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Comic Book Nation

Paperback
, 360 pages

53 b&w illus.

ISBN:
9780801874505
September 2003
Subject:
History
$28.00

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Comic Book Nation

The Transformation of Youth Culture in America

As American as jazz or rock and roll, comic books have been central in the nation's popular culture since Superman's 1938 debut in Action Comics #1. Selling in the millions each year for the past six decades, comic books have figured prominently in the childhoods of most Americans alive today. In Comic Book Nation, Bradford W. Wright offers an engaging, illuminating, and often provocative history of the comic book industry within the context of twentieth-century American society.

From Batman's Depression-era battles against corrupt local politicians and Captain America's one-man war against Nazi Germany to Iron Man's Cold War exploits in Vietnam and Spider-Man's confrontations with student protestors and drug use in the early 1970s, comic books have continually reflected the national mood, as Wright's imaginative reading of thousands of titles from the 1930s to the 1980s makes clear. In every genre—superhero, war, romance, crime, and horror comic books—Wright finds that writers and illustrators used the medium to address a variety of serious issues, including racism, economic injustice, fascism, the threat of nuclear war, drug abuse, and teenage alienation. At the same time, xenophobic wartime series proved that comic books could be as reactionary as any medium.

Wright's lively study also focuses on the role comic books played in transforming children and adolescents into consumers; the industry's ingenious efforts to market their products to legions of young but savvy fans; the efforts of parents, politicians, religious organizations, civic groups, and child psychologists like Dr. Fredric Wertham (whose 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, a salacious exposé of the medium's violence and sexual content, led to U.S. Senate hearings) to link juvenile delinquency to comic books and impose censorship on the industry; and the changing economics of comic book publishing over the course of the century. For the paperback edition, Wright has written a new postscript that details industry developments in the late 1990s and the response of comic artists to the tragedy of 9/11. Comic Book Nation is at once a serious study of popular culture and an entertaining look at an enduring American art form.

Bradford W. Wright is an associate professor with the University of Maryland University College—European Division.

"A winner... a book that is trenchant, crisply written and absolutely jargon-free, with plenty of enthusiasm but no idolatry—and great fun to read... There should be a place for Comic Book Nation on the bookshelf of anyone who ever read comics for fun as a kid or has taken them seriously as an adult."

"Comics fans ought to rejoice over this book. At a time of transition, with underground comics proliferating on the Web while major companies like Marvel try to pull themselves out of bankruptcy, Comic Book Nation offers a much-needed historical perspective. Tracing the industry's rise, Wright gives comics the scholarly attention they deserve, diligently filling in the back story of a medium that has both reflected and shaped American values for generations... Wright deserves credit for tackling the breadth of comics history, and he succeeds commendably in creating a testament to the genre's power. For anyone who has ever read comics or wanted to leap a building in a single bound, Comic Book Nation is worth a look."

"Pow! Bam! Crash! Analysis! This insightful and highly entertaining political and cultural history [offers] an intelligent study not only of comics but of shifting attitudes toward popular culture, children, violence, patriotism, and America itself."

"At last, a substantive book studying the effect of comic books on American culture and vice versa... [This] extremely well-organized book traces the genre's birth, expansions, and retractions from the 1930s to the present. The fascinating result highlights the increasingly intriguing interaction between pressing events in American society and what was written and published on colorfully paneled pages... A truly worthwhile study of comics as part of American culture."

"A fascinating history of comic books that is impressively researched, amply illustrated, smoothly written, carefully analyzed—and fun. It is a serious but not somber study, enlivened with droll humor and deft analogies."

"Fluently animates the artistic, economic, and social history of comic books, from Superman as '30s hero of the downtrodden to debates over kids' consumption of violent imagery to fan culture."

"Informative, humorous, and penetrating... [Wright's] theme is simple and persuasive: Comic books provide an acute lens through which to study shifts in popular culture, from World War II to Vietnam to the Reagan era."

"Solid... A well-documented comics-industry chronicle."

"An extremely well researched, engagingly written and long overdue attempt to evaluate the historical impact of comic books on American culture."

"This is a sweeping and ambitious history that is successful in explaining the business of comic book publishing and the ways in which the writers, artists, and publishers created an alternative world that appeals to many youthful readers... The book is well written and illustrated."

" I loved Wright's book...Wright succeeds in capturing my past—the smell of chestnuts, popcorn and bubble gum in Grampa's Mom and Pop store [where I bought comic books]—and making us value comics as important cultural artifacts, contributing to our concept of youth and nationhood. Since reading Comic Book Nation, I've rediscovered the joy of comics."

"As interesting as it is well written, a serious comic fan might learn a few things"

"Wright's lively history of the form shows how comic books have molded as well as reflected young Americans as readers, consumers, citizens."

"Both educational and entertaining."

"Congratulations to Bradford W. Wright for penning one of the most comprehensive and readable accounts of the pervasive effect that comic books have had upon generations of readers throughout America, and indeed—the world."

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