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October 28, 2004

Listen Up: Gerard Jones on NPR

imageThis week's 32.5-minute Talk of the Nation chat with Gerard Jones, author of Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, veers pretty quickly away from the talk of the collision of emergent geek culture and outsider criminal culture and into an overarching talk about comics then and now. That's unfortunate, as Jones seems to have a pretty good grasp on biographical details of early comics pioneers and knows how to use them in service of his thesis. Jones is generally smooth as silk in the piece, striking a nice balance between insider information and broader connections -- I like the one about Superman being a combination of the sci-fi and body cultures of its time.

Jones is on less certain ground with the modern material, which is where the interview maybe inevitably goes when current mainstream writers Devin Grayson and Chris Claremont phone in. Jones nicely finesses the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question posed by a caller, although he does astutely point out Kirby's relatively quiet public persona and compares Lee to Bob Kane, a much better selection than Claremont, who gives us Stan as DW Griffith.

Jones seems to have a pretty cogent grasp of what's important and what's not in comics history -- a smart outsider's view, despite having once been on the inside. The only disappointment in the interview is that he acknowledges the Jewish identity of early comics creators but does not quite answer a question as to how this had an effect on the comics other than that stand-by of "outsider status". Removed several years from his direct involvement in the industry and several decades from his primary subject, the book should play greatly to his strengths as a writer on popular culture, and it's worth hearing him hold forth now.
posted 8:51 am PST | Permalink

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