Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones - review by Sam Leith

Sam Leith

Heroes on the Breadline

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


William Heinemann 384pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

Comic-book superheroes are now so huge a part of the corporate cultural landscape that it's amazing to remember that they are less than 100 years old. Will Eisner, ‘the father of the graphic novel’, died only last year. Spiderman's creator Stan Lee, who enters Gerard Jones's story as an ingratiating teenage office-boy, is still alive. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the men who invented Superman (and whose long struggle for recognition from the cash-soaked industry he went on to spawn forms the spine of this book), lived into the 1990s. Their story is, as Jones's subtitle suggests, just one of multiple tales of betrayal and bankruptcy; of shifting alliances between fanboy artists and the semi-criminal hucksters who ran publishing and distribution businesses; of fast bucks and sharp practice; of myth made on the hoof. 

Everyone lied. Everyone ripped everyone else off. Everyone fiddled the books and diddled the talent and played catch-me-if-you-can with the censors. There were times when, if your publisher suddenly came by a good deal of paper and ink on Friday, you'd need to get comics, from scratch, to the printers

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