For over one hundred years pop culture has been saturated with characters from comic books, from superheroes to romance, anime, horror and more. The comic book industry today is worth billions. We have delved into the history of comic strips, which started before actual comic books. So when did comic books start? When did they become popular?
When did comic books emerge?
Comic books started to really emerge in the 1930’s, first they reprinted newspaper comic strips, but after a few years they started to feature unique content and characters. But the actual first recorded comic book was Histoire De Mr. Vieus Bois by Rodolphe Töpffer in 1837. There is a photo of it opposite, as you can see it looks nothing like the comic books we know today.
It was published in English as 'The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck'. Rodolphe Töpffer was a Swiss author, painter and caricaturist. He is known as he father of comic books.
The Golden Age of Comic books
The golden age of comic books describes an era from 1938 - 1956, the time period when comic books really took off and became a huge industry. It all started with Superman, the first superhero to become widely popular and therefore make comic books a very sought after product. You can see the first superman comic cover opposite. Batman and Robin quickly followed, as well as Wonder Woman, The Flash and more.
During World War 2 patriotic heroes donning red, blue and white were especially popular, such as Captain America. The first issue was in 1941 and shows Captain Marvel punching Adolf Hitler.
As comic books grew other non superhero characters started to be introduced, such as the Disney characters, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. These comics actually outsold the superhero comics. In 2020 an auction house in Dallas, Texas had a copy of the first Micky Mouse comic for sale, it sold for $35,000.
During the 1940s the interest in superheroes waned and publishers came up with other comic themes such as western, horror, science fiction and romance. Many superhero comics actually got canceled.
The Silver Age of Comic Books
The silver age of comic books started in 1956 and ended in 1970, it was a period of huge commercial success for comic books.
The most popular comics at the start of the era were romance, crime and horror. However controversy arose when it was decided that there was a link between these comics and juvenile delinquency. This was when publishers implemented the Comic Code Authority. Comic books were becoming regulated.
In the wake of these changes, superheroes were again introduced, a change which began with The Flash. Demand was strong so DC introduced other character like Justice League and Marvel introduced The Fantastic Four.
There were many important comic writers and artists who contributed to the silver era, the most famous is of course Stan Lee. Stan rose to fame through a family run business called Timely Comics which then went on to become Marvel comics.
He contributed to characters such as The X men, Spiderman, Thor, Hulk and many others. Stan Lee deserves his own blog post though so we will delve deeper into who he was at another time.
Silver Age comics are now very collectible, issue 15 of Spiderman comic sold for $3.6 million in 2021. In 2022 a copy of Fantastic Four sold for $1.5 million. So check under your beds and in your garage folks, perhaps you are sitting on a gold mine.