Friday, September 25, 2009

Book: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Right, so, my latest read was 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' by Michael Chabon. I'll admit, I picked up this book, years ago, because it had to do with comic books. And it does, and yet it doesn't.

The story revolves around two characters, Josef Kavalier and his cousin Samuel Clayman. Josef is a refugee from Czechoslovakia - his entire family saved and bought him a ticket out of the country as the German occupation grew worse and worse. He actually got out just before they were forced to give up their home and move into an apartment with another Jewish family in a ghetto. (The timeline starts before the outbreak of World War II.)

Josef makes it to America, and lives with his cousin Sam and Sam's mother and grandmother. Sam dreams of making his mark as an artist (he's okay, but not, actually, very good) and Josef happens to be a trained artist who dreams of making enough money to get his family (father, mother and brother) out and to America. Sam schemes/wheedles/cons his boss into hiring them to make a comic book (he convinces the man to capitalize on the popularity of such new characters as Superman). The two of them come up with the Escapist (Josef also happens to be a trained illusionist/escape artist).

From there, you follow their lives growing up (they start out in their late teens), the outbreak of WWII (actually, it's the years before America joins the War that are lingered over the most - it frustrates Joe incredibly that *no one* will help his family, or even seem to believe that there's something terrible going on). Against a backdrop of what's going on in the fledgling comic book industry at the time. The lawsuits, the advantage that was taken of the artists who actually created and drew and wrote the characters by the companies that 'owned' them. The book ends, basically, with the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency and the *crazy jerk* Dr. Fredric Wertham's book The Seduction of the Innocent which basically said that all the characters in comics were 'sekritly gay and evil' and corrupting the youth. This is a real life thing, mind you, and caused the formation of the Comics Code Authority, which for many years, controlled what authors/artists could publish. Nowadays, plenty of books publish without the CCA's stamp of authority, so...*shrug*.

But that's part of the charm of this book, is that the author weaves his story into what was actually happening at this point in history. His characters lives, certain scenes anyway, really did happen, only to real comic book creators. And he has them make 'cameos' - Stan Lee, Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby... The men who *made* comics. Comic gods, if you will.

Another fun (or funny) aspect is that the book was written about men creating a comic that never existed, but after it was published (and won a Pulitzer prize), a comic was made, based on the character/storyarc that was invented for the book. *Plus*, the original six issue mini (there's apparently been another that I missed) was written by Brian K. Vaughn, whom I love. Y the Last Man, anyone? Ex Machina?

So, all in all, one of my favorite books that doesn't contain a single vampire, werewolf, demon, angel, dragon, or super powered whatsit.


  1. Ok I want this book. and I LOVE BKV! He is my favorite comic book writer. Y The Last Man, Runaways, Pride. All sooooo good.

  2. Oo, a BKV comic I've never heard of! And the art looks gorgeous! Must read. :)

    Never heard of the book, either, but it does sound pretty awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sounds exciting and interesting. Thanks for the review!

  4. LK,

    Vaughn is great, isn't he? *sigh* Pride just about killed me, I was crying about half way through, and didn't stop.

  5. Sanil,

    Heh. I'd even forgotten that he wrote the mini until I pulled it out to take the picture. The art is nice. Not my favorite style (I prefer very realistic art, and this is just a tad more stylized - but still great).

  6. Susanne,

    See, it's a *great* book, even if you don't have any interest in comics. It's set in the comic industry, but it's really all about the mens lives, as opposed to the comics.


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