11 biographies of comic book creators

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Superheroes may be fantastic, but their creators are very human: imperfect, flesh-and-blood individuals with talent and vision. In some cases, these real-life personalities are even more complicated and intriguing than the characters they put on the page.

Maybe that’s why there have been so many biographies of comic book creators in recent years – so many, in fact, that SDCC @ Home has devoted a whole panel to discuss four of the most recent. All of the books featured there are also featured here, along with a number of others on writers, artists, etc. Some of these are names you have probably never heard of before; others that you know better than your own. All of them have worked hard and often mercilessly to bring us the comics we love.

Like the comics themselves, white men – both as authors and as subjects – dominate this list. Fortunately, more recent studies seek to reverse this trend, as you can see below.

A photo of the daredevil from the Golden Age with the book title written on half of its face

American Daredevil: Comics, Communism and the Battles of Lev Gleasom by Brett Dakin

Although he can’t remember well today, Lev Gleason was a comic book giant of the Golden Age. He even invented a whole new genre of comics: the detective comic. Ironically, the police comics helped hasten the demise of his own business (although his blatant Communist sympathies didn’t help in the ultra-paranoid 1950s). Gleason’s great-nephew, Brett Dakin, paints a compelling portrait of an influential and fearless publisher.

An illustrated portrait of Bill Finger with a tilted shadow of Batman's hood behind him

Bill the Boy Wonder: Batman’s Secret Co-Creator by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton

If you’ve ever seen a Batman cartoon, a movie, whatever, you’ve seen “created by Bob Kane” marked somewhere in the credits. But was he yet? Nobleman and Templeton argue (and it’s now generally accepted among fans) that the answer is a harsh “ish”. This short, illustrated biography tells the story of Bill Finger, who never received the credit he deserved for bringing one of comics’ most iconic characters to life.

If you want Kane’s version of events, you can check out his 1989 autobiography, Batman and me. Given the appearance of his tombstone, however, I would prepare for some terminal self-aggrandizement.

Drawings of influential women from early comics

Women in comics: characters, creators and culture in the golden age by Peyton Brunet and Blair Davis

Now available for pre-order, Cartoon women is a necessary counterweight to the male-centric biographies that dominate this list. Brunet and Davis take a fresh look at the early days of comics, focusing on the women who helped grow the industry – and who were later erased from the history books.

Various images of Gardner Fox and his work

Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox by Jennifer DeRoss

Fox was a most unlikely candidate for an influential comic book creator. A lawyer hit hard by the Great Depression, he ended up writing comics for a side income. Along the way, he happened to help invent or reinvent icons like Flash, Hawkman, and Batgirl. He even, as I pointed out earlier, invented the very concept of a superhero multiverse.

A collage of characters drawn by black designers and photos of the artists themselves

Invisible men: black comic book artists by Kevin Quattro

Like I said in the intro, comics have long been dominated by white voices. However, it was not always so seamless. In the early days, when comic book creation was nowhere near as respectable as it is today, color designers, including black men, were more common. Kevin Quattro’s Eisner Award book pays homage to these men, both as individuals and as contributors to an industry that seems eager to forget about them.

Elms at his drawing desk and samples of his work

Jackie Ormes: the first African-American cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein

Once upon a time, “comic book” did not refer to the comic strip books but to the comic bands. Jackie Ormes was the only black designer of her time. A talented and influential artist, Ormes nonetheless clashed with the FBI: unsurprisingly, in the mid-1950s, his leftist politics were unpopular with the US government.

Hulk's fist breaks towards the reader

Kirby, king of comics by Marc Evanier

In comic book history, there is only one man with the talent, versatility, vision, and impact to call himself “King”, and that man is Jack Kirby. Kirby’s friend and collaborator Mark Evanier tells the story of his life and how his seemingly endless creative energy allowed him to help create the Marvel Universe. The book also includes plenty of original Kirby artwork to drool over.

A caricature of Marie Severin at her desk, surrounded by Marvel characters

Marie Severin: The Mitheuse Mistress of the Comic Strip by Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan

Colorists usually don’t get as much attention as these glitzy artists and writers. (They weren’t even regularly credited until the ’60s!) Of all the colorists, Marie Severin, who has spent decades working on some of Marvel’s biggest titles, is perhaps the most famous – and rightly so. title ! Cassell and Sultan tell his story through interviews, photos and of course, works of art.

An image of Stan Lee smiling and pointing at the reader

A Wonderful Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee by Danny Fingeroth

Lee is arguably the most famous – and most polarizing – figure in all of comics. This is probably why there are biographies about him everywhere. This book isn’t even the only one on Lee coming out this year! However, Fingeroth knew Lee and his associates personally, which gave him a unique perspective from which to write.

For Lee’s take on his life story, you can check out his 2002 autobiography, Excelsior! : The Amazing Life of Stan Lee.

A collage of images by and by Otto Binder

Otto Binder: The Life and Work of a Comic Book and Sci-Fi Visionary by Bill Schelly

While his work on the Superman franchise (and this guy, I guess) is best remembered, Binder’s influence extends far beyond superheroes. In this book, you’ll learn all about how Binder’s work changed science fiction as we know it, as well as the terrible personal tragedies that darkened his later years.

A comic book style image of Superman's legs hovering over a cityscape

Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – Creators of Superman by Brad Ricca

No list of creator biographies would be complete without a book chronicling the lives of the very first superhero creators, Siegel and Shuster. Even if you know the general rhythms of their history – how they created Superman together, sold the rights for a paltry $ 130, and had to fight for decades for even a tiny slice of the profits – this book will teach you a lot about the The Ohio Teens Who Started It All.

Don’t have enough creative biographies? Discover these literary biographies, or these autobiographies of musicians!

Lisa M. Horner