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A Brief History of Comic Books

The History of Marvel Comics (coming soon)
The History of DC Comics (coming soon)

Comics historians have divided the history of comics into several different ages. The first age is called the Victorian Age and it spans almost the entire early American history. The earliest-known American cartoon, which was published in 1646, belongs in this category. The illustrative works of Benjamin Franklin also belong to this time of history. The Victorian Age material is identified by illustrations without word balloons and, normally, without sequence based storytelling.

In the late 19th century the Platinum Age began. It began with what we think of as the modern comic strip with the publication of Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid in 1895. In the Platinum Age, word balloons and sequence based stories become the norm, as do ongoing characters. This period is established by a massive variety of comic strip reprint albums, which developed into what we have come to identify as the modern comic book.

In 1938, a major leap forward occurred, with the publication of Action Comics #1. This comic book featured the first collection of all new material in a comic book and also hyped the first appearance of Superman. The Golden Age was a wondorous time for comic books. Superheroes from many different publishing companies fought the Axis during World War II. This came to an end about 1949, as most of the superhero titles became less popular with changing public tastes and many titles were cancelled.

Following the Golden Age, we were introduced to the Atomic Age. The Atomic Age did not really care for men in costumes. Readers were obsessed with crime and horror comics. One of the favorites was the gory stories published by EC Comics. These comic books were so over the edge that they gained the attention of Senator Estes Kefauver, who examined the possible link between comic books and juvenile delinquency during the ever well known Senate Hearings of 1954. Much to our dismay, public opinion forced the cancellation of many great crime and horror books and, by 1955, the Atomic Age had pretty much ceased to exist.

Searching for the “next-big-thing”, the Editor-in-Chief at DC Comics, Julius Schwartz, decided to revive and update the superheroes that had proven to be so popular a decade earlier. With the help of artist Carmine Infantino and writer Gardner Fox, the Flash was recreated in the pages of Showcase #4 in 1956. A landmark event in the history of comics, Showcase #4 featuring Flash paved the way for the re-emergence of the superhero. This is considered the beginning of the Silver Age of comic books. Although DC introduced the Silver Age, it was rival Marvel Comics that would claim ownership of the period. With the creation of such heroes as Spider-Man, The Hulk, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and many more, a pop cultural phenomenon was started. This age also embodied the rise to prominence of "team-supreme Stan Lee and Jack Kirby." These gentlemen are considered by many to be the “Shaq and Kobe” of comics. When Jack Kirby left Marvel in 1970 to go to DC comics, he seemingly took the Silver Age with him.

Many collector's consider that Kirby’s move to DC marked the beginning of the Bronze Age of comics. This was a period marked by the massive change of a new generation of creators, with new and cutting edge ideas. Hot shots like Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart and Mike Ploog would take the comic art form that they had grown up with and totally transform it. This seemed to happen overnight. The social tumoil that the country was experiencing was duplicated in the comics these young creators were producing. It was an exhilarating time, when both successes and failures could be equally dazzling.

In 1980, the way in which comic books were distributed changed forever. Before 1980, the idea of a store dedicated to selling comic books was nonsense. Now, with the confidence of a booming economy, comic book specialty stores began springing up all over the place. Now the publishers were free to distribute their books directly to these stores, and at the same time bypass the newsstand distributors. Publishers had been dependent on newsstand distributors for so many years. It was with the arrival of “Direct Distribution” that the Modern Age of comic books began.

We are still in what many consider the Modern Age of comic books. The question of whether another Age will enter the arena remains to be seen. In terms of value, comic books from the Modern Age are worth little if anything. This is because books from 1980 and later were printed and collected in large quantities. In economic terms, the Supply is much greater than the Demand for these books with a few exceptions. Bronze Age comic books are a little more popular, value-wise, especially those in remarkably good condition. Some comic books from this era, including X-Men #94, Giant-Sized X-Men #1 and Incredible Hulk #181, are extremely collectible due to special circumstances of the book and can bring thousands of dollars each in a high grade condition.

Comic books from the Silver Age and earlier are very collectible, especially in top condition. The fact that books from Silver Age were not considered collectible at the time of their publication makes them very valuable and sought after. These books were regularly folded, rolled, and otherwise mangled, making it that much harder to find high-grade copies today. Also consider that many books were also destroyed, thrown away, recycled, or otherwise discarded. This makes it easy to see why comics from this time period are so rare.