Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, And The Birth Of The Comic Book
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Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, And The Birth Of The Comic Book

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  827 ratings  ·  82 reviews
Before the Incredibles, there were Batman and Superman, Spiderman and Captain America... Gerard Jones' book tells the fascinating inside story of the comic superheroes. In the depths of the Depression, out of the crowded tenements of New York and Chicago, the comic book superhero leapt into being. Out of a mix of geekiness, science fiction, and outsider yearning, a crew of...more
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Published July 1st 2005 by William Heinemann (first published 2004)
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Wes Freeman
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
Greg
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...more
Michael
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
Dan
Oct 15, 2007 Dan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
catechism
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
David
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...more
Matthew Lloyd
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
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
Jacob Wren
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...more
Hamish
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
Michelle Cristiani
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...more
Hank
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
Travis
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
Paul
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...more
Peggy
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...more
Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson
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
Paolo
Oct 03, 2007 Paolo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone.
Amazing book so far. Reads with the same economy & pulse & vividness of a 30s newspaper, but with tons of love for the Jewish artists who invented the American superhero comic book. But what I dont get in the early sections on Donnenfeld & Jacobstein & the Lower East Side ethnic enclave narratives, is how on earth absolutely zero reference can be made to Chinatown & the citizens forced to live inside it. C'mon, you're gonna point out the Jewish, Irish, and Italian neighborhoo...more
Daniel
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
Jon Hogan
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...more
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...more
Geoff Hyatt
"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...more
Sarah
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...more
Nate
Jan 01, 2008 Nate rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
Nacho Martín
Muy bien. Detalladísimo. Recorre el siglo XX desde el punto de vista (naturalmente) de los cómics de superhéroes, pero sin detenerse ahí, sino que los pone muy bien en el contexto del sentir de la gente de las distintas épocas, y las distinta consideración de la cultura popular durante cada etapa.
Katharine Tapley
A few weeks ago I visited friends, the husband being a Jewish scholar and bookseller who said to me "Your husband said you're into comic books. Here you go!". A gift, not a loan. He's a great guy.

This is fascinating! It's a history of Immigration, of American Jewish culture in the Depression, and how it led up to the creation of Superman and Batman and their ilk. It's surprising how few pages I am into it (41) and how much I feel I've gotten out of it. Normally, I'm a pretty fast reader, but thi...more
Phayvanh
Dec 30, 2007 Phayvanh rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pop culture junkies
Shelves: reviews, comix, reportage
It only took me a few days to read the advance copy of this book, which I think didn't had all the photos included in it. This is a very well-written history of the comics industry,told in context of the rise of printed media in the early to mid 20 century. How comics transformed from adult entertainment into youth culture.

To illustrate the hopes and failings of the new industry, Gerard Jones uses the inspiring, yet ultimately sad story of Jerome Seigel and Joseph Schuster,creators of Superman...more
C. Adam Volle
I had hopes this book would be well-written, easily accessible and thorough but focused; I never considered it might be so smart about its subject matter as to be capable of teaching me a bit about myself and my fellow fans of the present.
victoria.p
recommended by Amberlynne.

I enjoyed this, though the writing was a little clunky, and the lack of women (and the mostly poor treatment of the women who appear) in the story made it less interesting to me overall. Still, the confluence of 20th C. NYC history, the mob, the early days of SF/F fandom, and pop culture makes this a really interesting read, and if you've read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, some of it will seem familiar (but lacking Chabon's fantastic prose).
Shamus Mcgillicuddy
I enjoyed reading about the the birth of the comic book industry, but this book covered familiar ground. Plus it isalmost encyclopedic in its efforts to give a page or two to every artist and writer who ever contributed to the industry in the 30s and 40s. The author should have adhered more closely to his central narrative, the tragic figures of Siegel and Shuster, the creators of Superman who foolishly signed away all their writes as naive boys barely out of their teens. That's the story that n...more
Matthew
Very detailed examination of the early days of the comic book industry. It tells the story of how motley crew of unlikely collaborators came together and, while is is an industry driven by heroes, the book makes it clear that there are no real heroes behind the scenes. Everyone involved is a workman trying to make a paycheck and when things exploded in popularity the ones who understood business made money while those who didn't suffered. At the core of the story was two guys who made their pass...more
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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
More about Gerard Jones...
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