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Mark McDermott’s PostsA Chronology of Comic Books

This is an ongoing project intended for reference by Quora readers. Mistakes are my own, and I will gladly accept suggestions or corrections.

Sources: Based largely on http://www.psu.edu/dept/inart10_…, and The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Also the DC Comics Timeline. Jamie Coville’s TheComicBooks.com – The History of Comic Books.

Many details are sourced from the Comic Book History of Comics by Fred Van Lente, Ryan Dunlavey.

Obviously it is difficult to tell which will be the “key” comics of the Modern Age, but time will out.

Date in [square brackets] are issue publication dates, which lag behind actual sale dates by as much four months.

18th Century:

Business: Newspaper printers in Britain are taxed according to the number of pages in each copy. To get around this, they increase the size of the printed page, establishing the “broadsheet” format still used by many newspapers today. Most publication sizes are based on the original broadsheet, about 30 inches wide by 20 high, then folded in half for a four page section. Folded and trimmed, the broadsheet became a “tabloid.” A further fold and trim created the magazine size.

1792

Business: February 20. The Postal Service Act is signed by President George Washington, establishing the U.S. Post Office Department. Because it was felt that access to newspapers was necessary to grow the Republic, rates for newspapers were set at one penny for up to 100 miles, 1.5 cents thereafter, compared to 6–25 cents for letters.

The Victorian Age (1841-1882)

For a list of protoypical uses of drawings as narrative going back to the 15th Century, see Before 1900s in comics – Wikipedia

1841

  • [July 17] Punch; or, The London Charivari begins publication in England. The magazine of humor and satire made liberal use of humorous gag illustrations, which it began to call “cartoons” in 1843.

1842

  • Rodolphe Töpffer’s “Les amours de Mr. Vieux Bois” (1837) was published in an unlicensed American edition as “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck.” It was a book, it told a story in a sequence of illustrations with short bits of text beneath each one. Thus, a recognizable sequential novel, or, if you will, “comic book.”

1845

Magazines: [August 28] The first issue of Scientific American is published, one of the earliest American magazines, as distinct from a newspaper. It remains in publication to this day.

1846

Business: The Baltimore Sun became the first newspaper to be printed on the high-speed rotary press, which greatly reduced printing costs, and made different page sizes, and eventually four-color printing available.

1849

1852

Business: September 30. The Post Office Department declares that magazines should be afforded the same low rates as newspapers. This leads in 1863 to mail being organized into “classes”: 1st Class for personal letters, 2nd Class for regularly published periodicals. Publishers would have to secure coveted “2nd Class Permits” for each of their titles, a process which could take months after publication began.

1864

Business: Feb. 1. American News Company is formed, to become the country’s biggest wholesaler & distributor of magazine, newspapers, and later, comics. American News fed a growing retail system in which newsstands and stores are supplied with current periodicals. They would keep a percentage from each copy sold, and would be able to return unsold outdated copies for a refund.

[1]Jim Shooter has an account of how wholesalers helped front the cost of printing magazine, but could screw over publishers, at this blog post.

1865

  • Wilhelm Busch’s “Max and Moritz (A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks)” introduced in German papers. The story, told in short verses under a series of illustrations, detail the pranks of two boys, who end up ground into meal by a miller and fed to his ducks. The last image is the outline of the boys in duck poop.

1871

Magazines: Oct. 29. Puck magazine begins publication in America, launching a wave of humorous magazines employing cartoons and comic stories.

1881

Magazines: Judge magazine begins publication.

The Platinum Age (1883-1937)
The comic strip format evolves. Big newspaper publishers like Hearst and Pulitzer adopt four-color printing methods in competition to sell newspapers, developing a weekend color comic section to attract the reader. The popularity of comics leads to newspapers poaching popular artists from each other. Popular comic strips are reprinted in book format, and eventually collected into magazines.

1883

Magazines: Life magazine begins publication. Unlike the later picture magazine, this was an influential humor and fiction magazine, noted for its gag cartoons.

1892

  • The Little Bears” by James Swinnerton begins in the San Francisco Examiner under William Randolph Hearst. Swinnerton had been using a bear cub as a mascot placed throughout the paper, by this year the bears had become the first regular comic feature with recurring characters.

1894

Business: The first color newspaper page is published in the New York Recorder. One week later, the New York World under Joseph Pulitzer publishes its first color page.

1895

  • Feb 17. Richard Felton Outcault’s Yellow Kid makes his first appearance in Pulitzer’s New York World. The single panel comic was originally titled “Hogan’s Alley,” part of a series in Truth magazine called Fourth Ward Brownies. The Kid was just one of many ethnic types populating its tenement setting. The last cartoon in that series had been published just the week before being reprinted this day. The Kid directly addressed the reader through monologue printed on his nightshirt. On the May 5 cartoon, his shirt was colored yellow to show off the World’s color press. The Kid becomes the first widely merchandised comics character.

1896

R.F. Outcault moves from Pulitzer’s World to Hearst’s Examiner to continue his Yellow Kid cartoon. The World continues the feature, drawn by George Luks.

  • October 18. Hearst’s Journal American uses Outcault’s Yellow Kid as a featured draw in its new Sunday comic supplement, The American Humorist.
  • October 25. The Yellow Kid speaks his first dialogue in a word balloon. Outcault had used the style before, but this is considered the first popular usage.

1897

  • Dec. 12. Rudolph Dirks’ “Der Katzenjammer Kids” make their first appearance in American Humorist. Hans & Fritz were inspired by the pranks in Wilhelm Busch’s Max & Moritz.

1902

  • R.F. Outcault’s “Buster Brown” makes first appearance in the New York Herald. Buster was the rich opposite of the Yellow Kid, and finding new ways to get into trouble every week. He was also the subject of several merchandising tie-ins, one of which, a brand of shoes, survived into the 1980s.

1903

Theatre: Baroness Emma Orczy’s play “The Scarlet Pimpernel” opens in London, spinning into a series of novels starting in 1905. Its hero, Sir Percy Blakeney, is a playboy fop by day, and a rescuer of nobles from the French Reign of Terror by night. The first popular iteration of the “secret identity” trope.

1904

  • Sept. 10. Winsor McCay’s “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” makes its first appearance in the New York Herald.

1905

  • Oct. 15. Winsor McCay’s epic “Little Nemo in Slumberland” makes its first appearance in the New York Herald.

1907

  • Nov. 15. Bud Fisher’s “Mutt & Jeff” makes its first appearance, originally titled “Mr. A. Mutt” in the San Francisco Chronicle. Accredited as the first successful daily comic strip. It unfolded its daily gags (or Fisher’s racing tips) across four ruled panels, intended to run across the top of the sports page.

1910

  • June. George Herriman’s “Dingbat Family” debuts in the New York Evening Journal. On July 26 Krazy Kat makes its first appearance as a marginal character.

1911

Animation: April 8. Windsor McCay debuts an animated version of Little Nemo, also titled Winsor McCay: The Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics. McCay’s first experiment in animation saw him draw 4,000 individual cartoons to be shot in sequence to make up four minutes of film, presented as part of his vaudeville show.

1912

  • Rudolph Dirks quits Hearst’s Journal American and goes to Pulitzer’s The World, attempting to take “The Katenjammer Kids” with him. A lawsuit by Hearst ensues, that is not resolved until 1914.
  • [October] The All-Story magazine features the first installment of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes.

1913

  • January 12. George McManus’ “Bringing Up Father” makes first appearance in the Journal American
  • October 28. George Herriman’s Krazy Kat appears as its own strip in the Evening Journal.

1914

  • Hearst v. Dirks suit settled. The landmark decision allowed Hearst’s Journal American to retain right to publish the “Katzenjammer Kids” (to be drawn by Harold Knerr), while Dirks retains the right to draw his characters for the rival New York World, first as “Hans and Fritz,” then changed to “The Captain and the Kids” during World War I.

Business: The Association of National Advertisers, a marketing trade group, establishes the Audit Bureau of Circulations to verify sales of publications. The audits of newsstand sales and subscriptions are an important tool for attracting advertisers. Until the direct sales market developed, most comic books printed an annual text box in their letters pages with their ABC audit reports. The organization is now known as the Alliance for Audited Media.

Animation: [February 8] Winsor McCay debuts Gertie the Dinosaur, a short animated film, at the Palace Theatre in Chicago. McCay took over a year to produce thousands of drawings. He appeared onstage to interact with his cartoon creation, who did tricks on command, cried when he scolded her, and ran off the screen carrying McCay on her back.

1917

Animation: Felix the Cat appears in animated cartoons.

1919

  • Elzie Crisler Segar creates “Thimble Theater” in the Journal American.

Other Media: [August] Johnston McCulley’s story The Curse of Capistrano in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly, introduces Don Diego de la Vega, a nobleman in Spanish California who secretly defends the poor and downtrodden as Zorro.

Business: [October] Wilford Hamilton “Captain Billy” Fawcett begins his publishing empire with a bawdy (for its time) joke and cartoon magazine, Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang.

1922

  • Embee Publications, co-owned by “Bringing Up Father’s” George McManus, publishes a book of reprints from “Polly and Her Pals” by Cliff Sterrett. This was first in a series called Comic Monthly, which issued reprints of a Hearst strip in each of its 12 issues.

1923

  • Pat Sullivan’s “Felix the Cat” spins off into a newspaper strip in the Journal American.

1926

Magazines: [April] Amazing Stories begins publication as the first magazine devoted to science fiction, published by Hugo Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing.

1928

Magazines: [August] The novella “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” appears in Amazing Stories. The story features a mining engineer, Anthony Rogers, who is trapped underground and kept in suspension by strange gases for 500 years.

Animation: November 18. Walt Disney & Ub Iwerks’ Mickey Mouse debuts in the cartoon short Steamboat Willie. Though two previous silent Mickey cartoons had been completed, they were held back after Disney decided to debut Steamboat Willie as his first theatrical cartoon with sound.

1929

  • January 7. Writer Philip Nowlan and artist Dick Calkin adapt Anthony Rogers’s story to a comic strip, renaming it “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”. The same day, Hal Foster’s comic strip adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan of the Apes” debuts.
  • January 10. Georges Remi begins serializing “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” in Le Petit Vingtième, a weekly youth supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. The popular character would see each of his serialized adventures collected into album form when completed.
  • January 16. Dell Publishing starts The Funnies, a weekly 8-page tabloid size comic paper, sold on newstands for 10¢, rising to 30¢, then dropping to 5¢ by the end of its 36 week run.
  • January 17. Popeye first appears as a supporting character in Segar’s “Thimble Theatre” strip.
  • Lynd Ward produced Gods’ Man, a “wordless novel” in the style of German Expressionist works of earlier years, and a clear forerunner of the graphic novel.
  • 15-year-old would-be science fiction writer Jerry Siegel of Cleveland produced the first fanzine, Cosmic Stories, consisting of his stories that had been rejected by magazines. Siegel’s projects would be sold through ads in science fiction pulp magazines.

1930

  • January 18. Walt Disney’s “Mickey Mouse” introduced as a newspaper comic strip, initially scripted by Walt and drawn by director Ub Iwerks.
  • Cartoonist Milt Gross parodied the “wordless novel” with a melodrama entitled “He Done Her Wrong: The Great American Novel and Not a Word in It—No Music, Too”

1931

  • Oct. 4. Chester Gould’s “Dick Tracy” debuts. Its singular art design, and Tracy’s grotesque Rogue’s Gallery, are a marked influence on Batman and other comics.

1932

  • January 9. Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger produce Time Traveler, viewed as the first “national” science fiction fanzine.
  • Jerry Siegel teams with Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster to produce a mimeographed fanzine, Science Fiction – The Advance Guard of Future Civilization. Later contributors to the fanzine include Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman.
  • December. Western Publishing begins its line of “Big Little Books” with Dick Tracy. The books were pocket-sized, but thick, with each page spread featuring one page of story facing an illustration.

1933

  • January. Siegel & Shuster’s fanzine Science Fiction #3 features a pulp-style text story, “The Reign of the Super-man.” The story bears little resemblance to the later Superman concept, but has a man granted extraordinary powers, a bald evil scientist, and other familiar concepts.

Radio: Jan. 31. “The Lone Ranger” debuts on WXYZ Detroit. The show codified many memes of the later superhero genre: the masked vigilante with his near-mystical accoutrements (the silver bullets and the horse Silver), plus his sidekick Tonto, who gave the main character someone to talk to.

  • Spring. Eastern Publishing prints Funnies on Parade, the first magazine format comic book, as a promotional item for Procter & Gamble. Eastern salesman Maxwell Charles (“M.C.,” or “Max”) Gaines ran the project. The contents of the book were entirely comic strip reprints.
  • [May] Martin Goodman publishes Western Supernovel Magazine under the Newsstand Publications group name, his first magazine in a publishing line that eventually includes comics.
  • Humor Publications issues Detective Dan, Secret Operative No. 48, considered the first comic with original material. The Dick Tracy knockoff’s book was tabloid size, with black and white interiors and a 10¢ price tag. Another comic followed, Bob Scully, The Two-Fisted Hick Detective. Humor is believed to have been preparing to publish a non-costumed version of Siegel & Shuster’s Superman, but gave up the comics business before that happened.

1934

  • January 7. Alex Raymond’s “Flash Gordon” began, with a topper strip, “Jungle Jim.”
  • January 22: Raymond debuted a third strip, “Secret Agent X-9,” written by Dashiell Hammett.
  • [May] Famous Funnies #1 becomes the first continuing comic book publication.
  • Skippy’s Own Book of Comics published by Max C. Gaines as a premium for Phillip’s Dental Magnesia. This was the first four-color comic book, with previous magazines having only black & white interiors, or black plus one color; and the first magazine style comic devoted to a single character.

1935

  • [February] National Allied Publications, founded by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, publishes its first title, the tabloid-sized New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine, a comic book with original content. This was due to the fact that by this point, there were no more newspaper comics available to adapt to comic magazines.
  • [Summer] Mickey Mouse Magazine begins publication. A mix of comics, games and text stories that evolves into a regular Mickey Mouse comic series.
  • [October] New Fun #6 includes features headlining Henri Duvall and Doctor Occult, the first published comics stories by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. At that time, they were trying to interest a publisher or syndicate in their proposal for “Superman.” The following issue is renamed More Fun.
  • [December] National Allied debuts New Comics, with more original humor features. It later becomes New Adventures Comics, then Adventure Comics, remaining in publication until 1983.

1936

Radio: Jan. 31. “The Green Hornet” debuts on WXYZ. The Hornet was Britt Reid, nephew of John Reid, the Lone Ranger, making the show the first spinoff and, technically, a shared universe franchise.

  • February 17. Lee Falk & Ray Moore’s “The Phantom” makes its first newspaper appearance.
  • [May] Comics Magazine Co.’s The Comics Magazine #1 features Siegel & Shuster’s Dr. Mystic. Rather than being a case of artists moonlighting, it’s believe that because Wheeler-Nicholson was slow in paying some of his partners, John Mahon and Bill Cook, they left to form their own company. They were also allowed to take of stories and art with them, simply retitling the features. Dr. Mystic would return to National, renamed Dr. Occult.
  • Eastern’s success with comic books prompts newspaper syndicates to issue their own titles. King Comics begins [April] by King Features Syndicate, Tip Top Comics [April] by United Features Syndicate, Popular Comics by [February] Tribune syndicate, The Funnies [October] by NEA Syndicate.
  • Cartoonists Will Eisner and Jerry Iger form the first studio dedicated to supplying new material to the growing comic book field. The studios hire several writers and artists to churn out comic pages on an assembly-line basis, and could package the entire magazines for printing under another publisher’s name.

1937

  • [January] Detective Comics #1 published. The first comic dedicated to a single genre. The cover featured the Fu Manchu style villain Ching Lung. Among its recurring features was “Slam Bradley” by Siegel and Shuster. M.C. Gaines, then working for McClure Syndicate, sees the strip and suggests the two submit some concepts for a new, “Action oriented” comic National was working on.
    • (Detective Comics, Inc. was run as a separate imprint from National Allied, run as a deal between Wheeler-Nicholson and Harry Donenfield, publisher and owner of the Independent News distributor, and accountant Jack Liebowitz. New Comics and Detective Comics were published under the new Detective Comics, Inc. banner. Later, Donenfield forced Nichol-Williamson into bankruptcy and snatched up both National Allied and Detective Comics. Editor Paul Levitz, in his “Editor’s Note” to the collection Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman (2018), claiming that contrary to corporate legend, the “DC” stood not for “Detective Comics”, but “Donenfield’s Comics.”)

Movies. [December 21] Disney’s Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs premiers as the first major animated feature. Its success proved that a feature-length cartoon could hold audience, and it went on to become one of the most successful movies in Hollywood.

The Golden Age

1938

  • [June] Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s Superman makes his first appearance in Action Comics #1.
  • [November] In Action Comics #6’s lead story, “The Man Who Sold Superman,” a con man poses as manager of a fake Superman to exploit his name. Lois Lane discovers their plot, and they throw her out of their office window. Superman rescues her, starting an ongoing cliché of Lois falling out of skyscraper windows, sometimes intentionally in some scheme to prove Clark Kent is Superman.

Business: Dell Publishing forms a partnership with Racine, WI, based Western Publishing, printer of jigsaw puzzles, children’s books, and the Big Little Book series. Western would produce comics, mostly licensed from Disney and other movie studios, to be financed and distributed by Dell.

Business: [May 27] Max Fleischer closed his cartoon studio in New York City. Resentful after his workers went on strike and formed the first animators’ union in 1937, and pressured by Paramount to make a feature cartoon to compete against Snow White, Max got studio head Adolph Zukor to fund a new studio in “right-to-work” Florida. Young Jacob Kurtzberg, a studio gofer and in-betweener on the Popeye cartoons, is unable to move to Florida with the studio, and finds himself out of work. Other refugees of Fleischer’s New York closure included Bob Wood and Charles Biro, who later teamed up to create Crime Does Not Pay; John Stanley, later an artist on Mickey Mouse Magazine, the Little Lulu comics, and more; DC Comics artist, writer and editor Sheldon Mayer; Flash co-creator Harry Lampert; and DC and Quality artist Gill Fox.

Business: [August] Brothers Abraham & Martin Goodman’s Postal Publications published the pulp Marvel Science Stories #1, their first title to use the word “Marvel.” Some historians suggest the name was chosen to appeal to potential advertisers Marvel Home Utilities and Marvel Mystery Oil, or because it was similar to Martin’s name. The magazine later became known for adding excess (for the time) sexual content, before being cancelled in 1941.[2]

1939

  • Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 was produced by the Funnies, Inc. shop. The publication was proposed to movie theatres as a Saturday matinee giveaway, but theatre owners didn’t go for the idea. The existence of this comic was only confirmed in 1974, when seven copies turned up in the publisher’s files. It featured Bill Everett’s sea-dwelling anti-hero, the Sub-Mariner.

Newspapers: January 16. The “Superman” comic strip begins newspaper syndication by the Bell Syndicate. The strip debuted many of Superman’s famous themes, like changing costumes in a phone booth, the imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, and the bald Lex Luthor.

  • [May] Bob Kane’s Batman, written by Bill Finger, makes his first appearance in Detective Comics #27.
  • [Summer] Superman #1 published. The first comic book devoted to a single superhero.
  • [April] All-American Comics #1 published. All-American was an imprint run by Max Gaines, financed by National/DC, but with separate offices. The first issue had strip reprints of “Mutt & Jeff” and “Regular Fellas,” and also debuted “Scribby,” a semi-autobiographical comic about an aspiring comic book artists by Shelly Mayer. Later issues would feature debuts of Green Lantern and The Atom.
  • [May] Fox Publications’ Wonder Comics #1 features Wonder Man, created by Will Eisner under directions to create a copy of Superman. The character is the first Superman imitator to be sued out of existence, after his first issue.
  • [June] Superman’s first recurring villain, the Ultra-Humanite, debuts. Originally the boss of a protection racket for taxi cabs, he returns to tackle Superman several times before he is apparently destroyed, but gets his brain transplanted into the body of movie star Dolores Winters, then into a gorilla. What a schmuck.
  • [October] Martin Goodman enters the comic book field with Marvel Comics #1 (The title changed to Marvel Mystery Comics with issue #2). The comic was produced by the Funnies, Inc. shop and repurposed Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner story from Motion Picture Funnies Weekly, adding Carl Burgos’ Human Torch. The title goes into a second printing that sells out 800,000 copies. Goodman’s comics used a number of shell companies, united under the Timely Comics banner.

Business: Martin Goodman’s wife Jean gets him to hire her cousin Stanley Lieber, fresh out of high school, as an assistant at Timely Comics.

  • The Eisner/Iger shop hires Jacob Kurtzberg, who produces work under a variety of pen names before settling on “Jack Kirby.”

1940

  • [January] All-American Comics’ Flash Comics #1 debuts Gardner Fox & Harry Lampert create the Flash, and Fox & Dennis Neville’s Hawkman.
  • [January] Pep Comics #1, by MLJ Magazines, debuts The Shield, the first patriotic hero with an American flag motif.
  • [February] C. C. Beck & William Parker’s Captain Marvel makes his first appearance in Whiz Comics #2. The character was originally to be named “Captain Thunder” and the magazine Thrill Comics, but the title only got as far as an “ashcan,” designed to secure copyright. Other characters in this comic included Ibis the Invincible, Spy Smasher and the villain Dr. Sivana.
  • [April] Action Comics #23 features the first appearance of Luthor, the criminal scientist and nemesis of Superman. He appears in the second part of a story continued from the March issue, plotting to keep two countries at war until he can take them over. The early Luthor is red-headed, but there always seemed to be a bald “assistant” in his vicinity. Hmm…
  • January. Jack Kirby has moved on to Fox Features Syndicate, working on a newspaper strip version of Blue Beetle. There, he meets Joe Simon, and the two decide to become freelancers together. Meanwhile, the Blue Beetle also had a radio serial for a few months.

Radio: February 12. “The Adventures of Superman” radio show debuts on WOR, New York. The first comic-book based radio show spread to the Mutual network on August 31, running 15-minute serial chapters three (later five) times a week.

  • [April] Robin the Boy Wonder makes his first appearance in Detective Comics #38.
  • [April] Most of the Detective and All-American titles begin to carry the first “DC Publication” cover logo. This appears until [October] 1941, followed by a similar logo reading “A Superman DC Publication” which ran into 1947.
  • [Spring] Batman #1 published, featuring the debut of Jerry Robinson’s creation The Joker.
  • June 2. “The Spirit Section” begins as a comic book supplement, syndicated to Sunday newspapers. Will Eisner’s shop packaged the section with his masked detective The Spirit as its lead feature. “The Spirit Section” continues through 1952.
  • [Summer] All-Star Comics #1 published (All-American). The third issue debuts the Justice Society of America, the first superhero group.
  • [October] Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories #1 published by Dell.
  • [December] Crestwood Publications’ Prize Comics #7 features Dick Briefer’s “New Adventures of Frankenstein,” an updated version of the public domain Frankenstein monster, often considered the first ongoing horror comic feature.

1941

  • [March, on sale Dec. 1940] Captain America Comics #1. Jack Kirby & Joe Simon had ended up at Goodman’s Timely Publications, with Simon being named editor, and Kirby its art director. The two had an agreement with Goodman for a share of the profits from Captain America.
  • [May] Captain America Comics #3 has a one-page text story, “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge,” Stanley Lieber’s first published comics work, the first instance of Cap throwing his shield to have it ricochet back to him, and Lieber’s first use of the pen name “Stan Lee.”
    • The text pages were deemed necessary to meet the definition of a “periodical” for the discounted Second Class mailing rate, and later evolved into the letters page, and Marvel’s “Bullpen Bulletins”, featuring “Stan’s Soapbox.”
  • [July] Pep Comics #17 features the death of The Comet, the first comic hero to be killed off. The Comet’s brother Bob Dickering became The Hangman to revenge his brother and extend that vengeance to all criminals.
  • [August] Jack Cole’s Plastic Man makes his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Police Comics #1, along with Phantom Lady and The Human Bomb.
  • [August] Quality also debuts Military Comics #1, featuring Blackhawk, leader of an international team of freelance fighter pilots.
  • [October] Classic Comics #1 published with an adaptation of “The Three Musketeers.” The title becomes Classics Illustrated in 1943, and runs for 169 issues, plus spin-off titles and constant reprints, until 1971.
  • [Dec-Jan 1941-42] William Marston & H.G. Peters’ Wonder Woman debuts in All Star Comics #8.
  • [December] Bob Montana’s teenage humor strip Archie first appears in Pep Comics #22, published by MLJ Magazines. Archie starts out in the back of a superhero comic headlining The Shield and The Hangman, but not for long.

Movies: March 28. The Adventures of Captain Marvel is the first movie serial to be adapted from a comic book series, a Republic Studio production running 12 chapters and starring Tom Tyler as Captain Marvel, with Frank Coughlan, Jr. as Billy Batson.

Animation: September 26. Superman debuts as a series of cartoon shorts, animated by the Fleischer Studios for Paramount. There series is notable for its design, breaking away from the “cartoony” look of other shorts, and its use of Technicolor.

1942

  • [March] Simon & Kirby, suspecting that Martin Goodman was holding back profits from the successful Captain America books, had jumped ship to DC Comics. Their first work there was a costume redesign for the Sandman feature in Adventure Comics #72. Goodman promotes Stan Lee to editor (and effectively, writer) of the entire comics line.
  • [April] Simon & Kirby’s first new creation for DC, The Newsboy Legion, appears in Star-Spangled Comics #7. Having already created a group of kid sidekicks, The Young Allies, at Timely, S&K combined sidekicks with a “Dead End Kids” sensitivity. They quickly scored again with the Boy Commandos, an international group of kids in the war theatre, in Detective Comics #64 [June].
  • [July] The “true crime” comic Crime Does Not Pay #22, the first crime comic, appears (it takes over the numbering of the Lev Gleason superhero title Silver Streak).
  • [Summer] Wonder Woman #1 published.
  • [August] Carl Barks’ first artwork on Donald Duck, in the story “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold” in Dell’s Four Color one-shot series (#9)
  • [November] Crime Does Not Pay #24 introduces a narrator/mascot, Mr. Crime. A ghoulish figure wearing a sheet and a top hat labeled “CRIME,” he bore a noted resemblance to “Mr. Coffee Nerves,” from print ads for Postum coffee substitute. Mr. Crime’s sardonic comments on the crime stories he narrated were a precursor to the EC Comics “Ghoul-Lunatics”. (Crime Does Not Pay’s title came from an existing radio and movie series. With a few years, CDNP was selling 800,000 issues per month.) Published by Lev Gleason, the book was mostly edited and scripted by Charles Biro, and drawn by Bob Wood.
  • [Winter 1942-43] Archie Comics #1 published. In a few years, MLJ will change its corporate name to Archie Comics.

Movies: April 4. Spy Smasher becomes the next Fawcett Comics character to become a 12-chapter Republic Serial.

Animation: The Terrytoons cartoon studio released the theatrical short “Mouse of Tomorrow,” featuring a parody of Superman, complete with a blue suit with red cape and trunks. The character, named “Super Mouse,” appears in 7 cartoons until 1944, when he switches to a yellow suit, and is renamed Mighty Mouse.

1943

  • Former Disney animator Walt Kelly’s Pogo makes his first appearance in Animal Comics #1, eventually moving to newspaper comics.

Radio: The “Archie Andrews” radio program begins on NBC’s Blue network, eventually moving to Mutual and running until 1953.

1944

Business: Max Gaines sells out his interest in All-American Publications, which merges into National Periodical Publications (DC). He retains one comic series, Picture Stories From the Bible, to start Educational Comics, publishing for school and church markets.

Atomic Age (1945–1956)
Newsstand comics fall out of favor. Publishers blame television and the collapse of the newsstand distribution system. Parents and civic leaders are blaming comics for juvenile delinquency. Of the hundreds of comics featuring superheroes in the 1940s, only those headlining Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Blackhawk survive, along with those characters lucky enough to remain as backup features, like Green Arrow and Aquaman.

1945

  • [January] More Fun Comics #101 begins its Superboy feature: “The Adventures of Superman when he was a boy!” Jerry Siegel had been pitching a Superboy series since 1938, but when the feature appeared it was drawn by Joe Shuster and without Siegel’s input, or knowledge.
  • Frankenstein Comics #1 published [no month given]. Though starting out as a continuation of Prize Comics’ horror character, the Prize Frankenstein feature saw the monster fight in WWII, then return home as a humorous feature, anticipating “The Munsters” or “The Addams Family.”

1946

  • Some of the Atlas comics of 1946–1947 used a logo in the cover’s corner with the page “peeling back” to show the star of the book, and the “peel” showing the slogan “A Marvel Magazine”. The indicia publisher name “Marvel Comics, Inc.” had been in use sporadically since 1944.
  • The Japanese children’s newspaper Shokokumin Shinbun beging running a 4-panel comics strip about a young boy, named Diary of Mā-chan (マアチャンの日記帳). It’s the first published work by 17-year-old Osamu Tezuka.

1947

Business: August 20. Max Gaines dies in a boating accident. His son William M. Gaines would take over EC Comics, eventually changing its acronym to Entertaining Comics.

  • Eerie Comics #1 published by Avon Publishing, a one-shot considered the first all-horror comic.
  • Coulton Waugh’s book “The Comics” published by MacMillen Publishing Company. It is the first in depth discussion and study of the comic strip’s history in America. Gilbert Seldes had touched on comic strips as popular culture in his book “The Seven Lively Arts”, 1924 Harper Bros.
  • [October] Joe Simon & Jack Kirby’s Young Romance for Crestwood, the first romance comic, based on the popular confession magazine True Story. After the war, Simon & Kirby had been dropped by DC. They created comics in a number of genres for other publishers, including Westerns and crime fiction.

1948

Movies: January 5. Superman, a 15-chapter movie serial, is released. Starring Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill, Superman arrived rather late to the movie serial business.

1949

  • [September] St. John Comics publishes the first issue of Casper the Friendly Ghost, a tie-in to the animated cartoon series by Paramount’s Famous Studios (formed after Paramount ejected Max & Dave Fleischer from their own cartoon studio).
  • [Dec-Jan ‘50] Crime Patrol #15, by EC Comics, features a horror story written by Al Feldstein, “Return from the Grave!”, debuting the Crypt Keeper to narrate the story in the manner of a radio host.
  • Another early “Marvel Comics” logo appears on Timely/Atlas non-romance magazines in 1949–1950.

1950

  • [September] Strange Adventures launches as DC’s first science fiction title. Its first issue features a photo cover highlighting an adaptation of the movie “Destination Moon.”
  • [November] The Japanese children’s magazine Manga Shōnen begins serializing Osamu Tezuka’s Jungle Emperor (ジャングル大帝). The story proves very popular, being adapted into Japan’s first color animated TV series in 1965, and appearing in other anime and movies, being translated into English as Kimba the White Lion. Similarities between this story and Disney’s The Lion King will later be argued for years to come.
  • EC Comics launches its “new trend” of comics, featuring genre stories aimed at an older audience, including gruesome horror, and even political commentary, backed by high-quality illustrators. Crime Patrol changed its title to Crypt of Terror, then Tales From the Crypt, hosted by the Crypt-Keeper, followed by Vault of Horror (hosted by The Vault-Keeper), Haunt of Fear (The Old Witch), Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, all edited and scripted by Al Feldstein; and Frontline Combat and Two Fisted Tales, edited and scripted by Harvey Kurtzman.
  • Two mass market paperbacks appear as pioneers in what is later named the “graphic novel” format. St. John Publications offers “It Rhymes With Lust,” a “Picture Novel” written by Arnold Drake and Leslie Walker, and illustrated by “good girl” artist Matt Baker, one of the few African-American artists working in mainstream comics at this time. Gold Medal (Fawcett) prints “Mansion of Evil,” written by Joseph Millard with an unidentified artist. Both fall within the pulp fiction mystery formula. A second book in St. John’s series, “The Case of the Winking Buddha,” by pulp novelist Manning Lee Stokes and illustrator Charles Raab, failed to sell and both lines ended.

Movies: July 20. The second Superman serial, Atom Man vs. Superman, re-unites Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill, and includes Lyle Talbot as Lex Luthor.

1951

  • [March-April] EC’s Haunt of Fear #6 includes a story, “A Strange Undertaking,” co-plotted by William Gaines and Al Feldstein, that plagiarized Ray Bradbury’s 1947 short story “The Handler” (Weird Tales). After a few more Bradbury-type stories were published, Ray wrote a polite letter to Gaines, asking only for the standard $50 reprint fee. The led to EC Comics being authorized to adapt a total of 27 Bradbury stories in their horror and science fiction comics.
  • [June] Strange Adventures #9 (DC) runs “The Origin of Captain Comet” by John Broome and Carmine Infantino. Captain Comet was the first comics mutant: a “Man of the Future” who had been “born a hundred thousand years before his time,” his mutation triggered by a passing comet. The character appeared in 38 stories but has not been cited as a Silver Age precursor, perhaps because DC’s science fiction titles were insulated editorially from its superhero titles.
  • Harvey Comics takes over publishing right to Paramount/Famous Studios current cartoon characters. Their first magazine, Harvey Comics Hits #60 [September], features minor characters Herman & Katnip, Baby Huey and Buzzy Crow. #61 [October] begins their series of Casper the Friendly Ghost, who graduates to his own comic at the end of the year.

Business: [November] Martin Goodman starts his own distributorship, Atlas News Company, and all his comic titles start to carry the Atlas logo. To finance the startup of this venture, Goodman laid off Atlas’ “bullpen” of salaried writers and artists, converting them to freelance employees. The Goodman-Lee comics from this point to the start of the Marvel age are referred to as Atlas Comics.

  • Will Eisner, who had been creating instructive comics for the U.S. Army, started PS, the Preventive Service Monthly for the U.S. Army, with comics about servicing and military equipment. This was one of his many clients for his American Visuals Corporation studio.

Movies: Superman and the Mole Men is the first feature-length theatrical movie based on a comic book superhero. It starred George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, and was a “dry run” for the later Adventures of Superman TV series.

1952

  • [April] An anthology title, Harvey Comics Library #1, features the lurid story “Teen-Age Dope Slaves.” The sub-title, “…as exposed by Rex Morgan MD” doesn’t keep the books cover from being featured in “Seduction of the Innocent” (see below).
  • [April 30] The Japanese magazine Shōnen (少年) publishes the first chapter of Tetsuwan Atom, about a robot boy in the year 2000, by Osamu Tezuka. The series becomes one of Japan’s most popular manga characters of all time, and crosses over to the U.S., where is is renamed Astro Boy.
  • [Oct/Nov] Mad #1 published, the most popular humor comic in America. It has continued, albeit mostly as reprints, through 2019, a run of more than 65 years. EC Comics editor Harvey Kurtzman had been turned down for a raise by publisher William Gaines: he and Feldstein were paid based on how many titles they edited, and Kurtzman’s meticulous research on his two war comics meant he couldn’t take up another title. So they agreed to do a humor comic that Kurtzman could produce at a faster pace.
  • Will Eisner ended his newspaper Spirit Section to concentrate on commercial work.

Television: September 19. The Adventures of Superman debuts as a first-run syndicated series for TV. Starring George Reeves, and Phyllis Coates, then Noel Neill as Lois Lane, the show was produced over six seasons, the last four of which were filmed in color.

1953

  • Captain America, The Human Torch & The Sub-Mariner returned for a short time at Atlas (Marvel Comics). The market was not yet ready for superheroes to return, and Atlas kept up its lines of humor, Western, romance, or whatever genre would sell that month.
  • Cartoonist Norman Maurer produces the first 3-D comic, Three-Dimension Comics featuring Mighty Mouse, with his brother Leonard, and Joe Kubert. The comics, from St. John Publishing, came with a pair of 3-D glasses and sold for 25¢. Maurer, married to Moe Howard’s daughter Joan, had produced two issues of a Three Stooges comic book in 1949, and so published 3-D Stooges comics this same year.
  • [September] Harvey comics debuts Little Dot #1, featuring original characters Little Dot, a girl obsessed with dots, and “the poor little rich boy” Richie Rich.

Business: Fawcett Publications reached a settlement in National Periodical (DC)’s plagiarism lawsuit over Captain Marvel: after a ruling against Fawcett, and with comic sales declining, they discontinued their entire comic book division.

1954

  • [Feb. 3] When British publisher L. Miller & Sons ran out of Fawcett Captain Marvel stories to reprint, they hired a staff to continue the feature under the name Marvelman, which included supporting characters Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman. The weekly series ran until 1963.
  • April 19. Fredric Wertham’s book “Seduction of the Innocent” is published. Its indictment of violence and alleged homoerotic content in comics, as a contributor to juvenile delinquency, lead to the Comics Code being created in October of the same year.
  • April 21. The Senate Committee on Juvenile Delinquency holds hearings on comic books. EC publisher William Gaines testifies before Sen. Estes Kefauver. Gaines does not do well, as he was coming down from a dose of the amphetamine Benzedrine, prescribed at the time as a weight loss remedy.

Business: A group of comics publishers formed the Comics Magazine Association of America, which created a self-regulatory board, the Comics Code Authority, to review the content produced by its members. Those that passed the CCA’s stringent guidelines could display the Comics Code Authority Seal. Particular target of the Code were crime and horror comics, and its rules specifically forbade comic titles with the words “crime,” “horror,” and “terror,” not coincidentally, those found on EC Comics covers.

  • [May] Upset over Timely/Atlas’ revival of their creation Captain America, Simon & Kirby launch Fighting American #1 for Prize Comics (a Crestwood Publications imprint). Though first done as a straight patriotic hero, the circus of the Army-McCarthy hearings inspires them to make Fighting American and his sidekick Speedboy into a superhero satire.
  • [July] World’s Finest Comics #71 . The first in a series of Batman/Superman team-ups. The title had featured one story each with Batman and Superman, until a cost-cutting reduction in page count inspired DC produce a single story of the two working together.
  • [October] Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #1 represents a further “brand extension” for the Man of Steel.

1955

  • [July] The Mad comic changes to magazine format, to avoid the strictures of the Comics Code, increase profit margin, and/or to get onto magazine racks at a time when dealers were dropping comics.
  • [November] Detective Comics #225 introduces The Martian Manhunter in the backup story, “The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel.” The Martian J’onn J’onzz, stranded on Earth decides to become a detective using the name John Jones, using his “Martian powers” in secret. According to some comics scholars, this marked the start of the “Silver Age” for superhero comics.

1956

  • [Jan/Feb] EC’s William Gaines runs afoul of the Comics Code when they plan to reprint “Judgement Day,” a story originally published in 1953, with its “shock ending” of a human astronaut who turns out to be African-American. The Code Authority requested the black astronaut be removed. The story ran unaltered in Incredible Science Fiction #33 [Jan/Feb. 1956], but in exasperation, Gaines ceased publication of all EC Comics, attempting a line of illustrated “Picto-Fiction” magazines. When EC’s distributor went bankrupt later, Gaines focused solely on Mad.
  • [December] Faced with declining sales blamed on television and other juvenile pursuits, Quality Comics closes shop, selling their properties to National Periodicals (DC). National keeps only four Quality titles in production: Blackhawk, G.I. Combat, Heart Throbs and Robin Hood Tales. Blackhawk would become the only Golden Age hero book, besides those featuring Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, to remain in publication.

The Silver Age

1956

  • [October] Showcase #4 introduces the new Flash. The reintroduction of superhero comics was directed by editor Julius Schwartz, with writer Robert Kanigher and artists Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert.
  • Journeyman artist and writer Steve Ditko begins creating stories for Atlas Comics.
  • Harvey Kurtzman quits Mad after demanding editorial control of the magazine from William Gaines. Kurtzman had been emboldened to make the request after Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner told him that if he ever left Mad, Kurtzman could work for him.
  • [September] Mad #29, the first issue edited by Al Feldstein, features the first comics work by Don Martin.
  • [December] Mad #30 features the first full cover appearance of its mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, as a write-in candidate for president. The image of a gap-toothed boy with tousled hair had been found on advertisements and ephemera dating back to the 1800s. A clip-art version appeared on the cover of Mad #25, mocked up as a Johnson Smith novelty ad, then in a small cameo on the cover “frame” of #24, the first magazine issue, and on the cover of the first reprint paperback, The Mad Reader, in 1954. The Mad #30 cover was rendered by Norman Mingo, who became the main cover artist, featuring Neuman, for several decades.

1957

  • [January] Harvey Kurtzman’s Trump #1, published and financed by Hugh Hefner, offered a more risqué take on the humor of Kurtzman’s Mad. Though it sold well, Hefner hit financial difficulties and cancelled Trump after two issues.
  • [February] Showcase #6 debuts Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown. While Kirby had created many team books before, this quartet was the most direct influence on his later Fantastic Four.
  • [August] Showcase #9 features stories of “Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane,” a tryout for her own series, to begin in 1958.
  • [August] Kurtzman, with financial backing from other writers and artists, starts another satirical comic, Humbug. The magazine suffers from poor distribution, and a slew of Mad-style parody comics on the stands, and goes out of business after 11 issues.

Business: Martin Goodman had closed his Atlas Distribution to sign with the cheaper American News Distribution, but it subsequently went out of business, after the federal government broke it up as a trust, in that it also owned Union News, the largest chain of vendors. Goodman went to Independent News, owned by rival National/DC. Independent would only distribute 8 Atlas titles a month, down from the nearly 40 titles editor Stan Lee was producing. So Lee cut his output to 16 bimonthly comics. One story has it that Goodman discovered a closet full of paid-for but unpublished artwork, and told Lee to lay off all the remaining artists on staff until the inventory was used up. The comics of this period have only a small “IND.” on the cover. More details at this story.

1958

  • [February] James Warren publishes Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman. The magazine capitalized on the popularity of the Universal monster movies that had been packaged for local television in 1957. Warren’s publishing business had started with a Playboy imitation called After Hours that folded after four issues, and after a centerfold of a topless Bettie Page got Warren busted for obscenity in Philadelphia.
  • [April] The Legion of Super-Heroes debuts in Adventure Comics #247. The heroes from the 30th Century appear in a Superboy story with an offer for him to join their super-hero club, giving him an old-fashioned hazing before admitting him.

Business: July 27. Harvey Comics purchases the Famous Studios characters Casper, Herman & Katnip, and other characters outright.

  • [December] Showcase #17 debuts Adam Strange, an archaeologist who finds himself teleported via “Zeta Beam” to the planet Rann, which he would save from constant attack by use of his wits. Strange was the first DC science fiction hero to interact with the more standard superhero community.

1959

  • [March] The Flash #105 resumes numbering of the first Flash Comics series, the first solo book for a DC Silver Age hero.
  • [May] Supergirl debuts in Action Comics #252. She was Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin from a domed city that had briefly survived the destruction of Krypton. Supergirl was part of Superman editor Mort Weisigner’s policy of introducing new parts of the Superman mythos roughly every six months.
  • Jack Kirby quit DC in a dispute with editor Jack Schiff over proceeds from his comic strip Sky Masters, and chafing over editorial oversight. Also no longer working with Joe Simon, he had previously been freelancing stories to Atlas, and now returned to Atlas writing & illustrating fantasy & sci-fi stories.
  • [October] The modernized Green Lantern debuts in Showcase #22, created by John Broome and Gil Kane.
  • [29 October] The comic strip Astérix le Gaulois, by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, begins in the Franco-Belgian magazine Pilote. Its stories of the superpowered Gauls fighting the Roman Empire became France’s favorite comic strip.

Television: October 11. ABC-TV debuts Matty’s Sunday Funnies, a Sunday afternoon show with the Harvey cartoon character like Casper, Baby Huey, etc. The show is sponsored by Mattel Toys, named after their mascot Matty. It would air the first commercial for the Barbie doll.

1960

  • [March] The Justice League of America first appears in The Brave & the Bold #28. The team’s first lineup is The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Golden Age holdovers Aquaman and Wonder Woman. They get their own title in [December].

Fandom: April. The early fanzine Comic Art carries an article by Richard A. Lupoff titled “Re-Birth”, in which he was first to refer to “The Golden Age of Comics.”

  • [August] Help!, published by James Warren, becomes editor Harvey Kurtzman’s most successful humor magazine post-Mad, running 26 issues until September, 1965. Among the writers and artists employed by or appearing in Help! were Gloria Steinem, Terry Gilliam, and future underground comics pioneers Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, and Skip Williamson. Gilliam meets British comic actor John Cleese, then performing a small role in the Broadway musical “Half a Sixpence”, when he models for a fumetti story about a man who has an affair with his daughter’s “Barbee” doll.
  • [November] Tales to Astonish #13 features the story “I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X!” The tree-being Groot was yet another of Lee & Kirby’s Marvel monsters, defeated in his plans to steal an Earth village for study. Groot would re-appear occasionally until the 2000s, when he joined the Guardians of the Galaxy. Because I know you want some Groot.

1961

  • [June] The Stan Lee-edited titles Journey Into Mystery #69 and the teen humor title Patsy Walker #95 feature a small boxed “MC” on their covers, the first modern Marvel Comics logo. Despite the logo, the individual magazines still showed different publishers in their indicias: Atlas Magazines, Inc. in Journey Into Mystery, and Bard Publishing Corp. in Patsy Walker, etc.
  • [July] Flash #123; “The Flash of Two Worlds,” was the first crossover between the current Flash, Barry Allen, and his Golden Age counterpart, Jay Garrick. The story established Earth-1 and Earth-2 as part of what became known as “The DC Multiverse.”
  • [November] Jack Kirby & Stan Lee produce Fantastic Four #1 and the Marvel Age of Comics begins. The genesis of Fantastic Four is attributed to two stories: Stan Lee is ready to quit comic books, so his wife Joan suggests he go out by writing the kind of stories we wants to do. At the same time, Martin Goodman has been golfing with either Jack Liebowitz or Irwin Donenfeld of National Periodicals, where he learned that Justice League of America was a hot seller, so he suggested that Lee do a team book of his own.

1962

Television: January 6. The “Matty’s Sunday Funnies” TV show replaces its slate of Harvey theatrical cartoons with new cartoons produced by Robert Clampett, featuring characters from his 50’s puppet show “Beany and Cecil.”

  • [May] The Incredible Hulk debuts in his own comic, created by Lee and Kirby. Because its distributor, DC-owned Independent News, still limited the number of Lee’s titles they would handle, The Incredible Hulk had to be cancelled after six issues to make room for The Amazing Spider-Man.
  • [May] Fantastic Four #4 sees The Human Torch leaving the group in a typical fit of pique. In a Bowery flophouse, he discovers the Sub-Mariner, now an amnesiac derelict. As soon as he regains his memory, Subby resumes his war on the Surface World, until he falls for the Invisible Girl.
  • [August] With the Amazing Fantasy comic about to be cancelled (it had started in 1961 as Amazing Adventures, then became Amazing Adult Fantasy), Stan Lee writes another “twist” on the costumed hero trope, debuting Spider-Man with art by Steve Ditko and a Jack Kirby cover in issue #15.
  • [August] Journey Into Mystery #83 debuts The Mighty Thor, created by editor Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby who co-plotted the story with Stan’s brother Larry Lieber.
  • [September] After several guest appearances, “Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes” becomes a regular feature in Adventure Comics #300. The stories’ writers include Jerry Siegel, and science fiction veterans Edmund Hamilton and Otto Binder.
  • [October] Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder’s Little Annie Fanny first appears in Playboy (October 1962).

Business: Western Publishing splits from its partner Dell to publish comics itself, under the Gold Key imprint. They keep comic book rights to nearly all animated studios like Disney, MGM, Warner Brothers, and Hanna-Barbera, and a number of TV tie-in comics, later developing their own line of original hero and adventure comics. Dell would continue with other TV tie-ins and its own original material until 1972.

1963

  • [May] The first regular “Marvel Comics Group” logo appears on their covers, under a box showing the title character. Here, on Amazing Spider-Man #2.
  • [June] Justice League of America #21 returns the Golden Age Justice Society of America, teaming with the JLA in the “Crisis on Earth-2.” JSA members Hackman, Black Canary, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, Hourman, and The Atom join Earth-1’s Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, The Atom, Batman, Superman, Green Arrow and Aquaman in the first of an annual tradition of cross-dimensional adventures.
  • [September] Avengers #1 teams Marvel heroes Thor, Ant Man and the Wasp, the Hulk, and Iron Man, teaming up to fight Thor’s nemesis, Loki. The book was rushed into production to fill a hole in the publishing schedule, caused by the extreme lateness of Daredevil #1.[3]
  • [September] The X-Men #1, Lee & Kirby’s team of teenage mutants under the tutelage of Professor Charles Xavier, protecting a world that distrusts them.

Television: September 7. American producer Fred Ladd begins syndication of English-laguage dubs of Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atomu, renamed “Astro Boy.” Eventually 104 episodes are syndicated, with new episodes ending in 1965.

1964

  • [March] Avengers #4 headlines “Captain America Lives Again!” The team (minus the Hulk, who quit in issue #2), are in pursuit of the Sub-Mariner when they come across Captain America, frozen in a block of sea ice since the end of WWII.
  • [April] Daredevil #1 is finally published. The book was intended to debut along with X-Men #1 as an extension of the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four setups. Some sources suggest Martin Goodman wanted to grab the name of Lev Gleason’s 40s Daredevil character when it fell out of trademark protection, as they would later do with Captain Marvel. Artist Bill Everett, over-scheduled and battling alcoholism, fell far behind on schedule, until Steve Ditko finished the book. Attorney Matt Murdoch, like Spider-Man, gained powers through radioactivity, when a drum of nuclear waste hit him, blinding him but granting “radar senses.”
  • [May] Detective Comics #327 starts Julius Schwartz’ tenure as editor of the Batman titles, instituting a “New Look.” Schwartz drops the crust of years of fantasy plots and “Batman Family” characters like Bat-Girl and Bat-Mite, while Flash artist Carmine Infantino breaks away from the simplistic artwork ghosted under Bob Kane’s name. Batman adds a yellow circle behind the bat symbol on his chest (no reason given, although it was mainly to demark the “New Look”). In the next issue, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred was killed off (he got better later, briefly becoming the villain The Outsider), and Dick’s Aunt Harriet arrived to look after the boys.

Fandom: July 24. The first “official” comic book convention, the “New York Comicon,” took place in the Workman’s Circle Building in New York City. Over 100 people reportedly attended.

  • Jim Warren starts Creepy magazine, a non-Code approved horror magazine. Its first cover, by Jack Davis, presaged many of EC Comics’ artists returning to the horror field in its pages. A sister magazine, Eerie, starts in 1966.

1965

  • [January] Robert Crumb’s “Fritz the Cat” is first published in Help! and the men’s magazine Cavalier.
  • [December] Marvel Comics titles on this publication date begin the “Bullpen Bulletins” text feature, with Marvel news, promotional puffery, and alliterative allusions. Stan Lee later recalled that the tone of the page was inspired by a series of “Jerry Todd” childrens’ books by Leo Edwards, which had the unusual feature of a letters section at the end of each book, with each letter answered by Edwards in a jaunty, informal voice.

Other media: Village Voice cartoonist Jules Feiffer’s “The Great Comic Book Heroes” is published by Dial Press (Crown Publishers). Feiffer, who had started with Will Eisner’s shop working on “The Spirit,” wrote the first serious history of comic books, illustrated with reprints of many key Golden Age stories.

1966

  • [March] Fantastic Four #48 begins “The Galactus Trilogy,” in which the FF contend against a demigod determined to consume all of Earth’s life energy. Artist and co-plotter Jack Kirby decides Galactus needs a “herald,” and creates The Silver Surfer.
  • [June] The manga magazine Shōnen Book debuts the series Mach GoGoGo (マッハGoGoGo) by Tatsuo Yoshida. Its young race car driver, Gō Mifune, was modeled partly after Elvis Presley in his racing movies. The series was adapted to a TV anime in 1967, and quickly picked up for the American market as Speed Racer.
  • [July] 14 year old Jim Shooter’s first Legion of Super-Heroes story appears in Adventure Comics #346. He would soon become its regular writer.

Fandom: [February] Justice League of America #42 includes a fan letter from Scott Taylor of Westport, Connecticut proclaiming, “If you guys keep bringing back the heroes from the [1930s-1940s] Golden Age, people 20 years from now will be calling this decade the Silver Sixties!” Thus fixing the Gold-Silver-Bronze nomenclature.

Television: January 12. The TV series Batman debuts on ABC. The campy approach to the series was said to derive from occasional screenings of the Adventures of Captain Marvel serial at the Playboy Mansion, where partygoers happily cheered the hero and hissed the villain. The show was an immediate hit, but comics pros noted the contempt the producers showed toward the source material, and any media coverage about comic books was obliged to use “Pow! Zap! Wham!” in its headlines.

Theatre: March 29. It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman debuts at Broadway’s Alvin Theatre. The first Broadway musical based on a comic book hero, with music composed by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams and book by David Newman and Robert Benton. Though generally well-received, the show closed after 129 performances.

Movies: July 30. The Batman feature film spin-off of the Adam West TV show.

Television: Marvel Super Heroes, a half-hour cartoon series, is offered for TV syndication. The extremely limited animation consists mainly of static cut-out comic artwork.

1967

  • [February] Ferro Lad, a character introduced by Jim Shooter in his first Legion of Super-Heroes story, became their first member to die in action permanently (or at least until the next reboot) in Adventure Comics #353.
  • [June] Marvel’s monthly “Bullpens Bulletins” page is puffed to portentious proportions by the debut of the “Stan’s Soapbox” column. Now he’s got me doing it.
  • [December] Marvel Comics, taking advantage of the fact that the trademark to the name “Captain Marvel” had lapsed from disuse, creates their own version of the character in Marvel Super-Heroes #12. This Cap was Mar-Vell, an alien Kree spy sent to scout Earth as a possible threat, but who ended up defending Earth in the super-hero game.

Business: Kinney National Services, a parking lot, office cleaning, and funeral home conglomerate, buys National Periodical Publications (DC Comics). That same year, they buy the cash-strapped Warner Bros.-Seven Arts Studios, which had previously purchased Atlantic Records. The new company would become Warner Communications after spinning off the parking operation in 1972.

Television: ABC premiers Saturday morning cartoon versions of The Fantastic Four, produced by Hanna-Barbera, and Spider-Man, by Grantray-Lawrence. Spider-Man’s animation is improved from Grantary-Lawrence’s Marvel Super Heroes, but the show’s theme song is the most memorable part.

1968

  • [June] Gil Kane produces the first issue of His Name Is… Savage, a 40-page comics style black and white magazine featuring an espionage agent, scripted by Archie Goodwin. Though aimed at newsstands instead of comic book racks, the series has trouble finding a printer and distributor to handle the magazine’s violence, and folds after its first issue.
  • Robert Crumb self-publishes Zap Comix #1. While Crumb and other cartoonists had been featured in men’s magazines and the blossoming underground newspaper movement, Zap was considered the first successful underground comix book. After the first issue, Crumb featured other artists like Gilbert Shelton, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez, and more.
    Undergrounds were sold directly to retailers like “head shops” and record stores, forming the basis of the direct sales model.

Other media: Maurice Horn’s book “A History of the Comic Strip” published (co-authored with Pierre Couperie). It gave a perspective to comics from all over the world, and would be followed by several encyclopedic volumes edited by Horn.

Television: Sept. 14: “The Archie Show” cartoon series debuts on CBS, produced by Filmation. The show features a segment with the characters in The Archies band performed music produced by former “Monkees” impresario Don Kirshner. The bubblegum pop is released on records as soon as the show debuts, placing on radio and in the sales charts several times, culminating in a #1 chart ranking for “Sugar Sugar” in 1969.

1969

  • [September] Vampirella, a sexy female vampire created by Forrest J. Ackerman and “costumed” by underground cartoonist Trina Robbins, debuts. Like Creepy and Eerie, the Vampirella magazine is a horror anthology, but featuring one story with Vampirella as its protagonist.

Business: Marvel finally gets out of its distribution contract with Independent News, signing with wholesaler Curtis Circulation Company. Though comic sales are slumping at this point, Marvel is able to spin characters like Thor, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, Captain America and the Sub-Mariner into titles of their own, after they had been paired up in shorter stories in their old anthology titles.

The Bronze Age

1970

  • [April] Green Lantern #76 begins its “socially relevant” phase, with Hal Jordan teaming with Green Arrow to “rediscover America,” encountering racism, slumlords, worker exploitation, and Green Arrow’s former sidekick Speedy revealed as a drug addict.

(The Green Lantern #86 “Junkie” cover appeared in 1971, after Marvel’s run-in with the Comics Code over Amazing Spider-Man #96)

  • [October] Conan the Barbarian #1 published by Marvel. Marvel editor Roy Thomas saw that Conan was on a list of characters requested by fans for their own series, and licensed the character from the estate of Robert E. Howard. He would write the title and many of its spinoffs for much of its history at Marvel. First stories were illustrated by Barry Smith.
  • [October] After a much-publicized jump from Marvel to DC, Jack Kirby launches his “Fourth World” concept in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133. The story features the debut of the Daily Planet’s new owner Morgan Edge, and a new Newsboy Legion, clones of the WWII era characters. Jimmy Olsen #134 introduces Kirby’s Darkseid, who becomes the major arch-villain of the DC Universe.

Television: September 12. Filmation debuts its Archie spinoff cartoon, “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Hanna-Barbera debuts its own Archie Comics cartoon, “Josie & the Pussycats,” both on CBS.

Fandom: November. Robert M. Overstreet publishes the first Comic Book Price Guide, providing collector values for comics from the Golden Age to the present. The annual Overstreet Guide becomes an authoritative source for publication information on nearly all American comic books, and helped standardize a system for grading the condition of comics. Many of the values were arrived at from auction prices for rarer books, and general surveys of back issue sales, causing many fans to rail against sellers who raised inventory prices to meet the Guide. But it proves a good overall predictor of collector demand for specific comics.

1971

  • [January] Superman #233 marks a revamp for the character, under editor Julius Schwartz and writer Denny O’Neill, eliminating Kryptonite and toning down Superman’s infinite strength.
  • [March] Kirby’s “Fourth World” concept kicks off with the debut of New Gods, and tangent titles Mister Miracle and The Forever People.
  • [May] The Amazing Spider-Man #96 hits the stands without the Comics Code seal. Stan Lee had been approached by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare about producing anti-drug comics, resulting in the story, first of two parts, written by Lee and drawn by Gil Kane and John Romita. It featured Spider-Man rescuing a drugged out addict from a rooftop, then learning that his roommate Harry Osborne was also on drugs. The Code had specifically forbidden any mention of drug abuse at all, pro or con.

Music: February. Songwriter Dick Monda, who had produced music for the “Groovie Goolies” cartoon (a “Sabrina” spin-off), re-records one of its songs, “Chick-A-Boom,” under the pseudonym Daddy Dewdrop. The single places on the Billboard Top 10.

1972

  • [June/July] Swamp Thing made first appearance in House of Secrets #92. A slightly revamped version debuted in his own Swamp Thing #1 in [Oct./Nov.]

Business: Convention organizer Phil Seuling’s Sea Gate Distributors begins purchasing comic books directly from publishers at 60% of the cover price (the same amount they would get if a newsstand comic “sold-through”). He would ship comics directly from the majors’ printing plant in Sparta, Illinois, wholesaling them to the small group of comic book stores on a “non-returnable” basis. This would allow comics to go on sale sooner than at newsstands, allow fans to pre-order favorite titles, and help stores build an inventory of back issues.

Animation: April 12. Fritz the Cat is released, directed by former Terrytoon producer Ralph Bakshi. The loose adaptation of Robert Crumb’s character becomes successful as the first X-rated animated feature, grossing $90 million after being made for $850,000. Crumb was dissatisfied with the way Fritz was handled, and killed him off in People’s Comics in 1972. That didn’t prevent producer Steve Krantz from making The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, without Bakshi, in 1974.

1973

  • [February] DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino leases Captain Marvel from Fawcett, returning him to comics. Since Marvel Comics had picked up the trademark on the character’s name, the revived comic was titled Shazam!
  • [June] The Amazing Spider-Man #121 shows Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy killed by the Green Goblin.

Business: After Martin Goodman’s retirement, his magazine group is split up, with Marvel Comics being sold to Cadence Industries, the former Perfect Film & Chemical Corporation.

1974

  • [February]. The Punisher first appears in Amazing Spider-Man #129. The vigilante who, unlike most superheroes, has no qualms about killing gangsters, tries to capture Spider-Man for his part in the death of Norman Osborn (secretly the Green Goblin). He was partially based on The Executioner, a series of pulp vigilante paperbacks by Don Pendleton. The Punisher went through several guest appearance before getting a solo miniseries in 1986 and an ongoing series in 1987.
  • [November] Wolverine makes his first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #181, after a teaser cameo at then of #180. Writer Len Wein said Roy Thomas had asked to specifically create a character named Wolverine, who was short, Canadian, and had a wolverine’s bad temper.
  • [December] Métal hurlant, a French magazine of science fiction and fantasy comics, debuts. It was co-created by French artists Jean Giraud (Mœbius) and Philippe Druillet.

Business: Retired from Marvel, Martin Goodman starts Seaboard Periodicals, parent company of a new Atlas Comics line. Goodman succeeds in getting Stan Lee’s brother Larry Lieber as an editor, and offers higher page rates plus a then unheard-of promise of creator rights and return of artwork to creators. Though the plan attracts top artists like Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Steve Ditko, and Wally Wood, Atlas/Seaboard folds the next year, with no title lasting more than four issues.

1975

  • [May] Len Wein and Dave Cockrum revive the moribund third-string X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #1, featuring a new team with Cyclops, Colossus, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler, Storm, Banshee, Thunderbird (who would be killed in the next issue) and Wolverine.

1976

  • Bloodstar, adapted from a Robert E. Howard story by John Jakes, and illustrated by Richard Corben, is published in a hardcover edition. It’s among the first books to call itself a “graphic novel,” in that it was not collected from serialized installments, but appeared as a full story.

1977

  • [January] Ms. Marvel #1 by Gerry & Carla Conway, with art by John Buscema, debuts a new hero identity for Carol Danvers, a supporting character in Marvel’s previous “Captain Marvel” run. Despite the “tummy window” in her first costume, and whines of current “Comics Gaters,” Ms. Marvel was clearly intended as a feminist role model, with the cover corner box of her comic proclaimed “This female fights back!” After several name changes, to Binary and Warbird, Danvers assumes the Captain Marvel mantle in 2012 in honor of Mar-Vell.
  • [February] The anthology series Marvel Spotlight #32 debuts Spider-Woman, a character Stan Lee admitted they had come up with quickly to secure trademark on the name, after hearing that Filmation was developing an animated “Spider-Woman” show. The Filmation version would appear as “Web Woman” in 1978.
  • [April] The publishers of the National Lampoon begin Heavy Metal magazine, a full color collection of dark, lushly illustrated science fiction comics licensed from the French magazine Métal Hurlant, combined with material from American creators.
  • [July] Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas takes a chance on another licensed property, a science fiction movie called Star Wars. The movie’s adaptation in the first few issues is reprinted several times, and is credited with saving Marvel during a deep recession.
  • [December] Cerebus the Aardvark #1. Dave Sim’s Sword and Sorcery parody evolves into a broad commentary on comics, literature, religion and politics. Early in the series, Sim announces his intention to have the series run to 300 issues, ending with Cerebus’ death; and it does, in 2004.
  • Television: September 14. The Amazing Spider-Man movie pilot debuted on CBS, produced by Columbia. It starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker, and David White as J. Jonah Jamison. Like the later-debuting Incredible Hulk, the Spider-Man series eschews expensive costumes super-villains and fight scenes for more human-internet or ordinary crime stories.
  • Television: November 4. The Incredible Hulk debuts on CBS in the first of a string of TV movies before become a regular dramatic series (on March 10, 1978). Kenneth Johnson produced the series for Universal, dropping almost all of the comic book hero trappings. “David” Banner, played by Bill Bixby, was more like Dr. Kimble in The Fugitive, wandering from town to town in disguise, hoping to cure himself after making himself “Hulk Out” when angry. Banner was pursued by newspaper report Jack McGee, the equivalent of The Fugitive’s Inspector Morse. Each episode’s highlight was the frequent scenes of Lou Ferrigno as the green behemoth, rampaging across the scenery.

1978

  • [February] Fantasy Quarterly, an independent anthology, debuts Richard & Wendy Pini’s Elfquest. The title folds after that issue, but the Pinis self-publish Elfquest’s Tolkienesque saga, joining Cerebus as forerunners of the independent comics movement.
  • June. The DC Explosion/Implosion. Faced with the need to raise its comic book prices from the then current 35¢, and with Marvel’s many titles and reprint series fighting for room on the stands, DC decides to jump the price to 50¢ and add 8 more pages of story per issue, mostly in the form of backup features. After just a few months, the company was ordered by Warner to slash its output and bring page counts back to the previous 32 pages for 40¢. The resulting DC Implosion saw both planned and established titles getting cancelled. Some of the stories were collected into two Xeroxed books for staffers, Cancelled Comic Cavalcade. Most of the planned new features had been previously published characters, except for Vixen, an African female superhero. She finally debuted in Action Comics #521, [July 1981].
  • [August] Eclipse Enterprises publishes Sabre: Slow Fade of an Endangered Species, a 38-page swashbuckling science fiction story by Paul Gulacy and Don McGregor. This early graphic novel would be followed by other Sabre books, marking the start of independent publisher Eclipse Comics.
  • A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner is published. Eisner’s collection of stories was aimed at the adult reader and thus was printed in trade paperback format and promoted as a novel to bookstores.

Television: The Fantastic Four appears on NBC. The new DePatie-Freleng cartoon series replaced the Human Torch with a robot named H.E.R.B.I.E., as TV rights to the Human Torch were held by Universal for a possible live action series that never made it to production.

Movies: December 10. Superman: The Movie has its world premiere at the Kennedy Center. This was the first superhero movie to be treated as a major cinema release, boasting the largest production budget of the time, realistic looking special effects, and an A-list of Hollywood stars: Marlon Brando (Joe-El), Gene Hackman (Luthor), supporting relative unknowns Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, and a story by Mario Puzo.

1979

Television: Fred and Barney Meet the Thing (NBC). A Hanna-Barbera production which, despite the title, had two totally unrelated segments. One with the Flintstones, the other with teenaged Benjy Grimm, who became the Thing with his magic “Thing Ring.”
Spider-Woman on ABC is the last Marvel cartoon spin-off developed by DePatie-Freleng before it becomes Marvel Productions.

1980

  • [February] Savage She-Hulk #1 debuts another spin-off female hero. She-Hulk was, like Spider-Woman, created to secure the trademark: Marvel was concerned Universal might pull a “Bionic Woman” on the Incredible Hulk TV show by introducing a female character that Universal, not Marvel, would own.
  • [Spring] Marvel debuts Epic Illustrated, a glossy magazine in the style of Heavy Metal. As with Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated attracted creators with the promise that they would retain ownership of their published material.
  • [December] Raw #2, an avant-garde comics magazine published by Art Spiegelman, ran the first installment of Maus, a narrative of his father’s experience in the Nazi concentration camps, told using animal characters.

1981

  • [January] Capital City Distribution publishes Nexus, an independent superhero comic by Mike Baron and Steve Rude.
  • [August] Mail order company Pacific Comics becomes one of the first independent publishers. Owners Steve and Bill Schanes get Jack Kirby to return to the comics field by offering him something no one else had: ownership of his character and royalties. The result, Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, sold over 100,000 copies of its first issue.

Business: Marvel’s owner, Cadence Industries, buys the DePatie-Freleng cartoon studio after co-founder Friz Freleng returns to Warner Bros. The new Marvel Productions begins producing cartoon properties like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and licensed tie-in like Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies.

1982

  • [April] Marvel initiates a Graphic Novel series with “The Death of Captain Marvel,” written and drawn by Jim Stalin.
  • [June] Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions #1, first of three issues, was the first limited-run “miniseries” by Marvel. It was also the first company-wide crossover, involving all of Marvel’s characters, plus some international heroes who were never seen again, in a quest to find a MacGuffin for one of the Elders of the Universe.
  • [September] Love and Rockets #1, an independent comic by brothers Gilbert, Jaime and Mario Hernandez, becomes a pivotal title in the “alternative comics” movement.

The Copper Age (1984–1991), also called “The Dark Age”

1984

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, is self-published under their Mirage Studios imprint. The name was derived from Bob Ingersoll, a lawyer who documented the torturous ways the law was represented in comics through his Comic Buyer’s Guide column “The Law Is A Ass” (itself a line from “Oliver Twist”), in which he frequently needled Marvel’s overuse of “Teenage Mutant Ninja” characters. TMNT becomes an overnight sensation, prompting a flood of knockoff [youthful person] [genetic abnormality] [martial art] [animal] comics.
  • [April] Zot! #1 (Eclipse), Scott McCloud’s manga-influenced young hero, appears almost as a counterpoint to the grim ’n’ gritty trend in comics.
  • [May] Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, an ambitious 12-issue mini-series, features the Marvel heroes and villains abducted to a distant world to fight for the amusement of the Beyonder. Secret Wars #8 [December] introduced Spider-Man’s black costume.
  • [May] Amazing Spider-Man #252 – All Marvel comics this month featured their characters returning from the Secret Wars. The debut of Spider-Man’s new black costume, though its origin didn’t appear until Secret Wars #8.
  • [July] Tales of the Teen Titans #44: Dick Grayson, leader of the team of former kid sidekicks, sheds his Robin identity and becomes Nightwing.
    • The name was from an alias Superman used during a series of vigilante adventures in the bottle city of Kandor (starting in Superman #158, January 1963), with Jimmy Olsen as Flamebird.
  • [November] Amazing Spider-Man #258 has Reed Richards discover that Peter Parker’s black costume is actually an alien symbiote trying to bond to him permanently. Spider-Man leaves the symbiote in the custody of the Fantastic Four. It would escape and become the villain Venom).

1985

  • [April] Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue maxi-series with several crossover issues, compacts the DC Multiverse into a single continuity. The Crisis was teased by clues placed in the regular comics line months in advance. Several superhero deaths, including the Flash and Supergirl. Characters purchased from Charlton Comics (The Question, Captain Atom, etc.) debut as DC characters.
  • [June] Fish Police #1 (Fishwrap), Steve Moncuse’s blend of fantasy and police procedural. The series would be adapted by Hanna-Barbera into a prime-time animated series, but CBS canceled the show after only three episodes.
  • [June] Swamp Thing #37. Writer Alan Moore introduces his occult detective antihero John Constantine.
  • [August] Miracleman (Eclipse), a revival of Britain’s Marvelman, appears in the U.S. Marvelman was originally a continuation of “Captain Marvel,” produced in Britain after Fawcett left the comics business. Alan Moore’s revival was serialized in a British comic anthology Warrior [March 1982], the first of his deconstructions of the comic book hero story. The character was retitled “Miracleman” in the US because Marvel Comics.
  • [December] Shattered #1, promoted as the first comic book created exclusively by computer, published by First Comics. The Blade Runner style dystopian sci-fi story is written by Peter Gillis, and drawn by Mike Saenz using Apple’s MacPaint. Production is difficult at first, since pages had to be stored on 800K floppy drives, which could only hold 2/3 of a page. Despite its clunky look and old Macintosh fonts, no one doubts that this represents the way forward.
  • Artist Eric Millikin distributes Witches and Stitches, a Wizard of Oz parody, over CompuServe, claimed to be the first webcomic.

1986

  • [February] Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. Frank Miller’s grimmest and grittiest take yet on the Caped Crusader, a four-issue prestige format limited series.
  • [July] Dark Horse Presents #1 debuts Concrete, an ordinary man whose brain had been transplanted by aliens into a hulking body. Outside of this science fiction element, the following series would be grounded in realism and Concrete’s ecological activities.
  • [July] The Man of Steel, a weekly six-issue limited series, introduced John Byrne’s post-Crisis re-imagining of Superman, continued in the regular Superman titles. Byrne’s setup for Superman’s new backstory remained the status quo for over 20 years.
  • August. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, collected the first six chapters of Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust narrative from Raw as a graphic novel (Pantheon). The concluding book appeared in 1991.
  • [September] Watchmen, first of a 12-issue miniseries, is the most famous of Alan Moore’s deconstructions of the superhero mythology. Moore had originally proposed to use characters from Charlton Comics, which DC had just acquired, but as this would have left many characters dead or otherwise unusable, managing editor Dick Giordano convinced Moore to create his own characters, illustrated by Dave Gibbons.
  • [November] To mark Marvel Comics’ 25th Anniversary, Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter launched 8 titles in the “New Universe” imprint – intended to launch a “more realistic” series of comic book adventures. The concept falls apart the next year, but anticipate the later Ultimates line.
  • [December] The ‘Nam #1, written by Vietnam veteran Doug Murray, attempted to tell a realistic narrative of the war, with each month of the comic corresponding to a month in real time. The series was well-received, although later on, flagging sales had Marvel sticking Frank Castle (The Punisher) into the series.

Business: November 20. With the liquidation of Cadence Industries, Marvel Entertainment Group is formed from Marvel Comics and Marvel Productions, then sold to Roger Corman’s New World Entertainment.

1987

  • [February] Wonder Woman #1 represents another popular post-Crisis reboot, this time by George Perez and Marv Wolfman.
  • Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 – “The Wedding!” has Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson tie the knot. The wedding also took place, simultaneously with the comic’s release date, in the “Spider-Man” syndicated newspaper comic and in a live pre-game ceremony with actors at Shea Stadium.

1988

  • [May] Amazing Spider-Man #300. The alien costume returns, now worn by disgraced reporter Eddie Brock, and begins a career as Spider-Man nemesis Venom.
  • [May] Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The Joker shoots and cripples Barbara Gordon. Coming directly after Moore & Gibbons’ Watchmen, this became one of the most controversial and best-selling Batman graphic novels, going through several reprintings and deluxe reissues.
  • [September] Animal Man #1. Writer Grant Morrison rescued the obscure Animal Man, first seen in Strange Adventures #180 [Sept. 1965], making him an animal rights crusader, but also making him aware of his status as a fictional character, ultimately meeting Morrison himself.
  • [December-January 1989] Batman #426 – 429 – A Death in the Family. The Joker kills Robin (Jason Todd) as directed by the results of a 1-900 phone-in poll. The stories appeared weekly, with two versions of #428 prepared, to be used depending on the results of the poll.

1989

  • [January] Sandman #1. Neil Gaiman takes a name DC had used for several characters over 50 years, and applied to the original Morpheus, god of dreams, creating one of DC’s most successful fantasy series.
  • [February] Doom Patrol #19 – Grant Morrison starts writing the title, introducing bizarre new team members and an equally bizarre gallery of opponents.
  • [June] Rock n’ Roll Comics #1 (Revolutionary) – The start of a series of unauthorized biographies. This first issue featured Guns ‘N Roses. It went on to run 63 issues, covering The Beatles to New Kids on the Block to 2 Live Crew, through November 1993. Some of its sales were driven by notoriety, when the acts profiled sued to prevent publication, but as a result, some of the stories were successfully kept from publication.

Business: January. Marvel Entertainment is purchased from New Word by MacAndrews and Forbes, a holding company run by Ron Perelman, for $82.5 million.

1990

  • [August] Spider-Man #1: Todd McFarlane’s cover is reprinted in a series of different inks, and sold sealed in polybags, kicking off the era of “cover enhancements”: metallic inks, die cuts, chromium, lenticular 3-D, and many other tricks.
  • [December] Superman #50 – Clark Kent proposes to Lois Lane.
  • [December] Batman #457 – Tim Drake Robin in costume. Drake had witnessed the deaths of Dick Grayson’s parents at the circus years before, and later deduced that Dick had become Robin, and therefore Bruce Wayne was Batman. Noting the change in Batman’s demeanor after Robin’s (Jason Todd) death, he tried to reunite Batman and Nightwing, but Batman decided to train him as the new Robin instead, starting in Batman #436 [August 1989].

1991

  • [February] Action Comics #662: Clark Kent finally reveals his secret identity to his finance, Lois Lane.
  • [February] New Mutants #98, the first appearance of Deadpool, the “Merc with a Mouth,” by Rob Liefield.
  • [July] Bone #1 (Cartoon Books), Jeffs Smith’s whimsical fantasy series combining cartoony art with a Tolkeinesque sweep of events, begins, running 55 issues to 2004.
  • [September] Valiant Comics launches; edited and co-written by former Legion scribe and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter. It picks up characters published by Whitman/Gold Key (Magnus: Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar, and Turok, a native American dinosaur hunter) and adds a new set of characters.

Business: Summer. Marvel issues an IPO for 40% of its stock.

[July] Wizard magazine begins, covering comics, toys, movies, and any tie-ins it can think of. It puts its name on fan awards and conventions, and features a monthly price guide that some fans claimed was intended to push speculation in new comics. The magazine folded with its March 2011 issue.

December. Hot Marvel artists Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld meet with Marvel president Terry Stewart. Depending on who told the story, they either wanted to quit their popular (mostly X-Men) titles to start a new set of characters that they would own. Or they were announcing they were already quitting to form Image Comics. The new imprint of creator-owned comics would hit the stands in 1992.

Chrome Age (1992–1999)
Generally a boom/bust cycle, from the 1992 debut of Image Comics to Marvel’s 1999 bankruptcy.

1992

  • The Image Comics line of creator-owned comics debuts:
    • [April] Youngblood #1 by Rob Liefeld
    • [May] Todd McFarlane’s Spawn.
    • [July] Eric Larson’s Savage Dragon
    • [August] Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S.

Art Spiegelman’s Maus wins a Pulitzer Prize, a “Special Award,” for the publication of his story’s second half in 1991.

July 30. Joe Shuster, co-creator of Superman, dies at age 78.

Business: July 4. Marvel buys trading card company Fleer for $265 million.

Television: September 5. Batman: The Animated Series debuts on the Fox Network’s Fox Kids daytime bloc. The series sets itself apart stylistically from previous comic book adaptation by its “Dark Deco” stylings, based on the Tim Burton movie and the Fleischer Superman cartoons. The September 11 episode, “Joker’s Favor,” introduces the Joker’s girlfriend Harley Quinn, who becomes so popular she moves onto the comics pages.

1993

  • [March] DC launches the Vertigo imprint, a “mature readers” line intended to bypass the Comic Code and give creators more flexibility in storytelling. Existing titles like Sandman, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing and The Doom Patrol are brought under the imprint, and other titles like iZombie, Fables, and Lucifer are launched, along with several obscure DC character reboots, like The Creeper and Jonah Hex.

1994

Business: December 28. Heroes World Distribution, America’s third-largest direct market comics wholesaler, is acquired by Marvel Comics, becoming Marvel’s exclusive direct sales outlet. All the other distributors suddenly lose over a third of their business, and try to secure exclusive deals with DC and independent publishers. Many comic shops and distributors go out of business, weighed down by having to deal with several distributors, forcing them to buy excess gimmick comics inventory. Heroes World proves unable to handle the demands of wholesaling Marvel titles, and it too goes out of business in 1997.

Eclipse Comics shuts down operation, filing for bankruptcy the next year. Among its problems was a 1986 flood that destroyed their back-issue stock, the divorce of editor Cat Yronwode and co-founder Dean Mullaney, and the collapse of the direct market system. Eclipse’ properties, including Miracleman, were acquired by Todd McFarlane.

1995

Business: March 9. Marvel buys trading card manufacturer Skybox for $150 million.

April. DC Comics enters its own exclusive deal with Diamond Distribution.

1996

Business: December 27. Marvel Entertainment files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, after being hit by the collapse of the direct market and the debt junk bond king Ron Perleman incurred buying Fleer, Skybox and Heroes World. Action figure maker Toy Biz, acquired by Marvel in 1993, would step in with a successful restructuring plan.

1998

Jan. 28. Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, dies at age 81.

Modern Age (2000- )
From the debut of Marvel’s Ultimates line, and a crush of new movies and TV series based on comic books.

2000

Movies: July 14. The X-Men movie opens, produced by 20th Century Fox, becoming the first major hit movie based on a Marvel Comics franchise.

Fandom: The Certified Guaranty Co. begins a service for professionally grading comic books, which are sealed in a plastic tamper-evident “slab” with a certificate of their grade. Though this renders the comic unreadable, it allows selling prices to go even higher for “slabbed” comics, and builds a market for “reading copies” of those sought-after collectibles. CGC’s business expands to grading other ephemera like trading cards, movie posters, and video game cartridges.

2002

Movies: May. The first Spider-Man movie, produced by Sony/Columbia, is released.

2003

  • [October] Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead premiers, from Image Comics.

2009

Movies: May. A CGI version of Astro Boy debuts, with the voices of Freddie Highmore & Nicholas Cage.

Business: December 31. Walt Disney Company buys Marvel Entertainment Group for $4.3 billion.

At San Diego Comic Con, Marvel announced that it had purchased the rights to Marvelman/Miracleman directly from Mick Anglo, who, it turned out, had held on to the rights to his characters from the beginning. Though Marvel has reprinted most of the Miracleman series, the promised continuation of the interrupted storyline by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham has been held up by continuing legal issues.

2010

  • [September] Life with Archie begins publication, a series with two ongoing “alternate future” storylines, showing Archie’s marriage to Betty or Veronica. The series picks up from two storylines in Archie #600 [Oct. 2009]–606 which showed Archie after college taking the plunge first with Veronica, and then with Betty. Life with Archie ends in 2014 after future Archie is killed by an assassin’s bullet meant for newly elected senator Kevin Keller.

2011

January: After most other publishers had dropped their membership in the Comics Code Authority trade group, the last two members, DC and Archie, announced that they would no longer submit books for the CCA seal, effectively rendering the Authority defunct.

April: Archie Comics becomes the first major publisher to offer digital editions of all its “floppy” (print) comics on a “day and Date” basis, going online through their own app the same day the print version goes on sale at retailers.

Theatre: June 14. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark opens on Broadway after several months of bad publicity over personality issues, stunt injuries on the set and technical difficulties. The show had a book by award-winning director Julie Taymor, who was forced off the production, and music by Bono and The Edge of U2. It was the most expensive show produced on Broadway, but also had the highest opening week gross, despite mixed reviews. The show ultimately lost money and closed June 14, 2014. It has also set a record with 182 preview performances before its opening day.

2013

  • [October] Afterlife with Archie #1 features the Riverdale gang against a Walking Dead-style zombie apocalypse. The series becomes a hit, prompting a new line of “Archie Horror” titles.

2014

  • [February] A new Ms. Marvel #1 appears, featuring Pakistani-American teenager Kamala Kahn. Created by Sana Amanat, G. Willow Wilson, and Adrian Alphona, she is Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline a series. Kahn’s powers, caused by an indistinct relationship to the Inhumans, were mostly shape-shifting, which she mainly used to “embiggen” or elongate parts of her body as needed. Though the word was first introduced by The Simpsons, its popularity in Ms. Marvel led to “embiggen” being added to the Merriam-Webster disctionary in 2018.

2015

  • January. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1. The character was first seen in 1991’s Marvel Super-Heroes Winter Special, created by Will Murray and designed and illustrated by Steve Ditko. After infrequent appearances as a comedy relief character, the Squirrel Girl series blended heroics with more humor, and a character accessible to female readers.

2018

  • December 28. Stan Lee passes away at the age of 95, at his home in Los Angeles.

Footnotes

[1] American News Company – Wikipedia

[2] Marvel Science Stories – Wikipedia

[3] Avengers owe their existence to a missed ‘Daredevil’ deadline?