The Panels 2015 Read Harder Challenge consists of 26 challenge categories spanning the breadth and depth of all things that may be considered comics. Every week we’ll give you reading recommendations from one of the categories.
Books about comics are one of my favorite things! When I was in school I studied comics and was absolutely thrilled that I could make a living digging through these books that I love so much. Along the way I had to read more than my share of academic, technical, historical, and general non-fiction books about comics, and they enlightened me in ways I hadn’t expected. If we’re keeping it real, there’s also an element of interpretation to this particular theme. Who says a “book about comics” has to be non-fiction? There are plenty of novels about comics, or maybe more accurately, novels that include comics as a plot element. We’ll throw a couple of those in as well.
This series of illustrated books is one of the first suggestions on most comics lovers’ lips. By illustrating his points through comics illustrations, these volumes delve into the ways sequential art functions, how we perceive it, and the ways storytelling happens in comics. Not to mention history and the general art of cartooning. – Andi
If you’re one of the many nonfiction readers fascinated by the history and origins of everyday things, check out this absorbing look at the early days of the American comic book industry. Jones chronicles the careers of luminaries like Will Eisner and Jack Kirby, but he’s just as interested in the businessmen who saw the potential of the superhero genre and the weird, improbable ways that they sold the phenomenon to the world. I read this book early in my acquaintance with superhero comics, and this look at their place in history and culture did a lot to fuel my interest in the genre. – Caroline Pruett
Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Douglas Wolk
If you like smart, provocative, sometimes frustrating but always engaging criticism, try this book from the New York Times comics critic. Particularly worthwhile are the essays focused on individual creators. Wolk is really good at talking about why he likes the things he likes (as opposed to many critics who only shine when they’re taking something apart — a more flashy but ultimately less useful skill). That’s not to say that this is just a cheerleading section. Even regarding the creators he admits are favorites (notably Alan Moore and Grant Morrison) Wolk candidly discusses the things that don’t work as well as the things that do. The range of works he talks about is impressive — from Love and Rockets to Watchmen to Marv Wolfman’s run on Tomb of Dracula — and while he insists this isn’t meant to be any kind of reading list, he may well help add some items to your list. – Caroline Pruett
Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier
Jack “King” Kirby was one of the best. He was one of the fathers of the modern comic book, transforming the medium from an offshoot of comic strips into its own artform. He’s also one of the men behind such classic characters as Captain America, The New Gods, The X-Men, and The Incredible Hulk. Evanier created this book to celebrate this titan of the industry, a story told mostly through visuals, which is apt since Kirby was primarily an artist. Reading through Kirby: King of Comics, one cannot help but see the influence his work still has in every comic book published to this day. – Chris Arnone
Published as a companion piece for the PBS documentary “Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle,” Superheroes! goes through a history not only of comics, but the whole idea of superheroes. The comics form and format, however, are a central focus in the majority of the chapters, and we get to see the development of superheroes from pre-Superman days through the current Avengers franchise. This is a book that is great in multiple formats; the audiobook features sound bytes from interviews featured in the documentary. The physical copy, however, is chock full of magnificent images that highlight the full history of superheroes over nearly a century. I listened to the audiobook first, but was determined to acquire it in print. It’s pretty. – Jessica Pryde
Other suggestions from Andi:
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature by Charles Hatfield
Other suggestions from Caroline:
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon
Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them was co-edited by Panelteer Sigrid Ellis and contains work by Sigrid, Jennifer Smith, and Caroline Pruett
Other Recommendations and Resources:
Wikipedia also has an extensive list of novels based on comics.
Three Novels for Comics Lovers (Other Than Kavalier and Clay) from right here at Panels
Follow us on Instagram for more comics fun.