iFanboy’s Best of 2011: The Best Books About Comics

Sites like iFanboy prove that there’s more to comics than simply reading an issue and putting it in your longbox. The world of comics encourages discussion – not just surface comments about the event of the week, but thoughtful analysis and criticism of the medium. Though the library of books on comics doesn’t yet rival the myriad titles on art and film, the selection is growing every year.

Ranging from thoughtful academic words to lighter “pop” fare, here’s some of the best books about comics that came out in 2011.

Super Black
by Adilifu Nama

The role of black superheroes in comics over the last 80 years has been troubled, to put it lightly. Black Lightning, Luke Cage, the Falcon and others haven’t always been (and often still are not) treated as more than “token” characters in the larger Marvel and DC universes. Though it would be easy for Nama to focus on the negative portrayal of black superheroes, he instead chooses to celebrate the rich history of the characters. The author draws interesting parallels between heroes and contemporary events, connecting ’70s Cage and Black Panther to events of the decade. Adilifu Nama is an obvious fan of comics, which helps Super Black avoid slipping into the overly professorial tone one might expect of a book from a university press.


The Amazing Adventures of Phoenix Jones
by Jon Ronson

While not about comics in the strictest sense, Ronson’s The Amazing Adventures of Phoenix Jones is still of interest to the capes-and-tights set. The author looks into the strange world of real life “superheroes,” who don costumes to fight crime on the streets of some of America’s biggest cities. The focus of the short eBook is Phoenix Jones, the leader of the Rain City Superhero Movement in Seattle. Ronson embedded himself with Jones and the RCSM for a weekend, and the sometimes narcissistic world of amateur superheroics is actually touching – you’ll find yourself rooting for Jones and his crew by the end of the book, even if you’re shaking your head. The Amazing Adventures of Phoenix Jones is also notable as a test case for shorter, inexpensive non-fiction that ereaders may produce, offering about 60 pages for the cost of a comic book.


Joe Simon : My Life in Comics
by Joe Simon

Only weeks ago, we mourned the loss of Joe Simon, a giant in the world of comics. Simon, along with Jack Kirby, created loads of comics, perhaps most notably Captain America. In Joe Simon : My Life in Comics, the legendary creator (and, as the book notes, editor, writer, penciller, inker, and businessman) tells the story of his life. Though Simon is a major player in every history book on comics, his autobiography provides a personal perspective that the others lack. Simon’s style is snappy and easy to read, and he covers decades without a boring passage to be found. He also, thankfully, lays his positive outlook into every page – there’s no question that he had conflicts with Kirby and other colleagues over the years, but it’s refreshing to see he chose to look back without cynicism.

As Josh said when he reviewed this book in July, if you’ve got any interest on where comics came from, and who made them, this book is a must read.


by Art Spiegelman

It is hard to overstate the importance of Art Spiegelman’s book Maus, the graphic biography of the author’s father Vladek during the Holocaust. The only comic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, Maus did a lot to legitimize comics in the popular consciousness. In MetaMaus, Spiegelman digs into the creation (and reception) of the classic work. It’s a treat for anyone that counts themselves as a process nerd – Spiegelman details the reason behind pretty much every minor and major creative decision in Maus. Along with the interviews, sketches and other scrapbooked material in the hardcover, MetaMaus includes a DVD that packs in audio of interviews between Art and Vladek, a completely hyperlinked/annotated version of Maus, and other supplementary material.

In October, iFanboy staffer Paul gave his first impressions of MetaMaus.


Mutants and Mystics
by Jeffrey Kripal

At their core, comics are about exploration. More than that, classic superhero comics are about exploring ideas beyond the realm of the explainable. With powers granted by everything from cosmic rays to lightning-struck chemicals, creators traffic in the ” inexplicable and the paranormal.” Though using far-flung ideas to look at modern society has long been the realm of science fiction (look at The Twilight Zone) Kripal looks specifically at the world of comics. There’s no lack of high-minded creators for Kripal to draw from (see Kirby, Jack; see Moore, Alan; see Morrison, Grant), and he deftly covers inspirations as varied as the Cold War, the counter-culture and alien abductions. Like Adilifu Nama, Jeffrey Kripal is an academic that’s also a comic fan, and his familiarity with – and love for – superheroes makes the book an incredibly readable affair. Mutants and Mystics is a great companion to Grant Morrison’s Supergods, since the author is able to go broad where Morrison is a bit more personal. And, though Kripal covers the same psychedelia as Morrison, it’s a bit less ingrained in the actual text.

Speaking of Supergods


by Grant Morrison

Where to begin? In Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human, Grant Morrison aims to do nothing less than dissect the superhero, the most enduring part of modern mythology. Despite the sheer scale of such a topic, he largely succeeds. Kicking off with a look at the cover of Action Comics #1, Morrison ties comics to the enduring Greek and Roman myths. Moving from there to current-day comics, Morrison touches on the comic industry scandals of the 1950s and how superheroes tie into social movements in the 60s and 70s. Interestingly, Morrison then becomes a character in Supergods, as he chronicles how comics affected him as a young reader and then his creations as he joins the industry. At the end of the day, Supergods is a book that only Morrison could write – a trippy, intellectual, critical, absurd, and captivating history of comics and how we relate to them.

In July, Paul reviewed Supergods for iFanboy.

Josh Christie is a lover of comics writing, whether it comes as prose or panels. You can follow his ramblings about books and beer on Twitter.


  1. I definitely want to check out Super Gods now

    • I recently picked up Supergods at my local library, and I must say, it is awesome! If you like Morrison’s work, or just want to learn about the history of the comic book industry, you need to go check it out! It also has a nice list of good comic book series to check out(oddly, many are by Grant Morrison).

    • I took it out and just couldn’t finish it (read a little more than half). His ramblings describing the covers of various classic comic book covers and storylines that I was all too familiar with just couldn’t hold my attention.
      I wanted to like it but I only recommend the book to hardcore Morrison fans.

  2. C’mon. How could you miss the outstanding “comic book comics”.
    Book or comic that was fabulous !

  3. Terrific list. Meta Maus and Super Gods get my highest possible recommendation to anyone into comic book history.

  4. I really enjoyed reading Super Gods, the history and the look into Grant Morrisons head were a lot of fun.

  5. I’ve only read Super Gods of the books mentioned here. But I could not recommend it more highly. A great dissection, and a great insight into a somewhat mysterious mind.

    Super Black sounds fun. I may check that out.

    I’m tempted by Phoenix Jones too. I’ve always been fascinated by those crazies.

  6. I just got Supergods and I can’t wait to read it. I think i’ll add Super Black and Joe Simon to my buy list as well.

  7. *Great* call with Jeff Kripal’s book. (full disclosure: he’s a friend of mine). The book is not only a great read but also has incredible production value – beautiful full page reprints of covers and pages. I’ll actually be assigning part of his book in a class I’m teaching next semester….

  8. Supergods and Mutants and Mystics both look good.

  9. I need to read all of these books! I am a bit embarrassed that I have yet to read Supergods…..so embarrassed.

    But am I the only one who wants to see a Phoenix Jones movie? He is so fascinating because he is, by some extent, the most successful superhero in the real world.

  10. I read Super Gods and loved it. I an very interested in comic book history, so it was right up my alley. I also bought Joe Simon’s autobiography yesterday, definitely looking forward to diving into that one!

  11. I’ve read the Phoenix Jones book and it’s great little read for only a few pounds. I definitely like these short books on the eReaders.

    I shall be checking out MetaMaus and Mutnats and Mystics when I get the chance as well.

  12. For those who are interested in reading Supergods, be forewarned: this book suffers from a lack of proper editing and an wandering sense of direction. Morrison starts out clear enough with a nicely detailed history of comic development. Being a part of history, it’s not new of course, but his British perspective gives the story a breath of fresh air for us Americans. Unfortunately, after that, it’s down hill as he wonders from topic to topic detailing his overuse of psychoactive substances, pop culture in general, and personal relationships. At some point you realize he’s pulled a fast one– the book is no longer about comics, but about him. And even though he’s an interesting guy, he’s ultimately not that interesting.