Comic books have links back to 18th century Japan but become extremely popular in the United Kingdom and United States of America in the 1930s. The term comic book stems from American comic books being compilations of humorous drawings and sketches when they were first becoming popular. The tone of comics varies massively with some themes being as far removed from funny as possible.
Historians cite the Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics, a 36-page comic book published in 1933 as the first modern day comic book. Historian Ron Goulart said of the comic “it was the cornerstone for one of the most lucrative branches of magazine publishing.” Famous Funnies ran from July 1934 through to July 1955 as a monthly then bimonthly publication and there were 218 issues printed.
The Golden Age of Comic Books
The period between the late 1930s to approximately 1950 is referred to as The Golden Age of Comic Books. It was during this golden period that Detective Comics, the predecessor to DC Comics, created superheroes such as Captain America, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, the Flash and Batman and Robin; these characters are still hugely popular today with many featuring in their own Hollywood movies.
The Silver Age of Comic Books
Between 1956 and circa 1970 was the Silver Age of Comic Books, which saw plenty of commercial success for comics, thanks in part to advancements in artistic styles. Superhero comics became less popular after the conclusion of World War II and comic books started focusing on romance, crime and even horror, but stories in the national and local press blamed these subjects on a rise in juvenile delinquency. This led to publishers of comic books creating the Comics Code Authority which self-regulated the industry from 1954.
DC Comics relaunched a new look Flash and it was met with critical acclaim. The company also created the Justice League of America, which was a team of the superhero characters. Marvel Comics responded by creating the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man. Hulk and X-Men. Comics from this period are sought after with a near-mint copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 selling for $1.1 million in March 2011. This was the comic hat saw the first appearance of Spider-Man.
The Bronze Age of Comic Books
Following the Silver Age of Comic Book was the Bronze Age of Comic Books, which spanned 1970 to circa 1985. Traditional superheroes were still the main focus of the main publishers, but there was a noted return to darker themes with such subjects as drug use, racism and urban poverty cropping up in comics. In 1973, in the Amazing Spider-Man #121-122, Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy was murdered at the hands of Spider-Man’s nemesis Green Goblin. This was seen as a defining moment of the so-called Bronze Age.
It was during the Bronze Age that Stan Lee, then Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, published a comic book story that pained drug abuse in a negative light following a request from the United States Department of Health, Education and welfare. The Comics Code Authority refused to approve the story, but Lee published it and is receive a positive reaction, so much so that the Comics Code Authority revised its rules.
Today’s comic is part of the Modern Age of Comic Books and while popular, are often frowned upon by traditionalists due to the publishing house being accused of selling out and becoming too commercialized.