The Escapist

Men of TomorrowIt’s fuckin’ gloomy around here. Everyone’s pissed off or depressed or angry or sulking. To get a little respite, I’m retreating to the fantasia of the comic book world with Gerard Jones’ “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book.” I picked it up over the weekend while browsing the aisles at my local bookstore, stocking up on fodder for my culturally elitist reading list (my duty, as a citizen of a blue state). I’ve never really left behind the familiar comfort of comic books, in part because they almost bring me back to the less prickly reality of childhood, but these days I think I enjoy the idea of them more than anything; I’d rather read about comic books than actually read them.

That’s why this well-crafted history of the early comic book industry is perfect for me. It’s less a scholarly history than a biography of the personalities and circumstances that led a small population of Jewish boys into creating some of the defining myths of modern America. But it has its share of historical revelations, too:, Jones traces the origins of the comic book industry back to the hard-scrabble realities of New York’s Lower East Side in the early part of the century, and shows how famous gangland names like Meyer Lansky played their part in bringing about this early pop medium. Just like a comic book, there’s no knowledge in this tome that will prove particularly useful in the real world — it’s just bracingly entertaining — and it has virtually nothing to do with what’s going on today. Which is why it’s such a pleasure to read.



  1. Your subject line made me think of the book “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” a fictional pulitzer-prize winner based on the same subject matter and history. Is your header a reference to this book, or just a coincidence? (If the latter, then I highly recommend the book.)

    (If the former, was the “Escapist” a real comic book hero? I thought he was the invention of the author.)

  2. You got me. It was indeed a not-so-sly reference to Michael Chabon’s book. In fact, I would guess that the green light for “Men of Tomorrow” was made possible at least in part by “Kavalier & Clay,” as they cover almost exactly the same period in history. The Escapist was not a real comic book character (whatever “real” means; I should say he was not a historical character in comic books of the time), but Chabon used a bit of his well-earned but perhaps overly-heaped new comic book cred to create some actual comic books about his creation:

  3. Khoi, I wonder if you’ve come across a book called “The Science of Superheroes.” I picked it up on to listen to it on my last cross-country roadtrip.

    It was a great listen. There’s a bit of a “party pooper” feel to it–they try to explain/debunk various superheroes from the comicbook canon from a scientific/historical perspective–but in the end it’s rather entertaining (though probably not as personable as the book you mention in this post).

  4. There’s a whole series of books in “The Science of…” series, aren’t there? I’ve passed “The Science of Star Trek” and “The Science of Superman” in the book store, but I’ve never read them. They do sound like the kind of thing I would like — comic books without the actual comics.

  5. Khoi, I came here from your internal link “even better when it’s non-fiction about comic books” from Jan 19 2005. You talk about your reading and waiting list. I just finished and can recommendation Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” and “Reinventing Comic”. Non-fiction comic book about comic book history and theory. Great stuff.

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