|Themes > Arts > Drawing > Comic strip > A Brief History of Comic Books|
Beginning in the early part of the 20th century (and the very last few years of the 19th century) comic strips appeared in newspapers’ Sunday supplements. The Yellow Kid authored by Richard Felton Outcault in W.R. Hearst’s Hearst New York American newspaper is traditionally held to have been the first comic strip.
Subsequent to that initial publication through the 1930s cartoon books were sold to the public. These early books introduced such memorable characters as Lil’ Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, Popeye, and Mutt & Jeff. Often these short books were produced as promotions for newsreaders, to increase circulation, redeemable for free by submitting coupons from the newspapers. The “Funnies” as the comic strips were popularly known, continued to expand in interest as characters were introduced (Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, introduced as Plainclothes Tracy; and Hal Foster’s Tarzan of the Apes appeared between 1929 and 1930) but attempts to commercially produce standalone comic books were generally unsuccessful.
The Eastern Color Printing Company in New York found create success in 1933 by producing popular single character books initially to promote commercial products and were handed out by vendors. These freely given books were used by various companies including Canada Dry and Kinney Shoes, among others, to promote their products at their points of sales. The Eastern company wisely deemed part of the popularity of these books to their four-color 7-inch by 9-inch paper format, and decided to attempt to sell books printed in the same format.
In 1934, the Flash Gordon comic strip was introduced to newspapers and shortly thereafter to his own comic book-format series by Alex Raymond. Flash Gordon appeared in a popular weekly radio serial and as a result his strips became increasingly well-read and popular among Americans of all stripes. Driven by these sales, Universal Studies produced a movie in 1936 starring the character whose popularity continued to grow. A spin-off strip starring Jungle Jim, Gordon’s side-kick, was introduced the same year. Mickey Mouse Magazine appeared a year later. In 1937, Detective Comics produced their first issue concentrating upon crime and suspense stories. The owners received immediate commercial success and shortly afterwards decided to publish a new anthology series based upon a different premise. In the resulting Action Comics #1, published in June of 1938, the Golden Age of comics was begun with the appearance of Jerry Siegel’s Superman.
A mere year later, driven by reports of the immense money being generated by Superman, Bob Kane created a costume-wearing superhero without any powers, Bat-Man, appearing in Detective Comics number 27. Between the mid-1930s and the end of the second World War, the Golden Age continued to produce massive sales and enormously popular characters. Among others: Shazam, Captain America, The Human Torch, a variety of “War Comics” series, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and The Daredevil all emerged during this period. Many reasons are offered for the decline in readership that followed this period; most popular is the reduction in demand as soldiers returned from service during the Second World War.
Upon the emergence of the nuclear bomb as a weapon of war, scientific, detective, and western comics continued to grow in popularity, but the superhero-driven comic declined in sales. Many reasons are given for this decline, nevertheless in the 1950s a generally negative mood toward comic books held amongst American society. Comics grew to be increasingly associated with adolescent delinquency and this ultimately led to a hearing before Senate as well as many local ordinances banning comics from schools and limiting their sales in many regions of the country. Throughout this period comics grew darker and more violent leading to the so-called Silver Age.
By 1953, despite an upsurge in comic sales driven in large part to the police action in Korea, few superhero titles remained in print. 1954’s self-regulation agreement among comic publishers (the Comic Code) created restrictions upon violence and anything vaguely sexualized in comics. Publishers had little choice but to return to superheroes. Few new characters had been introduced to the genre in the decade since the Golden Age’s end, but with the re-introduction of The Flash in 1956 the Silver Age was begun. Many older heroes found reintroduction during this period including Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and Aquaman.
By 1962, superhero comics were flourishing and Stan Lee introduced his character Spider-man. Iron Man, the X-Men, Thor, The Amazing Hulk, Shield, The Fantastic Four, and others all appeared during this era. Many of these heroes were introduced by a publisher named Marvel that had hitherto not introduced any unique characters of their
own. During the 1970s the control of the Comics Code Authority charged with enforcing the Code began to wane. Marvel released stories without the requisite symbol relating their approval by the Code Authority. In reaction the [voluntary] Code was steadily relaxed allowing a return of horror comics, and the Silver Age began to be replaced by a more gritty (or realistic) age that lacks for a clear title.
In the 1980s more realistic superheroes facing human issues despite their superpowers and characters such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (produced as a parody of ninja heroes popular at the time of their release in 1984) began to appear. 1986’s The Watchmen by Allan Moore introduced clearly anti-heroic characters, a trend which continues to this day. Superheroes and their colleagues began to die in comics and social issues such as AIDS and drug-abuse began to pop up in storylines throughout this era.
Finally, the modern era began with the formation of Image Comics in 1992. Several former Marvel artists and writers complaining of a lack of creative freedom started their own publishing house. Dark Horse Comics, begun in 1993, followed shortly thereafter and concentrated upon series driven by movie franchises including Ridley Scott’s Aliens series and the Predator movie series. Movies based upon comic book super heroes followed upon the heels of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s amazingly successful children’s television series. This era, with a splintered variety of comic publishers producing a wide variety of titles, largely unregulated by the Code Authority continues to this day.