Basic Books, 2004

This book is a history of that ubiquitous part of contemporary American adolescent life, the comic book.

In the early part of the 20th Century, there were an entire generation of male geeks and outsiders who enjoyed reading this crazy literature called science fiction. Mainly Jewish, and usually living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, they combined their fantasies and youthful traumas into the sq
Aug 20, 2013 Travis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I originally picked up this book because I figured it would have a different take on the comic book industry's history. I've only read one other book on the subject but it was focused on the "Seduction of the Innocent" controversy. This book also touches on that but instead focuses on the earliest history of the comic book. The path through pulp fiction and newspaper comic strips and the birth of science fiction was extremely interesting to read about. How much of the industry was started by men ...more
Mike Hankins
May 02, 2016 Mike Hankins rated it really liked it
Shelves: 20th-century-us
This is a great sort of "group biography" that tracks many of the founding generation of superhero comics and tries to cut through the myths and legends that have grown around them. Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Jack Liebowitz receive the most amount of attention, although others such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, and others receive a little bit of coverage too.

The big revelations here are just how wide Liebowitz's business efforts were -- he was involved in quite
Laura Martin
Sep 05, 2015 Laura Martin rated it it was ok
You know those books that make your eyes just sort of slide through the words? Your reading them, a narrating voice in your head is spitting the syllables out to you, but you're gaining no conscious understanding of what's actually been written? Countless times I found myself thinking about other things, what I was going to do tomorrow, what the weather was like, the chores I had to do, rather than slog through the drudgery that is this book.

In effect, this book is what I despise most about non-
Jan 09, 2016 Hank rated it really liked it
I have seen two three-hour documentaries on comic book history, but they each just barely skimmed the surface and put a glossy sheen on the circumstances leading up to the birth of the comic book phenomenon and subsequent developments. Gerard Jones' book (originally published in 2005) scrapes off a bit of the surface polish to show how the original creators of what we now know as comic books were a mixed bag of earnest writers and artists who wanted to express their interests, and the sometimes- ...more
Michelle Cristiani
Aug 04, 2012 Michelle Cristiani rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I can't help it: I'm a natural student. So it stands to reason that with all the comics I've been reading, I'd eventually get around to reading a history of the comic industry.
I heard of this book in a review of a DC documentary I saw recently; the reviewer said you should read this instead and be done with it. I agree whole-heartedly. Jones' writing is superlative. He makes a topic that is admittedly sometimes boring - even for die-hard fans - all riveting, all the time.
The story of comics is
Aug 21, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: completed
This is an awesome and informative book and well worth the time it took to read as well as the discounted purchase price I paid for it. This one chronicles the creation and subsequent RIPOFF of Superman from his creators, as well as the basic history of where comic books came from and how organized crime managed to use the comic book industry as a front for smuggling and money laundering.

In many ways, this one would make a great movie along the lines of MONEYBALL.. it is FANTASTIC.. moving.. and
Ian Massey
Dec 22, 2014 Ian Massey rated it it was amazing
I have been a reader of comics for as long as I can remember and a collector of American comics, in one form or another, for over thirty-five years and have always been interested by the history of the characters, creators and the industry itself. This book fills in the details of stories that I have only ever known as broad brush strokes, telling how Jewish immigrants started the whole industry off, by way of gangster gangs, pornography and the pulps.

Detailed histories of the early days of the
Adam Bender
Apr 22, 2016 Adam Bender rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Men of Tomorrow tells the pretty fascinating true story of the comics book industry. The heart of the book is the story of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and their long struggle to get credit for the Man of Steel. Even though I read this book off and on over a few months, it was largely this narrative that kept me coming back.

For me, the book starts a bit slow, providing a lot of history about a variety of people who -- while important to the comic book industry's conception --
May 11, 2013 Hamish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Pretty fascinating, pretty absorbing. Not quite an all-encompassing portrait of the golden age of comics; Jones focuses on a few key figures and tells their stories in detail, while giving only brief sketches of others. At first this irritated me, but as I got deeper into the book I realized that it was a wise choice on Jones' part. If he tried to cover everything, it would have felt like a pedantic slog. Instead, he sticks to the most important and memorable people and it gives the book a stron ...more
Sep 08, 2013 Peggy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I've had an advanced reader copy of this book floating around my house for almost 10 years and recently rescued it from my high "unread" pile of books. What a great read!

It came out a couple years after Kavalier and Clay and offers a broad history of the comic book industry, the culture it arose from, its creators, distributors and fans. There may be other good books along these lines but this one was fascinating, working in what I felt to be an objective way to dispel old myths and treat the s
Jan 01, 2008 Nate rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who like american history, jewish history, comic books, etc.
This is some good nonfiction right here about the personalities who were present at the birth of the comic book industry in the thirties, that takes you all the way up until most of them died all the way in the 80's. The style is engaging and some of the stories are just downright fascinating. Particularly tragic, but well-told, is the ongoing subplot of Siegel and Shuster's lifelong battle to get royalties and credits for their initial creation of Superman.

Without question, this was a great boo
Edward Davies
Starting in war time America, this book takes a look at the history of the modern comic book, with its history coming from such diverse areas as the Jewish science fiction writing community to the gangsters of the 20s and 30s. This looks at the differing levels of success had by many of the key figures in comic book history, from the creators of Superman and their struggle to retain creative control and ownership, right up to the inception of Marvel comics and their more fun loving approach to t ...more
Mar 30, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Gerard Jones' enthusiastic narrative about the geeks, gangsters and outcasts that built the comic book medium fell into my lap through a friend. And I kept the book from him for three years after he loaned it to me.

This is not a strictly cultural longview. If you want that, read The Ten-Cent Plague. This is a book by an insider (Jones wrote Green Lantern once upon a time) about the insiders who made money and art off their work in newspapers and funny books, starting in the 1930s. He has a good
Jon Hogan
Jul 24, 2013 Jon Hogan rated it really liked it
Gerard Jones wrote the run on Green Lantern that--as I read back issues--made me appreciate Hal Jordan at a time when he wasn't alive in current continuity. So I went into reading this hoping it would be great for sentimental reasons.

I was not disappointed. This book is unique in how much background it offers on the origins of DC Comics. This subject is rarely discussed in the literature, and I wonder if this is due to resistance from Time Warner or the fact that--comparatively--Stan Lee did suc
Carol Mann Agency
From The New Yorker

This history of the birth of superhero comics highlights three pivotal figures. The story begins early in the last century, on the Lower East Side, where Harry Donenfeld rises from the streets to become king of the "smooshes"—soft-core magazines with titles like French Humor and Hot Tales. Later, two high-school friends in Cleveland, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, become avid fans of "scientifiction," the new kind of literature promoted by their favorite pulp magazines. The dis
Oct 22, 2013 Daniel rated it really liked it
This is a really great look at the lives of the men who gave us many of the comic book heroes and story-lines that we fanboys have come to love over the decades. But this book is more than that, it is a snapshot of an America that exists only in the past, a breakdown of neighborhoods and dynamics of the early and mid 20th century, the likes of which will never be seen again. While a lot of that time frame seems to be over-romanticized, this book doesn't just shine a light on the best of the era, ...more
Geoff Hyatt
Jan 19, 2009 Geoff Hyatt rated it really liked it
"This was the bed in which the comic book was conceived: counter-cultural, lowbrow, idealistic, prurient, pretentious, mercenary, forward-looking, and ephemeral, all in the same instant."

Jones covers a lot of ground in this well-researched, heartfelt, and sometimes all-over-the-map look at the seedy fusion of art and commerce that created our first superhero comics. The book is at its strongest when it explores the confluence of immigrant imagination and rough street culture that brought about i
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Gerard Jones is an award-winning American author and comic book writer. From 1987 to 2001, Jones wrote many comic books for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Viz Media, Malibu Comics and other publishers; including Green Lantern, Justice League, Prime, Ultraforce, El Diablo, Wonder Man, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, The Shadow, Pokémon, and Batman.

Jones is author of the Eisner Award
More about Gerard Jones...

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“American men had made do for so long with smiling chorines and sweet titillation in their sleazy magazine that no one realised how hungry they were to have their sex mixed with terror and blood.” 1 likes
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