Marvel comics join literary canon in special edition by Penguin Classics

Penguin Classics is collaborating with Marvel to publish special editions of Black Panther, Captain America and The Amazing Spider-Man, marking the first time comics have been published by the imprint associated with classic works of literature.

The series, called the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, presents the original stories and seminal tales of key Marvel characters. According to the publishers, it “serves as a testament to Marvel’s transformative impact on graphic fiction and icons and stories across popular culture”.

Each title will be published in black spine paperback as well as a collectable hardcover edition with gold foil stamping, gold edges and endpapers featuring artwork from the comics.

They also include a foreword by a contemporary young adult author as well as a detailed scholarly introduction. The Amazing Spider-Man includes a foreword by Jason Reynolds, the New York Times bestselling author of books including Miles Morales: Spider-Man, Look Both Ways and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You. Reynolds was the US’s national ambassador for young people’s literature in 2020-21.

Black Panther includes a foreword by Nnedi Okorafor, the multiple award-winning author of Who Fears Death and the Binti novella trilogy. She has written Black Panther and Wakanda Forever for Marvel Comics. And Captain America includes a foreword by Gene Luen Yang, a former national ambassador for young people’s literature and the author of Shang-Chi for Marvel Comics and the graphic novel American Born Chinese.

Ben Saunders, the series editor and author of the scholarly introductions for Captain America and The Amazing Spider-Man, said: “The comics produced at Marvel in the 1960s can be compared to the most enduring popular music of that same tumultuous decade. Working at tremendous speed in what was widely regarded as a low-status commercial medium, the creators at Marvel initiated and participated in an aesthetic revolution.”

According to Saunders, a professor of English at the University of Oregon, where he founded the world’s first undergraduate minor in comic studies, the comics have influenced writers and artists across all forms of media, “from contemporary novelists to hip-hop musicians to Hollywood film-makers. It is not hyperbole but simply a fact: these classic Marvel comics are foundational documents of our culture”.

Jessica Harrison, the editorial director of Penguin Classics, said: “Penguin Classics are the books that have shaped our culture and changed how we see the world and ourselves. Whether via the medium of poetry, prose, drama or now comics, they speak as powerfully to readers around the globe today as they did in their own time and place.

“For many decades, Marvel’s comics have enthralled audiences with a whole world of storytelling, visual artistry, ideas and social commentary. This is why readers return year after year to the stories of Spider-Man, Black Panther and Captain America – characters now as deeply engrained in our culture as the folk heroes of older literary traditions. We are thrilled to present Marvel’s classics as Penguin Classics, and to place the iconic work of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and many other historic Marvel creators on shelves alongside the world’s greatest literature.”

The first three books in the series, Black Panther, Captain America, and The Amazing Spider-Man will be published on 14 June.