More people every day discover comics collecting. If you've come to this site and clicked on this link, then you have, too. Welcome to a great, fun hobby!
You may have gotten into comics because of the media – these days, newspapers, radio, and TV tell of conventions, cartoonists, and rare old issues. Magazines publish articles about comics and their readers – and even reviews of comic books. Some investors buy comic books as a hedge against inflation. Libraries stock comics in their collections.
And people find that comics today are what comics have always been: fun.
When newcomers enter the field, they find that – like any in-group – comics collectors know things they don’t, admire celebrities they’ve never heard of, and have customs they can’t fathom.
For example, even comic-book distribution today is different from comic-book distribution of two decades ago. Distribution is aimed at two very different audiences
- The first is the traditional audience, familiar to everyone: the child who takes a weekly allowance to the neighborhood newsstand and buys comic books aimed at a youthful reader. With the gradual elimination of the comics racks from stores and dwindling number of neighborhood newsstands, comics-reading opportunities for children are far fewer than they used to be.
- The second is the comic-book collector: the more sophisticated reader, who maintains, preserves, evaluates, and files a growing collection, often of complex material that would baffle a young reader.
The average comic-book collector is old enough to vote and often needs specialized information about the purchase, content, and preservation of what is available in the field. If you're new to the field, or are returning to comics after an absence ("They still make comics?"), then read on: You'll learn about the history of the field and "get your feet wet." Then check out the other links on this site to learn more.
Comics History – An Overview
In the late 1800s, comic strips began to appear in American newspapers. There had been heavily illustrated stories before, and some histories of comics take note of everything from Egypt’s Book of the Dead to medieval accounts of the crimes and punishment of criminals to William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress.
But modern collectors look on Richard Outcault’s "Yellow Kid" as the first major modern comic-strip character. The strip first appeared in the New York Journal on Oct. 18, 1896 – and gave its name to "yellow journalism."
The evolution from comic strips to comic books took a bit longer. Famous Funnies #1 (with a cover date of July) went on sale in May 1934. It was begun by Eastern Color salesman Max C. Gaines, ran for 218 issues over the next 21 years, was the first monthly comic book, and sold for 10¢.
10¢ was the standard cover price for comics for more than 25 years after that, and millions of children – and adults – bought them regularly. As comic books became established, types of comic books emerged as typical. Comic-strip reprints were the first, but comic-book readers soon had a variety of subject matter from which to choose. The variety included Westerns, crime, funny-animal, jungle, romance, and super-hero comics. Though super-hero characters had appeared in popular fiction – and even comic strips – before, Action Comics #1 is considered to be the starting point for super-hero comics. It was in that issue that Superman made his first appearance.
While many other types of comic books are collected today – and a few of them in near-perfect condition command prices of more than $1,000 – the most-collected comic books today are those devoted to super-heroes. Many collectors criticize this facet of the marketplace, because countless comics do not feature such characters but are still delightful and well worth collecting. Other comics fans are grateful that back-issue prices of other types of comics have not escalated as wildly as have the prices of many early super-hero comics.
Comic books were especially popular and widely circulated during World War II. They made quick, cheap, portable, disposable entertainment for service men as well as children. Comic book stories were easy to understand, and almost all stores had a comic book rack, so comics were easy to find.
After the war came the baby boom – and an increasing number of potential readers. At the same time, parents had more leisure in which to supervise what their children read – and more and more parents became uneasy with the picture-story medium. As alarmists complained about comics that emphasized violence and bad taste, pressure mounted to prevent children from reading comic books at all.
There were even comic book burnings in some areas. Such events – combined with paper drives that had been conducted during World War II – meant that few copies remained by the time hysteria had cooled and comics were "cleaned up" by the Comics Code in the autumn of 1954. (Not all comics carried the Code. Dell’s titles and those in the Classics Illustrated line were not submitted for Code approval; other surviving comics, however, were.) Sequential art as an art form was looked upon as suitable only for children’s reading – and unfashionable children’s reading, at that.
Today, comic books have acquired a new popularity, as children who grew up with and loved them have become adults. Many doctors, lawyers, and college professors collect comics, and many other adults are ready as never before to accept the medium as a legitimate, creative form. At the same time, children continue to read comic books as cheap entertainment – though comics are no longer available for a dime.