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The Great Comic Book Heroes Paperback – April 1, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Feiffer ends his fabulous 1965 essay on comic book history with an argument that comics are "junk," but that junk is good, even necessary. Taken on their own terms, comics deliver exactly what they should: base, escapist entertainment. This work was first published as a hardcover volume accompanied by 127 pages of color reprints, now omitted. The new, slim volume is a personal and critical history of the medium from 1937 to the early 1950s, mixing Feiffer's impressions of comics, and labor in them, with a powerful history of the business. He begins by recounting his love of comic strips, then dissects the appeal of the first comic books: "The daily strips, by their sleek professionalism, held an aloof quality which comic books, being not quite professional, easily avoided. They were closer to home, more comfortable to live with, less like grown-ups." He follows the comic book medium as it births Superman, Batman and all of the rest and cheekily examines various art techniques. Feiffer also looks at the comic book/juvenile delinquency controversy of the 1950s and the effect WWII had on the medium. His commentary is still relevant (and still among the best) today because it explains comics' appeal panel by panel, making immediately clear why this "junk" is so exciting. In the final chapter, Feiffer describes his own late entry into comic books (he worked for Will Eisner, of Spirit fame) with awe and regret.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


It belongs in every fan's library, and this is an excellent way to pick it up painlessly. -- Craig Shutt, "Ask Mr. Silver Age", Comics Buyer's Guide, 16 May 2003

One of—if not the first of—the early writer/artists to emerge from the comic book ghetto into the literary/art world. -- Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit

The first book to discuss comics seriously....it is fascinating. -- Atomic, Fall 2002, Lloyd Chesley

The modern, non-editorial-page cartoon of social and political commentary was pretty much invented by Jules Feiffer. -- Booklist

Today's cartoonists owe huge debts of gratitude to Jules Feiffer. -- Los Angeles Reader

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560975016
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560975014
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,499,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jules Feiffer lives in New York City with his wife, Jenny. Along with being a famed cartoonist, Feiffer is also the author of numerous novels, children's books, plays and screenplays, including Carnal Knowledge, Harry, The Rat with Women and Little Murders, which was made into a celebrated movie.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I own the ORIGINAL hardcover edition of this book... It was printed [a lot] in the 1960s and you SHOULD still be able to get a nice copy of it in good condition for [an amount of money]. ...
DON'T buy the reissue version of this book unless you DON'T want the reprints of the comics in the HC version in FULL color.
From what I understand from people who have bought the paperback reprint, the publisher has NOT reprinted the original stories in full color NOR have they reprinted the full pages, either!
Big disappointment for people who actually WANTED to read the original stories in addition to Feiffer's text. Perhaps the publisher could not obtain the rights to reprint the original stories in their entirety in full color, ...
Still, if you want to read the sentimental recollections of a old-time comic book fan, you could do a lot worse than Jules Feiffer's prose. It is amusing and worth half the admission price of what I paid for my hardcover copy.
The question YOU have to answer is -- do you want to pay for a book that's an abridged version of the original?
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Format: Paperback
This here review is about the current version of this book, which you actually CAN buy on Amazon.com; not the "legendary" 1965 original hard cover version, which features 125+ pages of color reprints of Golden Age comics, not in this current version. Although, I must say that having heard of the 1965 book, through the years, is the only reason that I read this book, out of curious anticipation of a good, intellectual essay about a favorite throwaway pasttime -- comics.
For those who loved comics as a kid, and as an adult can still look back with warm nostalgia upon the topic, you will enjoy this book.
It is interesting to read smart commentary about the early days of the comics industry, how comics were perceived by serious fans back then, and how much I can relate to the point of view of the author, who is such a comics fan that he built a successful career on it.
Some of Feiffer's points are a bit too personalized, yet still worthy of consideration. He points out a lot of aspects about famous comic book heroes that we can instantly recognize as true, and perhaps even enlighteningly insightful, but we would never have thought deep enough on the topic to have come to those conclusions ourselves, without having Jules Feiffer pointing them out. These insights tend to get very psychological and fascinating in their scope and implications concerning why these characters appeal to fans, subconsciously. For instance:
"Kent was not Superman's true identity... Clark Kent was the fiction... the put-on... The truth may be that Kent existed not for the purposes of the story but for the reader. He is Superman's opinion of the rest of us, a pointed caricature of what we... were really like. His fake identity was our real one. That's why we loved him so.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The ORIGINAL of this was a couple-hundred pages which included reprints of the stories discussed. This paper-thin (!?) volume just TALKS about them, which is not the same by a long shot. Try to find the original if you can.
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Format: Paperback
My review is based on the original 1965 hardbound Bonanza Books edition. I mention this because, according to another reviewer, the more recently released softbound edition is both abridged and without some or all of the color comics that make this book such a joy.
Feiffer writes several pages of introduction that trace both the history of comics from newspapers to comic books and his own development from a child infatuated with everything about comics and super heroes to an adult writer/cartoonist.
I grew up following the adventures of many of the comic book super heroes he presents here. (Comic books were in their heyday and cost 10 cents.) By the time I was "into" comics, these super heroes were already well established and their super powers were taken for granted. In THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES, Feiffer includes many of the comic book sequences that reveal how these super powers came to be. Here's some of what I learned from Feiffer:
Superman, as most of us do know, was sent to earth as a baby from a planet whose destruction was imminent. Inhabitants of that planet were all endowed with what, on earth, were super powers.
Batman didn't really have super powers. From the time when, as a child, he saw his parents killed by gangsters, he trained his body and mind to function as a crime fighting machine.
The Human Torch was, in fact, not human. He was created in a lab.
The Flash got his superhuman speed as a result of breathing gas fumes during a lab accident.
The Green Lantern got his powers from a green ring made from a magic green lantern.
Captain America got his super powers from an injection of a secret formula.
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Format: Paperback
I received a copy of this book for Christmas of 1966. It was years before I actually read Feiffer's essay but oh, how I adored the comics themselves.

I wrote a barely-readable letter to the editor of Hawkman urging them to try to make Hawkman more like the original character I had seen in the book. It was never mailed, and wound up in my baby book, but for the record I still think that would be a good idea.

You could make an argument that there are plenty of venues for reading old comics (hardcover, softcover, online, Kindle, microfiche), so really Feiffer's words are what is worth having. That argument is what bumps this up from two stars to three.

But no, I think the book is too much diminished if it doesn't include the reprints.
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