Golden Age Overview

The Golden-Age of Comic refers to the years soon after the first comic books were released. Comic books became so popular the readership was measured in the millions per issue rather than thousands as it is today. Some comic book historians mark the beginning of the Golden-Age as the year 1933, when the first book in comic book format was released. This 32 page book was a repackaged collection of the Sunday funnies. The idea was the brainstorm of Max Gaines, at the time a salesman for a printing company, who we might refer to as the “father of the comic book.” In 1938, DC Comics issued Action Comics No. 1, an anthology book in which Superman made his debut. Most historians agree that this marks the true beginning of the Golden-Age of comics.

The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide calls Action Comics No. 1 “the most important comic book ever published.” It took DC Comics several months to figure out why Action Comics was so popular, but when they realized Superman was their star, he was given his own book. The first issue of Superman was released in the summer of 1939. In the fall, Marvel Comics began publishing under the name Timley Comics. They released Marvel Comics No.1, starring The Submariner and The Human Torch. Overstreet says this book is “possibly the most sought after comic of the Golden-Age”. In the late 1930′s Archie Comics began publishing. They experimented with a variety of genre and in 1941, released the first Archie title. The 1940′s saw an enormous growth in publishers, characters and titles. There was a wide variety of genre to pick from….something for everyone. There were superheroes, crime stories, romance, good girl art, jungle stories and westerns as well as funny animal titles and more. This growth continued throughout the 50′s and these two decades are what we refer to as the Golden-Age.

By the late 40′s, parents became concerned about the content of this popular medium…crime comics had come into great popularity. Eventually smaller publishers, who were having a hard time competing with larger comic book publishers (who were subsidiaries of companies already in the publishing business), added horror comics to their mix. William Gaines, son of the “father of the comic book” introduced the horror genre in EC Comics. Unfortunately for the comics industry, EC’s books were superior in art and storytelling and became very popular. Their success led other smaller publishers to “jump on the bandwagon”. The surge in these types of titles gave a push to the cause of concerned parents and the government launched an investigation of the comic industry. A psychiatrist named Dr. Frederick Wertham was among those that testified at the hearings…in fact, he was the star witness. These hearings resulted in the formation of the Comic Book Code Authority and censorship in an industry that was at the time directed at younger readers.

With crime and horror no longer allowed on the newsstand, many small publishers went out of business. And without the big sales from this genre and from E.C. Comic’s horror titles in particular, a major newsstand distributor had to go out of business. By the end of the 1950′s, these business problems within the industry, coupled with lower circulation on all titles caused more publishers to go out of business. At the same time, television grew in popularity. By the end of the 1950′s, many families had a television set in their homes. The entertainment industry had broadened and sales on comic books continued to decline….the Golden-Age of comics was over.

Surviving the era were the comic book publishers that we all know today….DC Comics, Marvel Comics and Archie Comics. In the 60′s, known as the Silver Age, DC and Marvel turned to the superhero genre which became the staple of the comic book industry. Only since the 90′s have other genre reasserted themselves, first at the hands of today’s smaller publishers. Now Marvel and DC publish some non-superhero product in the juvenile and licensed property categories and DC publishes in the horror genre as well.

As one of today’s independent publishers, AC Comics has a personal interest in preserving the history of other smaller publishers, their characters and creators, as well as in preserving the history of the comic book form. To that end, we have made reprinting Golden-Age comics from those companies that went out of business after that era, one of the major goals of our company.

On this web site (as well as in our publications), you can read about publishers such as Fox, Magazine Enterprises, Holyoke, Fawcett, Fiction House, Chesler Comics and others. You can meet Cat-Man, Spy Smasher, Yankee Girl, Phantom Lady, Sheena and many, many more characters that you may or may not have heard about. You can learn about the work of Golden-Age artists like Matt Baker, Bob Powell, Lou Fine, Will Eisner, Frank Frazetta, Bob Fujitani and scores of others and read interviews with some of the Golden-Age creators. Finally, we hope your interest will be peaked and you will order some of our many reprint titles and take a trip into the “Golden” past.

References: The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide by Bob Overstreet, The Comic Book Makers by Joe Simon, Great History of Comic Books by Ron Goulart and interviews with AC’s editors, Bill Black and Mark Heike. ACTION COMICS No.1 and SUPERMAN No.1, copyright DC Comics. MARVEL COMICS No.1, copyright Marvel Comics.