Superheroes may be fantastical, but their creators are very human: flawed, flesh-and-blood individuals with talent and a 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 about comic book creators in recent years — so many, in fact, that SDCC@Home devoted an entire panel to discussing four of the newest. All of the books featured there are also featured here, as well as a number of others about writers, artists, and more. Some of them are names you’ve likely never heard before; others you know better than your own. All of them worked hard and often thanklessly to bring us the comics we love.
Like comics themselves, white men — both as authors and as subjects — dominate this list. Fortunately, more recent scholarship is seeking to reverse this trend, as you can see below.
While not well-remembered today, Lev Gleason was a giant of Golden Age comics. He even invented a whole new comic book genre: the crime comic. Ironically, crime comics helped to hasten his own company’s demise (though his blatant communist sympathies did not help in the ultra-paranoid ’50s). Gleason’s great-nephew Brett Dakin paints a compelling portrait of an influential and fearless publisher.
Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton
If you’ve ever seen a Batman cartoon, movie, whatever, you’ve seen “created by Bob Kane” tagged onto the credits somewhere. But was he, though? Nobleman and Templeton argue (and it is now generally recognized among fans) that the answer is a hard “ish.” This short, illustrated biography tells the story of Bill Finger, who never received anywhere near the credit he deserved for breathing life into one of comicdom’s most iconic characters.
Comic Book Women: Characters, Creators, and Culture in the Golden Age by Peyton Brunet and Blair Davis
Now available for preorder, Comic Book Women is a necessary counterweight to the male-centric biographies dominating this list. Brunet and Davis take a fresh look at the early days of comics, focusing on the women who helped to build up the industry — and who were subsequently erased from the history books.
Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox by Jennifer DeRoss
Fox was a most unlikely candidate for influential comics creator. A lawyer hit hard by the Great Depression, he ended up writing comics for extra income. Along the way, he just so happened to help invent or reinvent icons like the Flash, Hawkman, and Batgirl. He even, as I previously pointed out, invented the very concept of the superhero multiverse.
Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books by Kevin Quattro
As I said in the intro, comics have long been dominated by white voices. However, it wasn’t always quite this homogeneous. In the very early days, when creating comics was nowhere near as respectable as it is now, creators of color, including Black men, were more common. Kevin Quattro’s Eisner Award-winning book pays tribute to these men, both as individuals and as contributors to an industry that seems eager to forget them.
Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein
Once upon a time, “comics” did not refer to comic books but to comic strips. Jackie Ormes was the only Black female cartoonist of her era. A talented and influential artist, Ormes nonetheless ran afoul of the FBI: unsurprisingly, in the midst of the ’50s Red Scare, her left-leaning politics were unpopular with the U.S. government.
Kirby, King of Comics by Mark Evanier
In the history of comic books, there is only one man with the talent, versatility, vision, and impact to be called “King,” and that man is Jack Kirby. Kirby’s friend and collaborator, Mark Evanier, relates his life story and how his seemingly endless supply of creative energy allowed him to help create the Marvel universe. The book includes plenty of original Kirby art to drool over, too.
Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics by Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan
Colorists generally don’t get as much attention as those glitzy artists and writers. (They weren’t even credited regularly until the ’60s!) Of all the colorists out there, Marie Severin, who spent decades working on some of Marvel’s biggest titles, is perhaps the most famous — and deservedly so! Cassell and Sultan tell her story through interviews, photos, and of course artwork.
A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee by Danny Fingeroth
Lee is undoubtedly the most famous — and the most polarizing — figure in all comics. That’s probably why there are biographies about him all over the place. This book isn’t even the only one about Lee to come out this year! However, Fingeroth knew Lee and his associates personally, giving him a unique perspective from which to write.
For Lee’s own view of his life story, you can check out his 2002 autobiography, Excelsior!: The Amazing Life of Stan Lee.
While best remembered for his work on the Superman franchise (and this guy, I guess), Binder’s influence extends far beyond superheroes. In this book, you’ll learn all about how Binder’s work changed sci-fi as we know it, as well as the terrible personal tragedies that darkened his final years.
Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — Creators of Superman by Brad Ricca
No list of creator bios would be complete without a book chronicling the lives of the very first superhero creators, Siegel and Shuster. Even if you are familiar with the general beats of their story — how they created Superman together, sold the rights for a measly $130, and had to fight for decades for even a slim share of the profits — this book will teach you plenty about the Ohio teens who started it all.