Read Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones Online


By the author of The Comic Book Heroes, Killing Monsters, and scores of successful comic books and screenplays, Men of Tomorrow is the first book to tell the surprising story of the young Jewish misfits, hustlers and nerds who invented the superhero and the comic book industry. Among the characters in this vibrant panorama: · Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, the goofy myopicBy the author of The Comic Book Heroes, Killing Monsters, and scores of successful comic books and screenplays, Men of Tomorrow is the first book to tell the surprising story of the young Jewish misfits, hustlers and nerds who invented the superhero and the comic book industry. Among the characters in this vibrant panorama: · Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, the goofy myopic creators of Superman, who sold the rights to the Man of Tomorrow for $130 to…· Harry Donenfield, former pornographer and con-man, and his partner, Jack Liebowitz, founder of DC Comics, who went on to help build Steve Ross's legendary Warner Communications· Batman's Bob Kane, who rose to fame and fortune in a career based entirely on lies and self-promotion· Mort Weisinger, the ruthless editor of Superman, who suffered a nervous breakdown when he tried to be a superhero himself · Plus Stan Lee, founder of a new kind of hero, including Spiderman, at Marvel Comics; Will Eisner, whose creation "The Spirit" has become a cult classic, and many, many more. Springing unheralded out of working-class Jewish immigrant neighborhoods in the depths of the Depression, these young men transformed an odd mix of geekdom, science fiction, and outsider yearnings into blue-eyed chisel-nosed crime-fighters and adventurers who quickly captured the mainstream imagination. Within a few years their inventions were being read by 90% of American children and had spawned a new genre in movies, radio and TV that still dominates youth entertainment seventy years later. Drawing on exhaustive research, including interviews with friends and relatives of the creators, Jones reveals how the immigrant experience and the collision of Yiddish and American culture-forged in the crucible of two world wars-shaped the vision of the make-believe hero. He chronicles how the comics sparked a frightened counterattack that nearly destroyed the industry in the 1950's and how later they surged back at an underground level, to inspire a new generation to transmute those long-ago fantasies into art, literature, blockbuster movies and graphic novels. 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....

Title : Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book
Author :
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ISBN : 9780465036561
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book Reviews

  • Greg
    2019-03-09 13:03

    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 book industry. Fans and readers of comic books will learn some interesting tidbits related to the creation and development of some of the industry's most iconic characters. However, I find Jones's book most interesting as lens illuminating the larger cultural shifts taking place during the 20th century. While the book sometimes falls into passages of industry-specific details that seem a bit tiresome, Jones generally does a very nice job of providing those details within a structure that generates interest and engagement on the part of the reader. The central thread of Superman's evolution--and the ups and downs confronted by his creators--ultimately provide an emotional weight and significance that makes this book more than simply a chronicle of historical minutia relevant only to the geeks.

  • Wes Freeman
    2019-03-04 15:01

    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 tell you that comic books were made by pornographers, chiselers, and tough guys of every stripe working in sober collaboration with geeks, zealots and psychopaths to turn their most private desires into pictures of dudes wearing tights and speaking in bubbles. Manages to distill that same hustling, pre-war optimism The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay did, but its way grimier and even more zany. Protagonists are, ostensibly, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the creators of Superman) and Harry Donenfeld and Jack Leibowitz (the original publishers of DC Comics), but behind every name author drops (Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, Art Spiegelman, Charles Biro) there is surely a biography worth reading. As book isn't 1200 pages long, author has used apposite discretion in what he picks and chooses. Keeps the pace fast and in disciplined ratio to the inherent dorkiness of the story. (His perspective on the latter is another reason to read book.) The characters at the center of book, Jerry Siegel and his arch-nemisis, Jack Liebowitz, are compelling to watch -- author wisely sidesteps the temptation to characterize them as one-dimensional, big-chinned characters in a meta-comic -- as the respective heart and head of the first comic book boom. When the excitement abates, they find themselves in direct opposition to each other and the excellent chapters that follow the first comic book bust are as revealing about the nature of entertainment and the industry that supports it as any other book I know. A great book about young Americans.

  • Michael
    2019-03-25 18:57

    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 book successful and took advantage of the underpaid and often anonymous talent to earn their fortunes. The book is dense with names, especially since many of the Jewish authors and artists with Eastern European names took one or more pen names during their careers in order to appear less "foreign" to the American public. I felt at times that I needed to make charts to keep up with the large cast of characters. The work is thoughtful, and the reader comes away with real insights into the complicated relationship between social changes in America and the roller coaster history of the comic books and those who created and marketed them. The book is illustrated with interesting photographs of several of the principal movers and shakers as well as with reproductions of representative covers and panels from significant comic books. Reading it made me want to revisit the superhero comics of my youth.

  • Heather
    2019-03-05 11:52

    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 entertainment seventy years later.Gerard Jones' book is exhaustive in its portrayal of the origins on the comic book industry, starting with the childhoods of those pivotal in the movement, through to and beyond their deaths.Anyone remotely interested in comic books will likely know the rough story of Superman's creators being shafted monetarily for their creation, but to read it in such brutal detail is really sad. It's not just a venture through the characters, nor does it focus specifically on one person (though, Jerry Siegel admittedly dominates, through his refusal to give up).Aside from being ridiculously interesting, well-written and researched, it's just kind of depressing. It's a bit of a warning for people to own their own work in creative fields. It's not even one-sided, where you'd expect the artists to be the victims entirely, Jones will highlight their own faults and problems, whether it be attitude or perceived talent at different points in their career.Interested in comic books and their history? An excellent, comprehensive read on their origins. But it will probably make you sad to see quite how badly certain creators fared over the years.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-03-22 15:45

  • Dan
    2019-03-18 19:06

    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 middle of a blizzard). Jones' timeline and narrative is excellent, and you really see how the industry grew, fell, and almost collapsed all together. I was able to read Kavalier & Clay and find myself picking out who was supposed to represent whom, and who was an amalgamation of others. Also, Bob Kane was a real prick.

  • Johnny
    2019-03-25 12:04

    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 autographed copy of Will Eisner’s Shop Talk interviews, reading about the Kefauver hearings and the end of EC comics, and studying a bit about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—I didn’t say I was a scholar on this) and it definitely rings true for my experience in periodicals publication and distribution. Not since I read Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America have I seen the relationship between printing, pulps, comics, paperbacks, and magazines fit together so nicely. And, since I dealt with specialty shops in distributing my game magazines, it doesn’t surprise me when I read about Harry Donenfeld’s pre-National Periodicals days of distributing Margaret Sanger’s birth control devices and information along with his skin magazines via burlesque theaters and involvement with Frank Costello (and other Mafiosi).There are fascinating stories in this history of the comic format. The relationship between the strips syndicated in newspapers, comic strip collections, and comic books was clarified for me as never before. I always preferred the latter and it was only in adulthood that someone (probably an interview with Neal Adams or a conversation overheard when one of my magazines commissioned an illustration from his studio in the early ‘90s) clarified that the strip creators usually kept control of their characters while the “work for hire” comic book work didn’t allow people like Bill Fingers or Jerry Siegel to benefit from their previous work. I particularly like the fact that Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book took the time to tell some of the stories of the business guys and distributors, as well as the creators. However, I was disappointed that this was primarily the story of Siegel and Shuster and the house that Jack Leibowitz built. It occasionally mentioned the brief history of EC Comics, Lev Gleason, Charlton, Archie, Timely, Ziff-Davis, Quality, Dell, Warren, Image, and All American (though it later became part of National), but I feel like a lot of the stories behind those publishing groups still need to be told. I liked the part about Martin Goodman, but the volume was very light on Marvel Comics’ ancestral publisher and didn’t really deal with the “rest of the story” sufficiently after Jack Kirby left Marvel [I wanted to know about the short-lived Jack Kirby Comics line just before he died.]. The truth is that I was fascinated by this history, but like any fan boy, I wanted more. I wanted to know about Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, and Warren Ellis. The brief description of Steve Ditko’s rise was fascinating, but I was disappointed not to read more about Gardner Fox, Archie Goodman, both Romitas, and the origin of Dark Horse Comics. In spite of my interest in the subject matter, I learned a lot from this volume. I’ve even recommended it to my local comic book guy.

  • Tim Pendry
    2019-02-28 17:55

    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 excellence feeding off its own pool of talent and networks. And if you see a non-Jewish name (Kane, Kirby, Lee), don't be fooled, these are just second generation Jewish immigrants coming to terms with assimilation. The American comic book is a Jewish invention to all intents and purposes and Jones has some important insights as to why that should be. Creatively, comic books might be seen as a Jewish re-translation into fantasy of the dialectic between Protestant America and the attempt to configure a new identity.The book should be read as much as a history of the creation of American capitalism as anything else, with a three-way struggle between anarcho-socialism, unregulated capitalism and regulated capitalism.The role of organised crime (aka unregulated capitalism) and the Jewish mobsters as they shift into legitimate business is an essential part of this story and explanatory of much American exceptionalism.One of the reasons America is in trouble today in the wider world is that the necessity of regulation and moral fervour has become a habit, upsetting peoples that really require neither. Screwing over Swiss and French bankers is just an extension of WASP determination to tame the new immigrants into good conduct and moral conformity. It's just how they are. As for the books themselves, they should be studied in and for themselves but the psychological origins of some key characters such as Superman are well argued for.It is fun to read again the polyamorous sado-masochistic origins of Wonder Woman but the personal hurt behind the creation of Superman and Batman is very real and well argued by Jones. The characters, with exceptions such as Stan Lee, are not very attractive. There is a disproportionate number of neurotic losers and outright unpleasant bastards but that's American capitalism for you.Invaluable social history, this book is highly recommended.

  • catechism
    2019-03-08 11:53

    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 one a shot. It's also way more Jewish (in a historical sense, I mean -- much about the early immigrant experience, alienation & a sense of belonging, the war as perceived by American Jewry, etc). In some ways, it is a fantastic prequel to The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk. Also! Mob connections, and I do love me some mob connections. (One downside is the lack of women, but that's endemic to comics in general and probably a subject for a different book entirely.)

  • Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson
    2019-03-10 15:56

    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 info about "the Major" in this otherwise wonderfully written book is almost completely wrong bordering on the absurd. That's how I met the author. Upon seeing the evidence he was quick to make most changes in the 2nd edition and plans to do a complete revision based on my research for the 3rd. I appreciate that and consider him a scholar and a gentleman. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in comics history and modern culture.

  • Eric
    2019-03-14 18:49

    A mind-blower, and an essential one. One of the great history books I've read; not just a "comic book book" or a book on "media/popular culture" as the back cover itself asserts (tho it is that also), but an exhaustively researched, masterfully written, searing saga of the 20th century as it only could have unfolded in beautiful, brutal America. From the streets teeming with immigrant children literally fighting their way thru childhood to the corporate conglomerates & mega mergers of the '60s & beyond, Jones wields his pen like a scalpel eliminating all that is unnecessary & uncovering the pure gold of a history whose various threads in the realms of the economic, social, psychological, political & private merge into a single focused narrative that delivers epiphany after epiphany of insight & connectivity. Following the stories of various important players in the creation of the popular art form, from the creators to the distributors to the enemies that tried to bring it down, Jones brilliantly constructs his story out of the lives of these flawed, fascinating characters, trying to understand them & remarkably withholding judgment, finding the common humanity in them all. Never straying to indulgence or sentimentality & with a keen eye for irony & symmetry, Jones keeps the potentially messy & epic tale lean & riveting. An amazing achievement, & an absolute must not only for comic book fans but students of human nature & the history of our crazy, corrupt & contradictory country.

  • Bryan Cebulski
    2019-03-25 17:04

    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.

  • Nezka
    2019-03-02 13:08

    A very pulp-y style tell-all of the lives of the earliest superhero comics creators, with quite a few dashes of sexism thrown in; women in comics are barely mentioned and mostly villified as demanding wives and mistresses to whom the comics creators had to work so hard to support. If you are really interested in the details of how the creators worked and fought together, this is for you.

  • Richard
    2019-02-27 15:50

    I really enjoyed this book! It's a history of comic books in America, and although it covers comics all the way through the late 1990s, its primary focus is on the early origins, the creation of Superman and other aspects of the Golden Age. By the time the narrative reaches the end of the Second World War, the story accelerates and moves away from the detail that the earlier years received. The Silver Age is covered from a high-level overview, and the years following the Silver Age receive even less detail. But that's okay. Other books and other authors can cover comics of the 1980s. I would, however, have liked author Gerard Jones to have delved more into Frederic Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent and its impact on the industry, but by the time that came around the story was already speeding up.The stories of the early days were really interesting. I was familiar with the sad story of Siegel and Shuster, and how they were squeezed out of receiving the fame and money that should have been due them for creating a character as popular as Superman, but I was less familiar with many of the details. Jones also tells the story of Batman, and Bob Kane doesn't come out looking good at all. Kane is portrayed as a vain creator who consistently took credit for the work of others, with the primary victim of this being Batman's co-creator Bill Finger. Kane didn't only neglect to credit Finger, but took active steps to hide Finger's contributions.I think the best thing about this book is that Gerard Jones treats his subject as something worthy of serious consideration, but doesn't pretend that it's more important than it is. He makes some strong and interesting arguments about how world events and societal trends influenced comic books, but doesn't try to make any dubious claims that comic books affected society or the world at large. He tells us that comic books were popular, and fun, and have been a significant part of American popular culture, not only in the comics themselves but in other media as well. (In recent years, Hollywood has definitely picked up on this in a big way.) Gerard Jones has written a few other books about pop culture. I'll have to give one or two of them a try.

  • Trey Meadows
    2019-03-25 17:54

    Long and Meandering, yet interesting and fulfilling in the end. Lots of bits and pieces regarding the history of American pop culture, mostly surrounding the artists and publishers that of what is now DC Comics. The largest portions are about Shuster and Siegel and Jack Liebowitz and their saga for intellectual property. I enjoyed it but wished it included more about the other companies.

  • Jacob Wren
    2019-03-13 14:01

    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 taking on the Nazis. The last new superhero to find a big audience, Wonder Woman, hit at the end of that year, as the war finally swept across the ocean. For the next three years, sales climbed. Superman and his imitators had captured a national emotional upwelling and turned it into a shared fantasy of escape. Their first and essential market was kids, but to enjoy the towering sales they did during the war, they had to be read by innumerable adults who pretended they were just indulging the “child in us all.”Superheros turned the anxiety into joy. As the world plunged into conflict and disaster almost too huge to comprehend, they grabbed their readers’ darkest feelings and bounded into the sky with them. They made violence and wreckage exciting but at the same time small and containable. So flat, iconic, childlike, unreal, and absurd were those godlings in tights that no reader had to feel he was really engaging with his own angry fantasies. Superman was less a fantasy self than a god out of the machine – a sudden flash-of-color resolution to conflicts too terrible to think about. The superheros were slapstick comedians in a vaudeville of holocaust. Even in Captain America’s angriest assault on the Nazis and Superman’s darkest melodrama in Luthor’s lab, every reader over the age of eight had to laugh at them. Superheros served the purpose of slapstick comedians but on a global scale: They built fear and frustration in a containable fantasy world and then released them with a shock.Superheros allowed adolescents and adults to slip back to the confidence and inviolability of that last moment of childhood before the anxiety of pubescence. It had been a long, nerve-wearing run for twenty years, through Prohibition and sexual revolution and economic transformation and urbanization and Depression and the rumors of war, when a naïve nation had to pretend to be adult and sophisticated. All through the 1920s and early 1930s, there had been childlike entertainment that had captured adults, but it nearly always had a cruel humor (Our Gang), strenuous melodrama (King Kong), or a melancholy sentimentality (Shirley Temple). Finally, at the end of the 1930s, in the moment of The Wizard of Oz, the American imagination retreated into the laughing, arrogant fun of the ten-year old. Superman was the physical embodiment of that fantasy of wholeness, that wondrous sense of knowing who one is and believing one can do anything, that shatters in adolescence.Superheros were a latent-phase dream, embodying sex but invulnerable to it. They distilled that moment of swelling, big-kid pride in the new power and agility of the body, that last moment before the body begins to make its own scary demands and the world turns the mechanisms of shame against it. Superman in particular cartooned the cruelty of sex – Superman tricks Lois sadistically, but then as Clark he flings himself masochistically before her high heels – but with his famous wink at the reader, he let us know that he played every minute of it as a game. As the “Man of Tomorrow,” he has supposedly evolved beyond sexual entanglements, but in fact he was the man of the day before yesterday, looking at the agonies of adolescence with the superior sneer of a little brother spying on his sister. After the frenzied sexual questioning of the Twenties and the cynicism of sex and economics in the early Depression, and with the draft now bringing on another huge dislocation, the superhero was a welcome island of prepubescence.Superheros were also an expression of a rising American thrill. All the queasiness of the Depression was about to be blown away in a great and terrible battle, and as much as most people shook their heads about the horror of the war, there was a hunger for it, too. The war meant not survival and dirty compromise but utter triumph or utter disaster. It meant unity of purpose too, and the superheros embodied that in their polychrome simplicity: Superman, Captain America and Wonder Woman were the most distinct individuals imaginable, but at the same time, each of them was all of us. The rarely spoken hunger for war was especially sharp for the children of immigrants and of the polyglot cities. A nation dominated for a generation by isolationist, prohibitionist, and small-town WASPs was about to plunge into the world, led by its cockiest, most sophisticated progressives. America had won the last war. Since then it had only grown in size, influence, and industrial capacity. It had held itself back from world events as fascism spread, but Roosevelt’s voters knew how powerful the country was. America was playing Clark Kent. It was time to rip off the suit.

  • Matthew Lloyd
    2019-03-13 12:45

    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 creators.One might expect this story to have good guys and bad guys, that Siegel and Shuster were wronged parties manipulated and exploited by the evil Jack Liebowitz. Certainly the book starts out by suggesting that the narrative will follow this path by beginning at the end: Siegel's wife Joanne insisting that he challenge the ownership of Superman one last time before the release of the motion picture in the late 1970s. But this isn't the path the story takes: one is taken through the story showing that Siegel and Shuster made many mistakes, failed to act when they should have done and trusted the wrong people, while Liebowitz behaved within the law, not knowing how the medium in which he was investing would become the beloved phenomenon it was in the late 70s and 80s (and to some extent remains today). Would Superman have become the phenomenon he was and is without the publishing knowhow of Liebowitz and Harry Donenfeld? Was just having the idea enough that Siegel and Shuster deserved all the praise? One is left with the feeling that mistakes were made on both sides, no-one was a bad guy, even if they occasionally did bad things. The greatest tragedy is that of Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman, who did not live to get the recognition of Siegel and Shuster (or even Bob Kane).As with any history, there are things which are left out or could have received more emphasis. It is more a history of what we now know as DC than of Marvel, although the latter gets frequent enough mentions. I was disappointed to find references to Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as an inspiration for the Batman film - fair enough in itself - but no reflections on what Alan Moore and David Gibbon's Watchmen said about superheroes in the 1980s (Moore himself describes the book as 'Magnificent' on the cover, so it's difficult to push this disappointment too far). While apparently about the birth of superheroes, there is much discussion of the comic books of the late 1930s and early 1940s - including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - but little on the Superman and Batman TV series, even less on Wonder Woman. The discussion of the origin of Superman the Movie are largely concerned with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's attempts to reclaim their credit to creating the hero - fair enough, but it might have been nice to see Christopher Reeve's name once, or a little more about the birth of the superhero on the big screen. There's nothing on Tim Burton's attempts to revive the Superman movie franchise in the 90s. But all histories have their limitations - this one was long enough, detailed enough, and well-written enough that while I want to know more about these aspects, I can't criticise the book too much for not going into them.On the other hand, any reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer warms my heart, even if there is much, much more to be said about Joss Whedon's relationship to Marvel comics since this book was published. Kevin Smith also gets a mention as someone who moved into comics - but not Jodi Picoult, probably as a result of the publication date. It is a very male history - one suspects that this is the result of the industry rather than Gerard Jones, although there are occasional references to the high proportions of comic readers who from the beginning were female. It also hints enticingly at the parallel and related histories of science fiction, fandom, and conventions, which lead one to hope for a history of those elements, too, which do not exclude comic books.Finally, it is worth emphasising that this book functions as popular history and not literary criticism. There is some discussion of the contents and storylines of the superhero comics under discussion, but it is not discussed in great detail. Where it occurs, it is usually to suggest how Seigel or Finger's lives affected their story writing, or as an illustration of what censors complained about in comic books. But as a history, it's worth reading.

  • Trevor
    2019-02-26 15:06

    Jones writes of the early comic industry with the prose of authority even as some of his narrative conflicts with other accounts of the industry, and is thus in itself guilty of some of the same skeptical embellishment as the historical figures mentioned in the book. As an overview of an industry, it's a good read with wonderfully evocative prose even if its greatest strengths are also its greatest weaknesses.

  • Paul
    2019-03-13 15:11

    Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Gerard Jones, Basic Books, 2004This 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 square-jawed heroes who are now a central part of pop culture.A central part of this book are Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a couple of kids from Cleveland who created the first superhero, Superman. They learned, the hard way, that hard-nosed businessmen of questionable reputations, like pornographer and bootlegger Harry Donnenfeld, now ran the business. In the beginning, Siegel and Shuster signed away the rights to their creation (standard procedure). It took until the 1970s, just before the first Superman movie, for the pair to get official recognition, and something like a reasonable amount of money, for Superman.The 1930s saw an explosion in comic book popularity. Even the shadiest, two-bit publisher could put out the worst schlock ever created, and it would be vacuumed up by the public. A seemingly infinite number of superheroes came before the public, teamed up with every other superhero, fighting any villain that could be put on paper. Some combinations worked, while others failed. Hitler and the Nazis provided a ready-made villain during the 1940s, which saw the public turn away from superheroes. Wartime paper restrictions put most publishers out of business; those that remained put out crime stories, westerns, and horror stories, to name a few. In the 1950s, Congress discovered the comic book. They were accused of corrupting America’s youth, especially the horror stories.For the artists in the industry, working conditions were little better than a sweatshop. For instance, if 64 pages of material were due at the printer in three days, there was no possibility of leaving the office until those pages were done. With such time constraints, many details were left out of panels and chunks were taken from other stories, even if the two had nothing to do with each other.This book is excellent. Anyone who has ever read an old superhero comic book, or a newer "independent" comic, should read this book. It’s also recommended for those interested in early 20th Century pop culture.

  • Travis
    2019-03-17 19:52

    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 interested in racketeering, pornography, and other gangster activities was astonishing. Especially when you consider the dichotomy between the comic book company owners and the comic book writers and artists.The book uses the history of Superman as its backbone, hence the title "Men of Tomorrow" ("Man of Tomorrow" being one of Superman's original nicknames). Specifically the lifelong struggle of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to get properly compensated for creating Superman, despite legally surrendering all rights in the early days. All the other comic books and characters and creators wind up being in some way compared and contrasted to Superman and his creators, from Bob Kane's brilliant wheeling and dealing to Bill Finger's fight for recognition as co-creator of Batman to Stan Lee's righting of the Marvel ship.At points the book does get bogged down in the web of connections that form the comic book industry. My eyes glazed over some paragraphs that described who was related to whom and which companies bought other companies and who hopped from company to company or owed money to which gangster. The emphasis on Superman does provide focus throughout, though, so I always pulled through any rough patches.The book did a wonderful job of providing some backstory to pretty much every famous person of note related to comic books. Having seen many of the names in comic books it was nice to get to know them a bit more. But mostly the book stays on Siegel, Shuster, Harry Donnenberg, and Jack Liebowitz, the main players in the Superman struggle.Despite all the good points the book never totally grabbed me and I actually wound up finishing it from sheer momentum. Turns out I would rather read the comic books themselves than read too much prose biography about them.

  • David Sparvero
    2019-03-20 11:52

    For any true fan of comic books or someone fascinated in the industry, this book is absolutly essential. I find it almost impossible to accurately discuss the origins or intentions of any comic book character/title without knowing what is recorded in this book. With so many loose/new fans to the industry there are so many opinionated assumptions being thrown around on what the original verson of certain heroes were supposed to be. None of these assumptions are usually close to the truth, but this book openly discusses them without sugar coating any of it. This book goes beyond fan devotion and upholds legendary stories of the creators' inspirations. This book appropriately puts the creation of the american comic book in its proper historical context and tells of its organic creation that was birthed out of gangs, immigrants, pulps, poverty and the American dream. It also brings to light many of the early creators that dreamed up the genres and methods, while also bringing pop legends like Stan Lee back down to earth and sizing down his role to an honest point, recognising that he came into the already created industry not caring about the material but working as a clerk. On that note, Bob Kane is also exposed as a terrible representative of the creation of Batman. Although he technically was the creator, the majorityof Batman was really created and brought to life as a concept by Bill Finger and even Jerry Robinson was crucial for much of earliest material.This book also brings to light how factory-driven the early comic books were, with teams of people working on the same page with no great regard to the character or the story. The great legends and their early adventures were pasted together by desperate artists trying to get by or build a company. The heroes of today were a means to an end for yesterdays unnamed artists.There are so many other important and understated pieces of information accounted for in this book that I will not take the time to mention but I cannot recommend this book enough. I plan on reading it again soon.

  • Mike Hankins
    2019-03-11 17:00

    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 a few shady areas of business, including the "girlie" magazines, and he had strong ties to the mob. Siegel, by contrast, was a nerdy kid with social issues that exemplified what now has become the standard stereotype of the "geek." The book does a great job of contextualizing all of the principal actors withing their respective worlds -- Liebowitz as a product of the urban lower classes before the progressive era, then molded by the Depression -- Siegel and Shuster as related to the New Deal but more so the product of a fairly isolated Jewish suburb. Jones wonderfully traces the influence of pulp novels and other forms of fiction on early superheroes. The focus is mostly on the DC books, but the reader really gets a sense of how hectic the early comic book industry was, and how marginalized the industry was. Part of the reason why attributing credit to early writers and artists is so difficult is because many of them were ashamed to be associated with comics. Nevertheless, the picture that Jones paints is, at its core, a story of like-minded artists having fun both on and off the page in an explosion of creativity and excitement. This is not a history of comics in general, so some of the later chapters that give a cursory look at how comics evolved seem a little bit unnecessary or out of place, but are still interesting in their own right. Great read for fans, and a great entry point for more serious students of the history of comics.

  • Laura Martin
    2019-02-24 13:06

    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-fiction.Men of Tomorrow is about the birth of the comic book, starting with Harry Donenfield and Jack Liebowitz and their quite frankly boring forays into smut and fitness magazines before finally venturing into the world of comics. The narrative gets somewhat more interesting when Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuester are introduced and they produce the first Superman comic. But sprinkled in all between are various tendrils into different people and events that end up turning into a chaotic, confused mess, a tangled mat of hair that refuses to be combed.The problem is that this book wants to be about the birth of capital C comics, about all of them - with editors, artists and publishers combined. It makes for a very eclectic mess of paragraphs and chapters. Setting down the book I only left with the story of DC Comics and the birth of Superman. (Well, that and MAD magazine, I suppose.) The way the book is written is just too dull and dry to be truly enjoyable - and although I do feel like I've learned a bit about the history of my chosen career it feels like I've been fed brussel sprouts rather than having a meal I actually enjoyed.

  • Hank
    2019-03-17 19:52

    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-sleazy hucksters who fronted the money to publish their creations.The tale is told in a very conversational way, and it is quickly apparent that the author was himself involved in the business at one time, and knew many of the characters he is writing about. First-hand conversations with people like Siegel and Shuster, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane and Stan Lee, or those closest to them, make up a great deal of the sources for this history.  The story is not always pleasant, and the sordid account of the legal trials of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the co-creators of Superman, and by default, the entire superhero comic book genre, is especially painful. Jones is very respectful of his subjects, and tells their stories honestly, but with grace and kindness.Jones is not an academic, and his source notes at the back of the book reflect this. It is often frustrating to trace the sources for his assertions, but it could well be argued that Men of Tomorrow was never intended to be an academic history.  However, to date, it is the best history of the subject I have ever encountered, and for the time being will be my go-to resource.

  • Michelle Cristiani
    2019-03-24 14:55

    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 mostly, at its start, the story of Jewish immigration. Jones profiled the major players from childhood to death, and managed to make them all protagonists, even though they were often at odds or even enemies. Through it all he entwined the fate of Siegel and Schuster, the Superman creators - the tale of their validation hummed throughout the history. I don't know how he pulled it off. I never really disliked any of these people, even though you hear rumblings in the comic world about who ripped off who, and whose name is off of what. Everyone is worthy of sympathy.I also see how comic books rose to its height as a series of strange coincidences. Who made money, which characters caught on...the story read like its own intricate sci-fi adventure. Nothing is what it seems. I will become more of a skeptic now when I look at credits from tv to movies to authorship of anything.I am mostly just amazed that Gerard Jones took this topic and made it so damn worthy of narrative. He deserves the highest praise. I highly recommend it.

  • David
    2019-03-06 16:57

    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 the story is told from multiple perspectives. We see the rise of pulps, pornography, and the manner in which the criminal element used comics to move toward a more legitimate entertainment.Also, though, this story....covers those who sought to DESTROY comics and discredit them as well as blame them for promoting sex and violence in our society as well as juvenile deliquency.From the Golden Age to the Silver Age, to modern comics.. this story is there.... Wonder Woman, the Creation of a freak who was into bondage? Almost every writer, artist, etc. seemed to be Jewish, even changing their names to innocous sounding names... a lot of interesting information and a moving read.

  • Ian Massey
    2019-02-23 16:50

    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 industry, the birth of Superman and the explosion of super-heroes that followed are written in a fascinating and engaging style against a backdrop of the American depression and the second World War. At times heart-warming, at others heartbreaking, it tells the story of the long legal battle that Siegel and Shuster went through to gain recognition of how they created an icon, how Bob Kane stole the limelight with Batman and carries on through the Silver Age, the formation of Marvel Comics and beyond. Stories of betrayal, murder, love, marriage, divorce, death and dodgy business practices abound, as do insights into the minds of those who created not just the characters but the format those characters originally inhabited.

  • Adam Bender
    2019-03-17 16:50

    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 -- are not household names like Jerry Siegel, Bob Kane or Stan Lee. I commend the author for telling their stories, but if I'm being honest -- I just wanted to know about Jerry, Bob, Stan and the other great comic book writers and artists from which I've read countless stories. Also, the story of comics controversy in the '50s is better told in The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America.Those criticisms aside, Men of Tomorrow succeeds as a comprehensive account of the people who laid the foundation for the continuing and ever-soaring success of superheroes in the mainstream.

  • Hamish
    2019-03-22 15:15

    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 strong narrative. Still, I would have loved if he spent more time on Stan Lee, Bill Finger and especially Jack Kirby (though I have a copy of Marvel Comics The Untold Story is my stack, so likely that will handle my cravings). It's also pretty heartbreaking at times. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of comics history knows the sad story of Siegel and Schuster, and I was dreading getting to the part where they got screwed, knowing it would break my heart a little (not helped by the fact that now I could see them as real people). Jones occasionally overwrites and tries throwing in some literary flourishes that he's not able to pull off, but otherwise it's well-written and I'd highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in the subject.

  • Peggy
    2019-03-24 15:59

    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 subject fairly. For example, it portrayed the "rip off" of Siegel and Shuster as a not uncommon way of treating all the writers/artists of the chaotic time when the comics industry was finding its base. It contrasts the naivety of the boys from Cleveland to the savvy of Bob Kane, who made a smart contract for Batman. However, it was also very sympathetic to the moral dimension of how the creators of Superman were treated and how things were finally made right for them.What I found most interesting was the Jewish mafia connections that ran through the beginnings of the comic book age. Little did I know when I was reading my 10-cent Superman comics in rural Ohio in the late 50s!