The Best Books On The History Of Golden Age Comics

The Books I Picked & Why

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

By Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Why this book?

I wasn't a fan of comics growing up, and I never met Lev Gleason—he died five years before I was born.  My mother would tell me stories about her flamboyant, free-spending uncle from New York City, and I especially loved hearing about Uncle Lev's Day: once a year, Lev would drive to my mother's house near Boston, pile her and her friends into his gleaming aqua Packard, and head for the mall, where everyone was free to buy whatever their hearts desired--courtesy of Uncle Lev. He was my mother's Emperor of Ice Cream!  I knew he had made a fortune in comic books in the 1940s—and lost it all when his business collapsed in the 1950s.  That's about it.

It really wasn't until I picked up Michael’s novel during my last year of law school—when I should have been studying for finals—that I thought to find out why.  His chosen milieu was exactly the one in which Lev made it big as a publisher, and the anti-fascist superhero at the novel's heart sounded awfully familiar.


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The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

By David Hajdu

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

Why this book?

David’s book came out while I was still searching for the truth about Uncle Lev, and it provided a useful and entertaining overview of the effort to censor comic books—catching Lev directly in its cross-hairs—and the industry code that was implemented as a result. Ultimately, David argues, “the generation of comic-book creators whose work died with the Comics Code helped give birth to the popular culture of the postwar era.”


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Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code

By Amy Kiste Nyberg

Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code

Why this book?

Amy’s book takes on the same topic, but from the perspective of an academic—and with a more balanced, objective approach. In particular, she examines the role of anti-comics crusader Dr. Fredric Wertham, arguing that his “role in the crusade against comics has been largely misinterpreted by fans and scholars alike, who dismiss his findings as naïve social science, failing to understand how his work on comic books fits into the larger context of his beliefs about violence, psychiatry, and social reform." 


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Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America

By Bradford W. Wright

Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America

Why this book?

Another readable academic work, Bradford’s book helped me situate the history of comics within the broader narrative of post-war America’s emerging youth, pop, and consumer cultures.


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The Great Comic Book Heroes

By Jules Feiffer

The Great Comic Book Heroes

Why this book?

Jules wrote this book in 1965, so it certainly doesn’t reflect the latest scholarship. But as probably the first critical history of the Golden Age, it’s a valuable read—and a lot of fun!  Jules gives a real sense of what it was like to be alive, in New York City, creating these great works.


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