Books about comic books

My mom posted a comment asking me what books about comic books I’d consider essential. I’m going to make a couple lists, one list that I’d consider essential for an academic library, and one list that I’d consider essential for someone with a large personal collection of books.

So, a list of essentials in academia (I haven’t read most of these, this is what I put together with a couple searches in WorldCat and 15 minutes of wandering around my library). I’m also including as many titles as I want in this list, if someone is researching comics at an academic library, my definition of essential is a solid foundation of sources that someone would have immediate access to without having to resort to interlibrary loan:

The early comic strip; narrative strips and picture stories in the European broadsheet from c.1450 to 1825.
Kunzle, David.
Berkeley, University of California Press 1973

This is a mammoth 2 volume set based on the author’s thesis. It looked to me like it would serve double-duty in a library collection, someone wanting information on the development of cartooning in Europe could use this for research as well as a historian wanting to study the popular culture of the times. Kunzle also has a book that focuses on comic strips in the 19th century

The world encyclopedia of comics
Horn, Maurice.
Philadelphia : Chelsea House, 1999
The World encyclopedia of cartoons
Horn, Maurice.; Marschall, Richard.
Detroit : Gale Research Co., 1980
The Encyclopedia of American comics
Goulart, Ron
New York : Facts on File, 1990

These look like they are good to have in a library’s reference collection. It is too bad that they haven’t been updated and reissued.

A Smithsonian book of comic-book comics
J Michael Barrier; Martin T Williams

I saw this on one of the “essential 11” lists. I read this over and over when I was a kid. A great anthology, and a new book, The New Smithsonian Book Of Comic Book Stories: From Crumb To Clowes is coming out soon. I haven’t seen it of course, but I’m adding it to this list as well, if it is anything like the previous books in this series it will be an essential anthology.

Understanding comics : the invisible art
Scott McCloud

One of the best comic books about comic books! I still miss Zot!

Comics & sequential art

Will Eisner

I have to admit I haven’t read much Will Eisner (I am shamed) other than bits of the Spirit here and there. But I’m sure that this book is essential!

Manga! Manga! : the world of Japanese comics
Dreamland Japan : writings on modern manga
Frederik L Schodt

With manga dominating bookstore graphic novel sales and more students citing japanese pop culture as their reason for studying Japanese, you have to have these books.

From girls to grrrlz : a history of [women’s] comics from teens to zines

Trina Robbins

Yay! Women’s Comics!

Seduction of the innocent.
Fredric Wertham

For its historical value for anyone researching censorship and the comics code

Histoire de la bande dessinée en France et en Belgique : des origines à nos jours
Henri Filippini

One hard thing about putting together a list like this is the lack of books in English about the development of comics in Europe. It seems goofy to me to leave that out, so this is book is included — a history of comic books in France and Belgium. It is written in French.

Children of the yellow kid : the evolution of the American comic strip
Harvey, Robert C.; Walker, Brian.; West, Richard V.
Publication: Seattle : Frye Art Museum in association with the
University of Washington Press, 1998
Comics, comix & graphic novels
Roger Sabin
London : Phaidon Press, 1996
The Great Comic Book Heroes
Jules Feiffer

That’s about it. I’d think that you would also want to add a couple books of pop culture criticism and some of those collections that reprint superhero (Batman, Spiderman, Superman, etc) stories selected across many decades as well as collections of alernative comics.

For the average person’s personal library, I think that you just need Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, The Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics, a Frederik L Schodt book (if you like manga), and either a few boxes of old comics or some books collecting comics from many decades.

I don’t think there are enough examples of comics or comics creaters featured in novels to cull a list of essentials. I’m going to list the ones I’ve read and a few others that I’m aware of.
Books I’ve read

The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay : a novel

Chabon, Michael
Fortress of Solitude
Jonathan Lethem
The Funnies
J. Robert Lennon

An artist inherits a comic strip from his estranged father.

Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright

Steven Millhauser

The child genius in the novel works on a masterpiece called Cartoons.

Love Fights
Andi Watson

I’m adding this comic to the list, since one of the main characters is a comic book artist AND it still has an entertaining story. Someone could add some of the autobiographical work that is included in something like the collection McSweeney’s #13, I just find fiction more entertaining than non-fiction.

A couple other novels I haven’t read:

Funny papers : a novel
Tom De Haven
What they did to Princess Paragon
Robert Rodi