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Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America Paperback – September 18, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pow! Bam! Crash! Analysis! According to this insightful and highly entertaining political and cultural history of comic books, Superman was not just "fighting for the American way"--he was inventing it. Comic books, perhaps the central staple of U.S. youth culture, have been fundamental in both shaping and reflecting the country's political, social, ethical and even sexual mores ever since Superman made his first appearance on the cover of Action Comics in 1938. Wright, a faculty member at the University of Maryland's University College, charts how these popular pulp stories (over 100 million comics were printed in 1949) mirrored myriad, often conflicting, political positions: Superman's first enemies were corrupt politicians and slum lords aligned against the New Deal; '50s books reflected national anticommunist hysteria as well as mixed messages about the Korean War; violent "crime comics" of the 1950s reflected the decade's social unrest; Iron Man in the 1960s found his earlier anticommunist politics shaken by the war in Vietnam. Wright explores how the politics of the writers and artists, usually liberals and often Jewish, were reflected in their work, while at the same time they had to conform to frequently more conservative cultural standards that often led to a backlash against the genre. By the late 1940s, comics were at the center of a full-fledged cultural war; claims that they corrupted youth and caused crime and juvenile delinquency, resulted in congressional hearings and laws that banned the books. Carefully placing comics in their broader social contexts and weighing seriously their critics' charges, Wright creates an intelligent study not only of comics but of shifting attitudes toward popular culture, children, violence, patriotism and America itself.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

At last, a substantive book studying the effect of comic books on American culture and vice versa. Wright (Univ. of Maryland's University Coll., European Division) departs from the tired formula of celebrating comics' golden age in the 1940s or focusing on one company's experiences. Instead, his extremely well-organized book traces the genre's birth, expansions, and retractions from the 1930s to the present. The fascinating result highlights an increasingly intriguing interaction between pressing events in American society and what was written and published on colorfully paneled pages. Wright's style is intellectual but not lecturing, informed but not boorish, and he maintains an admirable balance between minute detail and breezy highlight. Recommended for all public and academic libraries looking to offer a truly worthwhile study of comics as part of American culture rather than in the usual vacuum. Chris Ryan, New Milford, NJ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (September 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801874505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801874505
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.9 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In jargon-free, exuberant prose, Bradford Wright has written what may well be the definitive history of comic books. As Wright notes in his introduction, however, since his investigation is also a survey of mass adolescent culture, he properly focuses on "popular" commercial magazines--especially on superhero-themed comics--to the exclusion of newspaper funnies (like Dick Tracy and Li'l Abner), underground comics and graphic novels (such as works by R. Crumb and Daniel Clowes), and cartoon series for children (Archie and the Disney characters).
Painstakingly researched, "Comic Book Nation" is really three books in one. Wright provides both plot outlines and summaries of trends in subject matter, from the launch of Superman to the sinister underworld of the Watchmen. He also places those themes and developments in the larger cultural context, from Depression-era longings and liberalism, through the patriotism induced by World War II and the Cold War, to the anti-crime vigilantism of the Reagan era. Finally, he charts the multiple peaks and valleys experienced by the business itself: its unpredictable sales patterns, the unhappiness of its work force, the rise and fall of the largest publishers, and the takeover of the industry by corporate and licensing interests. Along the way, he examines the 1940s and 1950s backlash against the violent and sexual nature of comic books (which resulted in the Comics Code Authority, an agency of censorship unparalleled in its broad sweep and its power); the heyday of EC Comics, purveyor of classics ranging from "Tales from the Crypt" to "Mad Magazine"; and the brilliant, original creation of "Spider-Man" and the succeeding generation of reluctant, misunderstood heroes.
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Format: Hardcover
The history of comic books has thus far been written tangentially in other studies of comics, and slanted toward the individual theses of the given author's work; only by splicing histories from a variety of sources could the history of comics be achieved, thus causing an impediment to understand the history of the medium for new scholars approaching the field. Bradford W. Wright's Comic Book Nation should provide new comic book scholars with an appropriate historical understanding of a complex medium, and while it may prove to be repetitive for readers familiar with the history of comic books, for scholars new to the field, Comic Book Nation is indispensable as a single-volume study. Ron Goulart's Great History of Comic Books (1986) was marred with inaccuracies; Richard Reynolds' Superheroes: A Modern Mythology (1992), while theoretically vital to the study of the field, largely eschewed historical analysis; William Savage's Comic Books and America: 1945-1954 (1990), which Wright acknowledges his debt to, focused too narrowly on an anomalous era of comic book publishing (at the end of the Golden Age typified by the comics published during the Second World War and previous to the Silver Age, embodied by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's work at Marvel Comics), much like Amy Nyberg's Seal of Approval (1998), which focused on the era of comic book censorship in the 1950s. Wright approaches the whole of comic book history, and while he suffers from lack of analytical depth, he provides future scholars with an indispensable point of analytical departure.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Bought this book and devoured it in three days. Informative for the comic book fan and non-fan alike, though the fan will likely know much of the historical/anecdotal material about the creators and creation of the key superheroic icons.
Wright clearly establishes that the comics were/are very much part of the cultural milieu from which they emerge and he parallels the various shifts in narrative and focus to what was happening in American society at that specific time. I believe he is less successful in establishing the material represented by his sub-title: how youth culture is transformed by the comics rather than how youth culture is reflected by the comics (I came away with more of the reflection aspect after reading this book).
The book does not address the "Image-era" of comics; that is, when the youth of America became swayed by badly written, poorly drawn, highly and gratuitiously violent comics of little substance. Here, I think, is an additional chapter in which the symbiotic (and not always positive) relationship between pop-culture and society should have been addressed... especially since the Image books were a direct, if unexpected, outgrowth of the ultra-violence and star-making power of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns which Wright does discuss in some depth. The Vertigo line of books also gets short shrift... perhaps because the audience for these is older?
Still and all, as Wright himself states, there are woefully FEW "serious" or "academic" texts about comics. No true fan, especially the perennial fans like myself who outgrow the intended audience of the comics but refuse to let go, should be without this text. Well done.
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