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A Brief History of Comics - What Are the Different Comic Book Ages?

Comics historians have split the history of comics into several different ages. The first, the Victorian Age, spans almost the entirety of early American history. Others include Platinum, Modern, Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Atomic.

When Was the Victorian Age of Comics?

The earliest-known American cartoon, published in 1646, belongs in this category, as do the illustrative works of Benjamin Franklin. Victorian Age material is characterized by illustrations without word balloons and, typically, without sequential storytelling.

When Did the Platinum Age of Comics Begin?

In the late 19th century, what we think of as the modern comic strip was born with the appearance of Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid in Hogan’s Alley (1895), and the Platinum Age began. In the Platinum Age, word balloons and sequential stories become the norm, as do continuing characters. This period is marked by a plethora of comic strip reprint albums, which developed into what we’ve come to know as the modern comic book.

What Was the First Modern Comic?

The modern comic format first appeared in 1933 but it was just introduced as a cheaper way to produce reprint collections. In 1935, we saw the first comic to produce new material when the brand-new publisher National produced New Fun Comics. It featured weak imitations of strips you might see in the Sunday paper.

When Was the Golden Age of Comic Books?

In 1938, another major step forward occurred, with the publication of Action Comics #1, which boasted the first appearance of Superman. The Golden Age was a magical time for comic books, as superheroes from many different companies fought the Axis during World War II, but, like all good things, it came to an end about 1949, as most of the superhero titles fell victim to changing public tastes and cancellation.

What Year Did the Atomic Age of Comics Begin?

Out of the ashes of the Golden Age, the Atomic Age was born. Less interested in men in tights, now readers eagerly devoured romance, western, funny animal, crime, and horror comics, particularly the gory favorites published by EC Comics. Indeed, these comics were so over the top that they gained the attention of Senator Estes Kefauver, who examined the so-called link between comics and juvenile delinquency in the famous Senate Hearings of 1954. Unfortunately, the public outcry forced the cancellation of a great number of crime and horror books, and by 1955 the Atom Age had come to an end.

When Was the Silver Age of Comic Books?

Looking for the “next big thing”, National Periodicals (DC Comics) decided to attempt to revive and update the superheroes that had proven so popular a decade earlier, and tapped editor Julius Schwartz who enlisted artist Carmine Infantino and writers Robert Kanigher and John Broome, recreated The Flash in the pages of Showcase #4 (1956). A landmark event in the history of comics, this issue paved the way for the re-emergence of the superhero and thus is considered the beginning of the Silver Age. Five years later it was rival Marvel Comics that would step into the arena with the creation of such pop cultural favorites as The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk, The X-Men, Daredevil, and many more. It also marked the rise to prominence of team-supreme Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, considered by many to be the “Lennon and McCartney” of comics. When Kirby left Marvel in 1970 to go to DC, some say he took the Silver Age with him.

When Was the Beginning of the Bronze Age of Comics?

Some consider that Kirby’s transition to DC marked the beginning of the Bronze Age of comics, a period marked by the sudden influx of a new generation of creators, with new and innovative ideas. Young guns like Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Michael Kaluta, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, and Mike Ploog would take the comic art form that they had grown up with and totally transform it, seemingly overnight. The social upheaval that the country was experiencing was mirrored in the comics these young creators were producing. It was an exciting time when both successes and failures could be equally spectacular.

When Did Direct Distribution of Comic Books Start?

In 1972, the way comics were distributed changed forever. Before 1972, the concept of a store dedicated to selling comic books was unheard of. Phil Seuling, a New York comic convention organizer, contacted the major publishers and arranged to buy directly at a steep discount but no returns, unlike the newsstands which could return unsold comics for credit. Comic specialty stores began springing up all over. Now the publishers were free to distribute their books directly to these stores, bypassing the newsstand distributors upon whom they had been dependent for so many years. It was with the advent of “Direct Distribution”.

What is the Modern Age of Comics?

In late 1980 and spring of 1981, both Marvel and DC tested the new direct-only distribution system by putting out Dazzler #1 (Marvel) and Madame Xanadu #1 (DC) to comic stores only. It may not have been enough to impress the corporate heads but lots of alternative publishers popped up such as Pacific, First, Eclipse, and Dark Horse; thus began the period comic collectors labeled the Modern Age.

How Much are Modern Age Comics Worth?

We’re still in what many consider the Modern Age. Whether another Age will enter the picture remains to be seen. In terms of value, most books from the Modern Age are worth $5 or less, today, as books from 1980 and later were held onto and collected in large quantities. In economic terms, the supply is much, much greater than the demand for these books with few exceptions.

Value of Bronze Age Comic Books

Bronze Age books tend to fare a little better, value-wise, especially those in exceptionally good condition. Some books from this period, including Amazing Spider-Man #129, House of Secrets #92, Batman #232, Giant-Size X-Men #1, X-Men #94 and Incredible Hulk #181, are extremely collectible and can bring thousands of dollars each at auction in high grade.

Silver Age Comic Values

Books from the Silver Age and before are prized by collectors, especially in top condition, as books from those periods were not considered collectible by many at the time of their publication. They were regularly folded, spindled, and otherwise mutilated, making it that much harder to find high-grade copies today. Consider that many were also destroyed, thrown away, given to paper drives, or otherwise discarded, and it’s easy to see why comics from this vintage are so rare.

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