The best books for reading century-old newspaper funnies

Why am I passionate about this?

I was walking across the country in 1986 when I met a journalist named Mike Sager who showed me that writing can also be an adventure. Since then, I’ve edited an alternative weekly newspaper and written books about zydeco, Hurricane Katrina, comics, and old Kodachrome photos. So far, most everything I write seems to be centered in some way around my adopted home state of Louisiana, a place that never seems to run out of stories. Also, I still like to walk.


I wrote...

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

By Michael Tisserand,

Book cover of Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

What is my book about?

In 2007, living in the Midwest following the New Orleans floods, I attended the Masters of American Comics exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum. When I walked into a room filled with George Herriman’s original, hand-drawn pages of his masterpiece “Krazy Kat,” I immediately knew I had to learn everything there was to know about this amazing, inscrutable cartoonist and New Orleans exile. Ten years of research later, I published the first full-length biography of Herriman, revealing the story of his precarious position on the American color line and especially the transcendent “Krazy Kat,” in which Herriman created art from a personal history that could not be spoken out loud.

Krazy was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography and won the Eisner Award for best book about comics, and has been optioned by filmmaker Jonathan Hock for a documentary.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics

Michael Tisserand Why did I love this book?

Bill Blackbeard was the Harry Smith of comics. Just as Smith’s landmark Anthology of American Folk Music helped launch a folk music revival, so did Blackbeard’s massive volume of old newspaper comics spark a new generation of comics fandom and scholarship. This was also the first book of old newspaper funnies I ever read, during a childhood Saturday afternoon in the Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana, when I discovered the magical “741.5” shelf that held books of comics. Other big, beautiful anthologies of old newspaper funnies have been compiled by comics creators like Jerry Robinson and Brian Walker, but Blackbeard is the granddaddy.

By Bill Blackbeard (editor), Martin Williams (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Selected comic treasures from American newspaper pages from 1896 to the 1970s display a range of graphic experimentation and imaginative storytelling


Book cover of Society is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip 1895-1915

Michael Tisserand Why did I love this book?

Warning: This book will make you build a new bookshelf. Like other oversized offerings from Peter Maresca’s Sunday Press Publishing, you need a tape measure, not a ruler, to determine its dimensions. This means that you can read this startling collection of strips from 1895 to 1915 in the grand size in which they first appeared in early newspapers, back when the colors and characters screamed off the page, reflecting and refracting the frenetic dawn of a new century. These old newspaper comics pages are where Americans first learned to laugh together. Society is Nix can be difficult to find but is well worth the effort.

By Peter Maresca,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Society is Nix as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BIRTH OF COMICS. From the Yellow Kid to the Captain and the Kids, these are the origins of the American comic strip, created at a time when there were no set styles or formats, when artistic anarchy helped spawn a new medium. This book features the earliest offerings (1895 to 1915) from the famous and lesser-known cartoonists who where there when comics were born-over 150 creations from more then 50 superb artists, most reprinted for the first time ever. And all in the original broadsheet size and brilliant colors. Chris Ware calls Society Is Nix,"a mind-blowing portable museum retrospective…


Book cover of Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny

Michael Tisserand Why did I love this book?

Paul Tumey is one of our pre-eminent comics scholars, but like the cartoonists he honors in this work, he mainly wants to make you laugh. To this end, he’s assembled cartoons, comics, and old photos, mostly dating to the early 1900s, to build a case for a comics genre he calls Screwballism. It’s all a very funny read, and if the names of genius creators like Frederick Burr Opper and Gene Ahern aren’t yet household names, don’t blame Tumey.

By Paul C. Tumey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of screwball comics, with new research and rare art from some of the most hilarious cartoonists of all time.

Before "screwball" became a movie genre, it was a staple of other forms of American culture, including newspaper comic strips. Emerging from the pressures of a rapidly accelerating technological and information-drenched society, screwball comics offered a healthy dose of laughter and perspective. The disruptive, manic, and surreal verbal-visual comedy of these "funnies" fostered an absurdist sensibility embraced by The Marx Brothers (who took their names from a popular comic strip), W. C. Fields, Tex Avery, Spike Jones, Ernie Kovacs,…


Book cover of The Goat Getters: Jack Johnson, the Fight of the Century, and How a Bunch of Raucous Cartoonists Reinvented Comics

Michael Tisserand Why did I love this book?

Before there were funny pages, there were sports pages with funnies on them. Eddie Campbell, best known as the artist-collaborator with Alan Moore on From Hell and the creator of his own wonderful and sort-of autobiographical Alec: The Years Have Pants, has pored over these old sports pages to uncover the secret origins of the funnies. Along the way, he tells stories of a lurid murder trial and a racially charged boxing match, all seen through the eyes of sports cartoonists. This is hidden history at its most entertaining.

By Eddie Campbell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Goat Getters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rip-roaring and exhaustively researched new take on the origin of the comic strip by one of the leading cartoon storytellers of our time.

With more than 500 period cartoons, The Goat Getters illustrates how comics were developed by such luminaries as Rube Goldberg, Tad Dorgan, and George Herriman in the sports and lurid crime pages of the daily newspaper. This wild bunch of West Coast-based cartoonists established the dynamic anatomy and bold, tough style that continue to influence comics today, as well as their own goofy slang that enriched the popular lexicon.

The Goat Getters also captures early twentieth…


Book cover of In the Shadow of No Towers

Michael Tisserand Why did I love this book?

Unlike the other books on this list, this isn’t primarily a reprint collection of early-twentieth-century comics. Rather, Art Spiegelman (whose essential memoir Maus was the first comic to win a Pulitzer Prize), re-introduces old comics characters in a very personal story of the 9/11 attacks and the political fallout. Figures like the Happy Hooligan, Jiggs and Maggie, Little Nemo, and Krazy Kat and Ignatz float through these stories like New York City’s awakened ghosts. Spiegelman also adds a masterful essay on comics and curates a few selections of the original strips. No work better demonstrates how the early cartoonists can speak through the rubble of history with vitality and humor.

By Art Spiegelman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Shadow of No Towers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus, the terrorist attacks of September 11th were both highly personal and intensely political. In the Shadow of No Towers is a masterful and moving account of the events and aftermath of that tragic day.

Spiegelman and his family bore witness to the attacks in their lower Manhattan neighborhood: his teenage daughter had started school directly below the towers days earlier, and they had lived in the area for years. But the horrors they survived that morning were only the beginning for Spiegelman, as his anguish was quickly displaced by fury at the U.S.…


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Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mentor Laugher Research nut Avid reader

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by…

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


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