Comics THORsday: the History of Comic Books (I)

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Welcome to comics THORsday! Today we’re going to take a global look at the history of comic books in the US. During the following weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at it. However, this week I want to focus on it from a global perspective.

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Traditionally, American comic books history is divided into the Platinum Age (with the Yellow Kid, The Funnies and the Funnies on Parade, and Famous Funnies), the Golden Age (withe the appearance of Superman in Action comics #1, Captain Marvel, Batman, the genres of western and young romance, and the appearance of the Comics Code Authority), the Silver Age (with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creating the Fantastic Four for Marvel comics, and the appearance of underground comix), the Bronze Age (the defiance of the Code Authority and appearance of deffiant comics like The Amazing Spider-man), and the Modern Age (with Batman the Dark Knight returns, Watchmen and heroes like Wolverine).

Though many follow this division of ages, some like Randy DUncan, Matthew J. Smith & Paul Levitz offer a different one in their book ‘The Power of Comics.’ Their classification is based on changes in the comic book content, and not the deaths of key characters in the mainstream. As such we have:

  • The Era of Invention which starts around 1842 and sees its peek around 1897. We find works like The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (English translation of Rodolphe Töpffer‘s 1837 ‘Les Amours de Monsieur Vieaux Bois) and the Yellow Kid. During this era traditional characteristics of the comics are stablished, like gutters and balloons, and the medium per se (a cheap one).
  • The Era of Proliferation which starts around 1934 and has its peek in 1938. Here we find the Famous Funnies #1 and Action Comics #1 (with Superman). In this era the association of comics and Superheroes begins.
  • The Era of Diversification which starts around 1940 and has its peek in 1947. Here we find science fiction comics, funny animals (Walt Disney), and Archie. Here we start to see more genres.
  • The Era of Retrenchment which starts around 1952 and has it’s peek in 1954. Here we see that comics need to struggle with new media, like the TV, and agains the Seduction of the Innocent. It also appears the Comics Code Authority. Many limits appear around mainstream comics.
  • The Era of Identity which starts in 1956 and has its peek in 1962. The antihero and fandom appear.
  • The Era of Independence which starts in 1958 and has its peek in 1968. Here small press comic book appear, allowing some freedom from mainstream ones.
  • The Era of Ambition which starts in 1978 and has its peek in 1986. Here we find Contract with God, Maus, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. These works make media pay attention to the medium of comics.
  • The Era of Narrow Focus which starts in 1986 and has its peek in 1994. Here we find The Man of Steel. Publishers specialize in niches, gathering an specialized audience.

We must take into mind that comic books are children of the ages in which they are born. So, when we take a look at these ages, we must bear in mind what happened: the Great Depression, WWII, the Vietnam War, the 9/11. We also need to put them into contrast with neighboring media, specially in our time, since Superhero comic books are getting more attention thanks to the movies that we can find every year in the cinemas.

With all these into mind, please take a look at the Documentary above. Next week, we’ll be taking another perspective on them.

Recommended readings:
The power of comics; history, form and culture. By Randy Duncan, Matthew J.Smith & Paul Levitz

Copyright: Images on this post (C) (C) DC Comics

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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