Comic books may have existed since the 19th century, but it was only in 1938 when Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 that they became really popular. Superman’s debut triggered the Golden Age of Comics, and it paved the way for the other DC and Marvel superheroes that followed a few years later, and the rise of popular writers and artists such as Stan Lee.
Comic books are perfect for superheroes. They allow free rein to the writer’s and artist’s imagination. Writers like Alan Moore (Watchmen, The Killing Joke) Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylum), Neil Gaiman (The Sandman), and others, took the comic books further, morphing them into graphic novels, effectively revolutionizing comic books and transforming them into a literary form.
Literary scholars point to the 1980s as the period when comic books matured and graphic novels were born. Graphic novels are similar to comic books, only longer; they tell one full-length story and can be up to two hundred pages long. Comic books are usually 24 pages and are released once or twice a month in single issues.
Since the ‘Golden Age,’ comic books produced many lore and legends that surround their creators, the characters they created, and the industry as a whole.
Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Comic books today are neither underrated nor an underappreciated art form. Academics have also taken an interest in comic books and graphic novels, thanks to the efforts of the writers cited above. Many writers have also jumped on the bandwagon and are going the route of self-publishing, leading to the rise of comic book printing services.
The First Marvel Superhero
There are several candidates for this honor. The first-ever Marvel character to appear in a comic book is Namor, also known as the Sub-Mariner in the April 1939 issue of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly. Also, Jim Hammond, a.k.a. The Human Torch, first appeared in Marvel Comics #1, in the same year.
However, there’s another not-so-well-known superhero who both predated them: Ka-Zar, a Tarzan knock-off who first appeared in a comic book in 1936. When Marvel began publishing comic books, they included Ka-Zar the Great, Lord of the Jungle, making a Tarzan knock-off the oldest Marvel superhero character.
The History Of Comic Books Have Distinct Ages
There are four main distinct ages of comic books. The first is the Golden Age, which lasted from 1938 to 1955. Superhero archetypes like Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Batman began in this era. Many of these superhero characters fought real-life villains like the Nazis, due to the influence of World War 2.
During the Golden Age, Good vs Evil has a clear-cut delineation, which means there wasn’t any moral ambiguity or any gray areas; just straight-up good guys fighting the bad guys. Genres such as Westerns and Sci-Fi were introduced to comic books.
The Silver Age, from 1956 to 1970, represents the surge in the popularity of comic books, which resulted in greater regulation and scrutiny. The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, and The Hulk were created during this era.
The Bronze Age, which lasted from 1970 to 1985, revisited darker plots like poverty, drug use, and pollution from the early part of the Golden Age. Brilliant, young writers and artists also began their careers in this era. Non-white superhero characters increased; attempts at realism and more adult themes were also explored. Alan Moore’s Watchmen upended comic book tropes and became an instant classic.
The Modern Age began in 1985 and continues until today; it’s distinguished by deeper, psychologically complex characters and multifaceted plots. Anti-hero characters like Elektra, the Punisher, and Wolverine emerged, as well as the rise in popularity of the X-Men. Fantasy and horror themes emerged, with the most prominent being Neil Gaiman’s modern classic, The Sandman series.
Stan Lee’s Close Call
Stan Lee almost quit the comic industry in the 60s. Luckily, his wife Joan told him to write whatever he liked. He did, and the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the X-Men were born. These characters moved away from superheroes who were becoming overly cartoonish and, instead, introduced characters that were more nuanced, had flaws, and dealt with problems of their own. These characters revitalized the industry, as well as recapturing the imagination of an entire generation and influencing artists and writers.
First Superhero With Superpowers
Superman, of course, was the original superhero with superpowers to grace the pages of a comic book. The son of Jor-El first appeared in Action Comics#1 (later Detective Comics, or DC) on April 18, 1938
A copy of this issue was sold on eBay in 2014 for a cool USD$3.2 million–the only original-copy comic book to have sold for more than USD$3 million.
Comic books have gone beyond the ‘for kids’ stage and are now considered as a legitimate art form and as a writing style that’s recognized by literary scholars. Its popularity appealed to people of all ages, and comic books today have developed to a point where they’re now a major driving force of pop culture and a legitimate literary influence.