During a time when youngsters were running to get themselves a new walkie-talkie and hand-drawn animation was starting, something brought youngsters back to reading- comic books. Comic books began as a dime-store, and since then, they have gone through several changes, dramatic transformations, declines and revivals.
Comics material had been in existence for a long time now, but it was in 1929 with the release of The Funnies #1 (Dell) that it took a definitive turn. They were more like a colour newspaper supplement, rather than the comic book format we are used to today. The biggest stars on the list of survivors from the 20's are Tintin, Buck Rogers, Popeye and Tarzan.
The 1930’s saw the dawn of the Golden Age of comics. Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics was the first publication to resemble a modern comic book, and this was published in 1933. New Fun Comics #1 which was published in 1935 saw the first appearance of characters such as Doctor Fate, The Spectre, Green Arrow, Aquaman and Superboy. This would later become the first comic by powerhouse DC comics and set in motion by the present day industry. The Phantom which made his debut in 1936 and was the first costumed hero.
When Superman crossed over to comic books, his appeal skyrocketed, and he became one of the greatest superheroes of all time. Batman too was every bit as big a hit when he started. Superman and Batman have crossed over all cultural, ethnic and social divides and have remained two of the most popular and memorable superheroes of all time. The DC comic empire and the Warner Brothers film studio would not be what they are today if it weren't for these caped crusaders. There is only one major event in the 1940’s, World War II. Though the War in itself was terrible, it had positive effects on the comic book industry. The 1940’s saw the creation of several great characters, such as Captain Marvel and Captain America. The very first sidekick came out in 1940 and was none other than Robin the Boy Wonder. The Winter of 1940 also witnessed the formation of the first superhero team- the Justice Society of America. This team comprised of The Flash, The Green Lantern, The Spectre, The Hawkman, Dr Fate, The Sandman, Atom, and Johnny Thunder.
Dr. Fredric Wertham
After the War, sales dropped dramatically and the 1950’s witnessed the fall of the superhero genre. Other genres such as western, crime, horror, thrillers and romance gained popularity and were responsible for the revival of the comic industry. Dr Wertham was a psychiatrist who was against comics as he felt there was a direct link between them and juvenile delinquency. He grew to become the greatest curse to the comic book industry, and his testimony at Capitol Hill led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. The CCA ensured that all crime, horror and dark fantasy comics either ceased publication or was sanitised to such an extent that they became unreadable. Today the CCA is almost wholly forgotten. Marvel dropped it in 2001, while DC and Archie followed suit in 2010. The only lasting effect the code had was the damage it inflicted on the industry.
Virtually all the current DC characters we enjoy are from the Silver Age of the 1950’s. Bringing back The Flash brought superheroes back into the mainstream and changed the comic industry. In 1958, another significant thing happened to Marvel Comics through Strange Worlds #1. This comic book was the first book put out by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who would later grow up to become stalwarts of Marvel. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created over 90% of the superheroes in the Marvel Comics Universe.
The 60’s saw the rise of the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Hulk and Spider-Man. During this term, Marvel was starting to grow and develop while DC was beginning to falter. By the time the 1970’s were in full swing, Marvel had taken the clear lead and kept growing.
The character to debut and have the longest lasting impact in the 70’s has to be Wolverine. Wolverine would later go on to become the inspiration for a new brand of dark and gritty anti-heroes.
1966 saw the release of the first main black superhero, the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52. Some of the other black heroes to follow included The Falcon, Power Man, DC's Black Lightning, and Image's Spawn. In 1969 the very first significant villain came out in the form of Dr Doom (reportedly the inspiration for Darth Vader).
1986 was the most significant year for the comic book industry. It saw the release of some of the most substantial and influential comics of all time.
Miracleman by Alan Moore debuted in through Eclipse comics while Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns redefined the character of Batman for the modern world and inspired every movie after that. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons became one of the most popular comic books in history and even earned a place on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest English language novels of the 20th century. The Man of Steel by John Byrne rebooted Superman and helped to bring him back to the forefront.
The 90’s will forever be remembered for its renaissance. DC came out with The Death of Superman which proved to be one of the most successful comics of all time while Marvel too did well for itself with the release of The Infinity Gauntlet which we are now familiar with thanks to the movie franchise.
In addition, comics have gained more audience over the years due to movies. The introduction of new women superheroes also helped to drive up sales. Everything about comics, from their creation to their distribution is undergoing a massive change. The question remains, whether it will change to survive or whether they will fade away. The history of comics is as dynamic as the stories they contain, shaped by countless writers but also by readers from all over the globe.
By Athulya Mohandas