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Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution Paperback – June 16, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (June 16, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158234566X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345666
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,929,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Jack Kirby is arguably the most influential comic-book artist of all time: In the early 1940s he cocreated Captain America and drew dozens of other superheroes, essentially creating the template for the genre. But his best-known work comes from the 1960s, when he and writer Stan Lee created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and most of the rest of the innovative Marvel Comics cast. Kirby's rough-and-tumble Lower East Side childhood and maverick approach to his art must have seemed a promising subject to Ronin, whose previous books have been on rap music. He paints a colorful portrait--the real-life analog of Kavalier and Clay--of the comic book's early days, and his accounts of Kirby's acrimonious split with Lee and battle with Marvel over ownership of his original drawings show that the industry remained cutthroat. Ultimately, Ronin's treatment is more dutiful than inspired (oh, for some of Kirby's fervor!) and marred by minor errors. The definitive Kirby biography is yet to come; until it arrives, Ronin's is a useful, readable stopgap. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Compellingly depicts the codependent relationship between the charismatic Lee and the rough-edged Kirby…The story packs as much pathos as any of the duo's signature supersagas." (Entertainment Weekly)

"Ro cleanly lays out Kirby's story…He does well by the facts." (The Onion)

"Ro deftly handles Kirby's relationships…Tales to Astonish celebrates the stubbornness that kept Kirby, a superhero of comic books in his own right, creative as if against his will." (San Francisco Chronicle)

More About the Author

After penning a column for Dance Music Report magazine, Ronin Ro began a groundbreaking run in The Source. From here, Ro contributed to SPIN, Rolling Stone, VIBE, Rap Pages, XXL, Vanity Fair, Playboy, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, and more. To date, Ro has authored eight Books, including the classic Have Gun Will Travel, the definitive Jack Kirby bio Tales to Astonish, Raising Hell (containing original interviews with Run-D.M.C. and others), Dr. Dre: The Biography, the controversial novella Street Sweeper (whose hero, Jerome Usher, reputedly inspired a similar hero in the motion picture Man on Fire) and the upcoming Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks. Currently in New York City, known for epic, classically-structured works, the influential Author is currently at work on a nonfiction project--and a trilogy of action novels.

Customer Reviews

A good version of this book can be done, and I'd gladly shell out hardcover money for it.
M. S. Wayne
Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, John Romita, Steve Ditko and other great comicbook writers/artists all contributed to this unique American artform.
Wayne Klein
I'd read another review that said that everything in the book was common knowledge, and I can't see how anybody could say that.
A. Knoblock

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Silver Age Fan on December 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While Ronin Ro's book also provides a history of Stan Lee and Timely/Marvel Comics (among others), its main thrust and chief attribute is a biography of comics legend Jack "King" Kirby. This is certainly not the worst volume I've ever read, but I have to place myself in the camp of the (so far) two Amazon.com members who have posted negative reviews regarding this book.

From a personal taste standpoint, I really don't appreciate Ro's writing style. As other reviewers noted, it is overly simplistic at times in addition to being awkward. Another already mentioned critique is the lack of ANY illustrations or photos save for the Kirby cover drawing. Granted, there's a lot of Jack Kirby art reproduced within many other resources, but some key art reproductions would have been a nice touch. Even more appreciated would have been photographs of Kirby, his family, and other celebrities from the Golden/Silver Age of Comics that are mentioned in the chapters. Such photographs might not have been easily attainable, but a modicum of effort would have dug up some pictorial history.

I don't think I'm imagining this, but it appears that many of Ro's quotations by comics celibrities (including Kirby, Stan Lee and Joe Simon) are simply taken from already published interviews and biographies (e.g., "Excelsior! : The Amazing Life of Stan Lee" by Stan Lee and George Mair, and "The Comic Book Makers" by Joe Simon and Jim Simon). Not exactly the coolest thing to pay money for a book that regurgitates information I've already read.

What's even worse is that the book does contain some inaccuracies, and these could have been prevented by simple fact-checking and basic editing. Some of Ro's subjective observations also go against the generally accepted opinions of comics historians.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Appelbaum on February 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As a 9 year old comic fanatic, I immediately latched on to the Fantastic Four and the progression of other Marvel heroes as they were invented -- and maintained my interest for several decades after. I still occasionally pick up a comic.

I found Ro's book to be pretty poorly written and edited, and I think there are many errors in it. For one thing, it is impossible to keep the chronology straight. Dozens of pages go by without mention of the year. There are flashbacks, but it is not clear when they end. Dozens of repetitions of the same phrases, and people who appear out of nowhere, indicate minimal editing.

Despite the fact that Kirby was King, Ro seems to spend most of the center of the book talking about how Kirby's work was criticized and rejected, how Kirby couldn't write, and when he did, it was unreadable.

How strange is it, though, that a book about the comics industry as it centered around Jack Kirby doesn't as much as have a single photo of the guy, or any examples of his work aside from the dust cover art?

Save your money and give this one a pass.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By P. Nofel on November 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
From some of the reviews I had high expectations of "Tales to Astonish" by Ronin Ro. Those hopes were also bolstered by Ro's writing credits on the back flap of the dust jacket. According to it, Ro has written for Rolling Stone, Harpers, and other high-end publications.

Essentially, the book is a biography of comic-book artist Jack Kirby with excursions into some of the other major characters in comic book production from the '30s to the '80s, with the focus on the Golden and Silver Age artists, writers, and editors. Stan Lee is one of major players Ro includes.

The writing is less than mundane. Ro backs into quotes that seem to make no sense since the person you think he is quoting turns out to be someone else entirely when the attribution takes place as the end of the quote. It's a most annoying writing quirk that takes place throughout the book.

There are also points within the book where Ro seems bored by the content and the writing devolves down to vapid reportage.

Ro exhibits stylizations in his construction that seem like those of an 8th grader, ending paraphrasing of people with "quiped" and "opined" that are wrong for the subject.

His writing also lacks a sense of context. Within the first 10 pages, he introduces, by name, more than 20 people, most of whom are unimportant to the sense of story. You'll need to keep a scorecard.

Ro also makes some serious mistakes in who people are and what they do. In one paragraph he writes at length about Kenner wanting to license comic book characters and for some out-of-context reason mistakenly writes "Mattel" in the middle of the piece. Either he or his editor should have caught that. There are similar errors throughout the book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Klein HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Tales to Astonish" by Ro provides an account of the creation of the modern comic book. Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, John Romita, Steve Ditko and other great comicbook writers/artists all contributed to this unique American artform. Ro's book provides a pretty comprehensive look at the forces that drove the industry and drove the men that changed the industry to shape the comicbook world we have today.
Ro's book, though, lacks an important part of the story--illustrations of the art form itself and pictures of those who played key roles in this ongoing story. Kirby's cover art gives a sense of his work but it doesn't provide context; we don't really know (except by Ro's description)what the early comicbooks looked like prior to Kirby's arrival. Some examples to contrast the change in storytelling over time might have been helpful as well. There are enough of these "classic" comic books that must be in the public domain by now so that he could have included them as examples for readers not as familiar with the changes these giants of the industry created.
Ro's book comes across as pretty accurate although there are a few minor errors and omissions that crop up. Still, with as large a canvas as he's working with, he's done a very good job of summing up what made the comic book world tick from the 30's through today. Comic books were America's attempt at creating a cultural context, in a sense its own mythology and legends that so many older cultures have. Their enduring popularity has as much to do with the snapshot they provide of life or what they reflect from the real world as their value as escapist entertainment.
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