If you turn on the television or head to a movie theater, you’re sure to see a bevy of superhero-related material available. While the format people enjoy these stories on has changed somewhat, it all began with comic books, which, surprisingly, have only a very recent history.
The first known comic was made in America in 1842, a hardcover book called The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck. It’s considered a prototype, as it wasn’t mass-produced and certainly not as easy to obtain as the comic books that would eventually hit magazine stands around the world. There were several other efforts of picture stories published, but they didn’t make the genre famous. However, it’s believed they provided the path to the medium we now know.
Actual comics began in earnest in the 1930s, as printers collected newspaper comics and placed them into books made for purchase by the public. In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the very first comic book as we know them today, Action Comic Book No. 1, featuring Superman.
While it’s hard to imagine now, many of the characters in early comics were brought over from radio adventures. Artists took these verbal characters and put them on paper, outlining their experiences in ink on the page. One such comic hero was Captain Midnight with his doom beam flashlight and glider suit. Comics were a place of adventure with amazing inventions that delighted youth around the world.
It’s believed this genre became popular because it created the dichotomy between the hero and the arch-nemesis in a time when America was at war and children needed a way to understand what was happening. However, as America stabilized after WWII, the comic book nearly fell to the wayside. It wasn’t until October of 1956, when Showcase #4 was released featuring Flash that they caught steam again.
By this time, Marvel Comics had caught onto the need for relatable characters and brought forth such hero’s as The Fantastic Four while putting a mass effort into the creation of Spider-Man. There was also a movement of underground comics in the 60s and 70s, released for more mature audiences. The subject matter meant they weren’t acceptable at a newsstand, but they could easily be purchased in places such as head shops and record stores. In fact, some record stores slowly morphed into the comic stores we know and love today.
Since the 1980s, comic books have mostly calmed down due to a rise in television culture. It’s more profitable for companies to bank on moving visuals than those within pages. However, avid collectors still exist, and youth today turn to manga and graphic novels to pursue comic literature. Without the rise of comics, we wouldn’t have such beloved characters playing on our televisions sets, and we certainly wouldn’t have the cultural draw of the super-powered hero.