Saturday, February 20, 2010

A 'Slight' History of the Golden Age of Comic Books: Super Heroes: What is a 'Comic Book'?

What is a comic book? A simple enough question which I'll answer as simply as I can.

The modern comic book that we all know and can recognize, began in 1934 with a 1935 cover date. It was called "Famous Funnies", here's issue one's cover...

Promising 100 comics, games, puzzles and magic and sporting a cover price of just 10 cents, the first comic books were nothing more than reprinted newspaper comic strips...no original or new content.


Books had been sold as early as the late 1800's with reprints of "The Yellow Kid", "Buster Brown", "The Katzenjammer Kids" etc., and they came in all different formats. Some hard cover, some soft cover, some for 10 cents, some for as high as 50 cents. This practice continued right up into the 1930's with no set format or frequency of publication.


I could go in to the who's and why's and how's that went in to this sporadic series of reprints, there is a good well-kept record of which companies and which marketing monkeys are responsible...but these are just businessmen and you all know that this blog and I don't give a rat's ass about guys in suits. I don't find them important in the least and at best they are a necessary evil, so I won't honor them for the most part here. Please feel free to seek them out elsewhere if you lead a drab and unimaginative life.


At some point one of these faceless and nameless drones inherited a couple of 2 color printing presses from a failed newspaper. He also figured out how to get them to work together to create a 4 color process...this was inspired. He and his business partners began to print these packages of re-cycled comic strips in earnest. A format was set upon.


Using the format of the newspaper which these presses were designed and equipped to print, they came up with this little magic trick:



At first they sold a couple of pages of advertisements in the back of the book and used them as give-aways in stores.

Then someone decided they might put a 10 cent sticker on the front and sell them outright. They tried to market and distribute them through F.W. Woolworth's chain of 5 and 10 cent stores, but the folks in charge there said something like, "72 pages of comics strip re-prints? That's not worth a dime!" and turned the idea down.

So the team of nameless-ones went to a news distributor. A company that sold newspapers, magazines and the like to newsstands everywhere.

And the periodical comic book was born, looking very much like it does today.

A few years later the short sighted knuckleheads ran out of material to re-print. New material was needed.

And the Jack Kirby's, Joe Simon's, Sheldon Mayer's, Will Eisner's, Joe Kubert's, Bill Everett's, Lou Fine's and the rest of the comic worlds Wunderkinds arrived.

Those are names worth remembering.

And I do.

Next up: What is a Super Hero?

2 comments:

Marco said...

Sing a song
Play some Pong
Shoot a little pool

Jeff Overturf said...

A little song, a little dance
A little seltzer down your pants.

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