The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Mods, please move if you think this belongs in GQ, but I seem to find more book-related threads in this forum.

What I’d like to know is how much of the stuff Chabon writes about the history of comic books in Kavalier and Clay is accurate. I could probably get an answer by reading some of the reviews, but I don’t want to risk reading any spoilers.

I was hoping one of the comic book afficionados here might have read the book and have something to say about it.

I have never read the book…but a quick search turns up this…

Seems he won the pulitzer for fiction. So I would hazard a guess that it’s mostly if not all…fiction.

Jonathan Carroll’s first book, THE LAND OF LAUGHS, is finally back in print (thank you, St. Martin’s Press!) and you’re spending your time on Chabon novels?

Ike, you crack me up. I’m wasting my time, huh?


As Reeder pointed out (and thank you, sir), Chabon’s book won an award – a Pulitzer, even. I realize it probably can’t compare to Mr. Carroll’s work, but at the moment, I have Chabon’s book and I don’t yet have Land of Laughs.

I’m making do. (I found it in The Village Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio for $3.99.) And it ain’t half bad. I just wanna know if he got the comic book history right. Or even close.

You don’t care for Chabon?

I haven’t read the book in question, although it sounds great from the reviews.

Just using you and your thread in my own, ham-handed manner, to let everybody know LAND OF LAUGHS is available again. Been wanting to read that sucker for years, and all the used copies were running, like, a hundred bucks.

Okay, Ike, I getcha. :slight_smile:

Have you read Zod Wallop by William Browning Spencer? He’s at least as amazing as Carroll, I think.

I’ve read the book, and have a mild knowledge of comics history. I don’t recall noticing any errors, but, unfortunately, I’m afraid to say that I don’t remember if this was because he didn’t make any or because he was making his comics history up whole-cloth.

Which of course sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book much. But I did; my review would be that he has promise, and the book is worthwhile. There was a short story of his in the New Yorker some time in the spring that showed some advancement, in my opinion.


Ellis, thanks. I like the book too, and am particularly impressed with how Chabon conveys life in New York City in the 40’s. Although I wasn’t there at the time, so I have no idea how accurate that is either – but it sure feels right.

Clay here,

I just read The Amazing Adventures of etc. I really enjoyed it. I’m inclined to give credence to the comics history, esp. in view of the long list of people in the field to whom he expresses gratitude for assistance. I haven’t read anything else of Chabon’s, but I probably will.

I remember enjoying Zod Wallop; also Resume with Monsters by the same author.

Me too, Hazel. On everything you said – liking the book, believing the history, reading more of Chabon’s stuff, and enjoying “Resume With Monsters.”.

Are you Hazel after Hazel Motes in “Wise Blood”? You seem well-read, which is why I ask.

Thanks, Auntie! But I’m not familiar with “Wise Blood”. I’m a lifelong SF reader. I picked Hazel as a nom d’net after Heinlein’s Hazel Mead Stone. Is there an Auntie Pam I should know in the world’s great literature?

Not until someone writes my biography. :slight_smile:

Haven’t read Kavalier and Clay, but if you tell me some of the history that they relate, I can spot check it for you.


Fenris, if you enjoy comic books, you would probably enjoy this nifty novel about Kavilier & Clay, two cousins in their late teens, who, in 1939, invent a costumed superhero called The Escapist.

Fenris, I’m not sure how (if) I can do that without running afoul of copyright rules. Since I’m not quoting anything verbatim, I hope this is okay.

Some of the names mentioned are Burne Hogarth, Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Gould and Gray, Milton Caniff. Caniff’s the only one I’ve heard of.

Chabon says that early comics were reprints of comic strips from newspapers, that while the covers were often very beautifully done, the interior art was, um, crummy.

Since they were reprints of strips that often had Friday-Monday cliffhangers, they didn’t work so well when the strips were put together. Publishers started original comics partly for that reason, and also to avoid paying for the reprint rights.

Superman was the first big success, and the guy who drew it changed the format so he’d have room to show Superman leaping tall buildings, etc. etc.

There’s lots more than that, of course, and like Hazel said, it’s a great story. The Escapist was born in 1939 to fight Nazis. One of the boys is a Czech refugee trying to make enough money to bring his family to the States.

Rayomond was Flash Gordon, Hal Foster did Prince Valiant, (Chester) Gould was (I think) Dick Tracy, (Harold) Grey was Little Orphan Annie.

(Stuff like this is easily within “Fair Use” guidelines, so you’re fine.)


True, but with a caveat: The art wasn’t crummy, but the reproduction was ghastly. Comic books reprinted strips were big from (off the top of my head) about 1934-1936 or so. Then they started presenting original material.


The reprint rights did have something to do with it, but I don’t know the details.


Superman was the first big success, with Batman soon after, but there were some minor successes beforehand ("Slam’ Bradley, Dr. Occult, The Crimson Avenger) who are now mostly forgotten. The change of format thing, I doubt. I’ve seen a few of the all-new material comics that came out before Action #1 (Sup’s first appearance) like early issues of Detective and they’re the same format. Some of the comic-strip reprint books did have weird proportions and varied widely. **


It sounds great, I may give it a read.

And if you have any other questions, I’d be happy to answer 'em. (I’m better with the post-Superman stuff)


Fenris, thanks. And if you do decide to get the book, check the bargain tables first. Despite the prestigious award, I got mine from a remainder table. Save you a few bucks.

Reading the book has made me nostalgic for the days when comic books could be found everywhere. I used to get mine from a revolving wire rack at the tavern where my folks spent their Saturday afternoons. (We went “to town.”) There were racks of them at the grocery store too. Now it’s all Enquirer and Woman’s Day.

Who’s in charge of marketing comics? They’re doing a piss-poor job. I visit Golden Age in the Market on my annual Seattle trip and get what I can afford, but comics are scarce as hen’s teeth here in the boonies.

<grumble> Tell me about it. Without going into my standard rant, I firmly believe (and regret) that comics will be dead as a genre within the next 20 years or so. If I start listing all the reasons why, it’ll turn into a long, LONG hijack, so I won’t go there. But as someone who’s read and collected comics for 25+ years I’m not really optimistic about the medium’s future. <sigh>


Fenris got to this first, but he didn’t say that Burne Hogarth drew the most amazing strip of Tarzan of the Apes. Classic stuff!

For the history of comics I strongly recommend Jim Steranko’s History of the Comics in two volumes. Great stuff, but damned near unobtainable. Also Lupoff’s All in Color for a Dime, Jules Feiffer’s History of Comics (yep, that Jules Feiffer), and George Perry and Alan Aldridge’s The Penguin Book of Comics. Also, look up the entries in Nicholl’s and Clute’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Comic books did start as spinoffs of the newspaper strips – they were seling such collections by the 1930s. I never heard that the reasn they went to original art was because of the bad quality of the reprints, though. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me – I’ve noticed that even today reprints aren’t up to the quality of the original).

There were regular characters and some “succeses” before Superman, but Superman was indeed a major success.

I haven’t heard about a new artist opening up space in the Superman comics. Joe Shuster continued to draw the Big Blue Guy for several years, and I don’t recall anything about this in Les Daniels’ recent [b[Superman: The complete History**. One factor that *did[/] mae a big difference was the fact that Fleischer Studios started making Superman cartoons shotly after the comic book appeared, and thi arguably changed Superman from a guy “able to leap tall buildings at a single bound” to a guy who flew. For details, see my book, which I can guarantee you is well-researched.