Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America tells the history of the comic book from the perspective of a fan and a historian. Not only does Bradford W. Wright’s book tell the history of the medium itself (from Superman onward), but it shows how comics react to the political and social landscape around them. The book breaks down into two main themes: comics and wartime, and the battle over censorship. Wartime comics reflect the time they were written in; a country united in World War II, and a country divided in Vietnam.
It is the second theme, though, that is both the most fascinating and the saddest. Wright gives a detailed account of the downfall of EC Comics’ William Gaines, a publisher of horror and true crime comics, who set himself up as a scapegoat for people who were trying to brand comics as immoral. With the creation of the Comic Code in 1954 (a list of standards for comic book content), a new and harsher platform was in place that almost put EC Comics out of business and worried the rest of the industry about what would happen next.
While Wright’s book fills in the details left out of other comic history books, he in turn leaves gaps of his own. There is just a single chapter on everything since 1980, which does not include comics like the critically- acclaimed Sandman, self-published comics such as Cerebus and Elfquest, or online publishing. It also does not include people such as Scott McCloud, who championed a Bill of Rights for comic book creators at a time when the industry needed to lose its image of modern- day sweatshops.
Wright’s book should be read, but as a companion to other books on comic history.