The book that kicked off my interest was The Penguin Book of Comics, which I've already blogged about several years ago (see here). That same Christmas (1971) I also had the book Superman from the Thirties to the Seventies, a whopping 386 page softback reprinting many Superman strips up to that point. (There was also a Batman companion volume but I didn't have that book until its second printing in 1979.)
Superman from the Thirties to the Seventies had a nine page introduction by E.Nelson Bridwell, followed by page after page of classic comic strips.
Most of the pages were in black and white, but I didn't mind that at all as it gave the reader a better focus on the artwork.
After the Penguin book and this, I was always on the lookout for any books on the history of comics. A few years later, in 1975, when I should have been researching for my 'O' Levels, I found two books in the local library that I found so fascinating that I used to borrow them as often as I could. One of them was Discovering Comics by Denis Gifford...
This small, pocket-size 64 page softback was only a very brief tour through the history of comics but it still proved invaluable for anyone interested in the subject.
It was here where I first read about horror comics, with Gifford briefly touching upon the 'vigorous' campaign against them. I wanted to find out more, but all the book provided was the cover to the American edition of The Vault of Horror No.12 (first issue) opposite a cover of the nursery comic The Rainbow!
One very useful part of Discovering Comics was Denis Gifford's listing of the cover dates of all the new comics that were launched between 1960 to June 1971. There are a few omissions including Commando, which is ironic considering that's the only 1960s comic still being published today.
The other book I found in my library was Happy Days: 100 Years of Comics, also by Denis Gifford. A nice big 128 page hardback, light on text, but with plenty of reprinted covers from across the decades.
It was mostly in black and white or single coloured ink, but that didn't matter as the book was a visual treat of comic covers...
Those books were out of print when I found them but years later I picked up Discovering Comics at a second hand bookshop and Happy Days was reprinted in 1988.
In 1978 Leo Baxendale's autobiography A Very Funny Business was published. What an excellent book! In this 136 page softback, Leo took us through his development as an artist, told us anecdotes about the business, covered other key artists in comics (such as Davy Law and Ken Reid), and pulled back the curtain on a behind-the-scenes look at the British comics industry.
It was also well illustrated with sharply reproduced examples of his work along with pages by other artists.
A Very Funny Business was instrumental in playing a key part in inspiring me to submit work to comics and also clued me in as to what to expect (eg: no payments for reprints). The book was quite an eye-opener - and a very good read too.
All of these books are long out of print now of course but they're all worth looking out for second hand. I'll post on the subject of a few more Books about Comics at a later date.