A Voyage of Discovery to the Golden Age of Comic Books


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reprints: Part 6: DC from the 1930s & the Originals of Marvel Part I

The New Reprints: A Voyage of Discovery to the Golden Age of Comic Books

Part 6: DC from the 1930s and the Originals of Marvel, Part I

This Chapter was too long so I have to present it in two parts. 

This project will be presented in twelve parts. Unfortunately, I can’t change the order, so later posts will appear first. Please try to check this out in order! And your comments are important. Please post how you became aware of comics and their history!
  1. Introduction/Comics in "real" books.
  2. 1960s: Reprints from the Comic Companies: 80 Page Giants & Marvel Tales!
  3. 1960s: The Great Comic Book Heroes
  4. 1960s: The Paperback Era
  5. 1970s: The Comic Strips AND the Comic Book Strips! 
  6. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part I
  7. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part II
  8. 1980s until Today: Horror We? How's Bayou! The EC Age of Comics
  9. 1990s until Today: The Archives and Masterworks
  10. How The West Was Lost
  11. When Comics Had Influence: Public Service, Education & Promotion
  12. Journeys End, What We Leave Behind: A Century of Comics
So let us continue our voyage to and from the 1960s and discover the world of comics once almost forgotten. Our expedition is mostly into the world of reprints that were available OUTSIDE the newsstands and comic book stores but we will have a few detours on the way.

While the 1970s began the earnest reprinting of comic strips, the humble comic book was still the prodigal son who had not yet returned.

The decade began with a major event:the comic book shot heard around the world. Jim Steranko created and produced a remarkable two part collection of “The History of Comics” which was just brilliant. The super-large, black and white books, told the story of comics in great detail, going back to their pulp beginnings. Steranko gave us superb images, in black and white, and told the early stories of both DC and Marvel. Volume 2, published in 1972, picks up where the first volume left off, using terrific images to tell us about Blackhawk comics, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel and his family. A highlight of the second volume is a full Spirit story, all seven pages. It also had a compendium of the fascinating Steranko pages from his Marvel work. I had expected and hoped for a part 3, but it is now 40 years later and no dice. But, in all this time, nothing has topped this work, or the beautiful covers created by Steranko. And what was the price for this gorgeous huge paperback book? $1.98.

 “All in Color For a Dime” edited by Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson, was published in 1972, and it featured mostly essays that concentrated on Comic Books. Popeye, the first super-hero of them all, is also featured. Here, in eleven chapters, authors such as Roy Thomas, Ted White and Harlan Ellison discuss the original Captain Marvel, the war comics of the 1940s, and the second-banana heroes such as Johnny Quick. What a great and important read! While the book is almost all text, there is a small color section of covers mostly from the Golden Age. The book cost $11.25 in hardcover then! Three years later it was followed by a sequel, “The Comic Book Book,” which covered topics such as Jack Cole and Plastic Man, Will Eisner and The Spirit, Tarzan, EC comics and Frankenstein.

This page is from the Color section of All in Color for a Dime. It was important to me because I had heard that Marvel's Daredevil got his name from this character, but I had never seen a picture of him.
 I recently asked Roy Thomas about his involvement in “All in Color…”: “Jerry Bails sent me Julie Schwartz's copies of the early XERO (probably #1-3), which alas were lost in the mail when I sent them back. I contacted the Lupoffs to get #4 forwarded, and Dick asked me to do the article about the non-Marvel Fawcett heroes, using a few comics I had and a number that he sent me, plus my memories... not much more.  He even gave me a title, "Captain Billy's Whiz Gang," and a first paragraph or so of history about Fawcett, which I used virtually intact, though he didn't seem to care to be credited for it. I was too busy when the book version was done to revise the article at all, but I'm happy to have been a part of the series... even though I gave Dick conniption fits with my lateness, as I related back in AE #18.  See that issue for more quotes from me re XERO. I had to decline being in the second book (THE COMIC BOOK BOOK), as well... I think I was supposed to write about the "commercial" super-heroes in the old comics, like Captain Tootsie and Volto, etc... not dissimilar to what was eventually done in ALL-STAR COMPANION, VOL. 2.”

 “Jerry Robinson’s The Comics, An Illustrated History of Comic Art,” (1974)   was a wonderful, detailed look at the history of comic strip art, by an artist himself. This was a 250 page, highly illustrated black and white book which had wonderful color section. It was a bit of a disappointment in only one way, Robinson was one of the greatest and most important comic book artists, the first to draw the Joker and Robin in the Batman series. Yet, there isn’t a piece in here about comic books. Sigh.
Robinson discussed the artists and even the technology that drove the art form at the beginning of the century. He divides the book into several chapters, such as “A New Art Form.” “The Golden Age” (which for him was 1910-1919) and the “Cavalcade of Color.” In each chapter he allows artists including, Milton Caniff, John Hart, Leonard Starr to leave their comments about the era.

Charles Schulz: When people talk about "putting meaning" into comic strips, too often they mean political meaning or refer to crime. In the first case, it seems to me that the meaning is directed into too narrow an area; in the second, it deals with something which plays a relatively minor role in the lives of most people.
It is surprising, therefore, that so many cartoonists working in such a marvelously flexible medium have not dealt more closely with the real essential aspects of life such as love, friendship, and day-to-day difficulties of simply living and getting along with other people.
Comic strip language is notoriously simple, and, of course, this is understandable when one considers the small space to which we are confined in the newspaper. As strips have been reduced in size, due to newsprint shortage and other such difficulties, dialogue has been reduced and real conversations have all but disappeared.

Lack of space, however, is not the only reason for this. I believe that a more important reason is simply a lack of desire and imagination. One of the most delightful aspects of life is conversation. Talking with a new friend, discovering new ideas, and learning about each other can be one of the great experiences of life.

Good writers know this and make use of it in other media. I have been trying to introduce this into the Peanuts strip for the past several years because I feel it is an area that has not been well cultivated.

Dark Horse, in 2011 published an updated and totally redone version of this book. of this one entitled, “Jerry Robinson’s The Comics, An Illustrated History of Comic Art 1895-2010.” Wow, this a very different book, in full color throughout. There is so much added, including the strips that gained popularity since the first addition  such as Doonesbury.  Robinson, in the second edition also touches on certain themes that were taboo in the past, such as the integration of comics, an important subject.

After Robinson's volume, comic books would no longer be dismissed.  Pierre Couperie’s “A History of the Comic Strip” (1968), was written with Maurice Horn. This book doesn’t just reference comic strips that were American, it acknowledges and explains the European influence on the media. This had been ignored in most other books, including the ones I presented in the introduction. For some reason, the progression of comic illustrated storytelling is most often presented as a totally American art form, and creators consistently looked to England to have their efforts validated partially because of an inferiority complex and because Europe had developed their own comics. To fully understand the evolution comic books this book takes us to the mid 1800s. Rodolphe Topffer, a Frenchman, was an early innovator of the comic strip and he was able to foresee the future: the “comic book” and the “graphic novel:” In describing the comic book as a novel he wrote:
The drawings without their text, would have only a vague meaning; the text, without the drawings, would have no meaning at all. The combination of the two makes a kind of novel, all the more unique in that it is no more like a novel than it is like anything else.”

Topffer understood that the drawings and the text must be symbiotic. Some may dispute this, but it makes no difference whether the text is in balloons or at the bottom of the page. What is important is that they are dependent on each other, not where they are placed.

This scan is from "Rodolphe Topffer, The Complete Comic Strips" Compiled, Translated and Annotated by David Kunzle. University Press of Mississippi, 2007. $65 on Amazon

Les Daniels authored,“Comix, A History of Comic Books in  America” in 1971. By today’s standards, this would not be considered great reprint book. It is in black and white, with a small color section, and the comic pages printed two on a page that had to be turned 90 degrees to read. But it was truly a gold mine then of Golden Age material. Daniels fully discusses the history of comic BOOKS. Of course, he leads off with what will become the obligatory essay on the Yellow Kid (featured at the beginning of all books about comics), but he swiftly gets into Superman, comic books and the Golden Age. He doesn’t just discuss the well known characters such as Batman, but he discusses Blackhawk and Chop-Chop, The Spirit and Ebony, Captain Marvel and Steamboat Willie, and many others. Daniels writes about the genre of Funny Animals, which he calls Dumb Animals, and the 1960s and 1970s Underground comics. He also examines EC comics and crime comics, such as Lev Gleason’s “Crime Does Not Pay” that led up to them. The book contains many stories and, finally, a Crime Does Not Pay tale is one of them.

Daniels writes: “Gleason and Biro also brought a new and very controversial slant to comic books with Crime Does Not Pay. Beginning in 1942, this comic book featured factual accounts of conflicts between criminals and the law. In a broad sense, this was the same theme the superheroes had explored. Conflict is, after all, the basis of plot, but Crime Does Not Pay, minus the fantasy element, really sharpened the impact. The tone was sternly, even dogmatically realistic, and grim details were never lacking. The story reprinted here, "Baby Face Nelson vs. The U. S. A." (No. 52, June 1947) represents this publication during its period of greatest popularity. The artwork is by George Tuska. It seems certain that the intention of this comic book was sincere; certainly its new approach was successful, as it gained huge circulation during the postwar years. Perhaps as a result of the mixed emotions it inspired, perhaps because comic books had been around long enough to gain general recognition, there were rumbling resentments against the industry as a whole.” 

These are not two pages put together by me, this is how the pages were printed, two on a sheet.
  Daniels then looks at the aftermath of the Comics Code and discusses how publishers tried to reinvent adult comics with Humbug and the Warren Publications titles of Creepy and Eerie. It would take until 2009 for Humbug to be reprinted. Creepy, which was widely available in the 1960s, began being reprinted in 2008 by Dark Horse.

On the left is a copy of the original page from Humbug #9, 1958. The image on the right is from the Humbug book from Fantagraphics, 2009.

This is as good a place as any to bring up this point. I know many of us are collectors and having the originals is a good thing. Many originals are worth a lot of money. But keeping and reading the reprint books do have a few advantages:

  • Often, the reprint books are clearer, sharper and just plain easier to read.
  • All the issues are in one place.
  • The books are not fragile like old comics. Old comics also may lose some value with use and they tear and stain easily.
  • They are cheaper than buying the originals. Further, if you like the comics and want to keep them to read, keep the reprints and sell the comics! Of course, for collectors, you’d only sell the comics you are not attached to.
  • Many dealers have told us that when a Masterwork or reprint comes out the comis in those titles go down greatly in value.
 Oh, yes, there is a chapter on Marvel!
 Sadly, Les Daniels died on Nov. 5, 2011, at his home in Providence, R.I. He was 68.

I don’t want to underestimate the importance of these volumes; they were the beginning of a long list of successful and interesting books about COMIC BOOKS! And the Golden Age!

 DC Travels from the 1930s to the 1970s

Bonanza Publishing published four books in 1971 that finally brought us back to the Golden Age of  Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel (Shazam). These three had volumes released which presented stories “From The 30s to the 70s.” Superman and Batman were DC characters; Captain Marvel was a creation of Fawcett Publications, purchased by DC. What a treasure it was to get these books! The volumes contained stories that were spread out over 30 years, mostly in black and white. There were some color features, (“36 Pages in Full Color”), but these older stories were just wonderful. The books presented many of the origin stories, not just of the heroes, but also of the villains such as the Joker, and the supporting characters, such as Alfred the butler. Some of the tales in the Batman volume (including his first appearance from Detective Comics #27, as well as the Alfred story referred to above) were reprints from anniversary and 80 page giant issues from the '60s, which had been traced from their original Golden Age printings.

The introductions, all by E. Nelson Bridwell, were very interesting. Perhaps the most compelling part of the books was to see how the characters changed, especially after the Comics Code was introduced. Batman, for example, became less dark and the stories got lighter. Superman became less of a wise-guy and more interplanetary.

This was an important reprint.  If you recall I wrote in chapter 3, The Great Comic Book Heroes that a lawsuit had prevented anyone from printing the Origin of Captain Marvel, or any other of his marvel tales.
Finally, I get to read his complete origin!
 All in color for $11. Bonanza Books in 1976 also gave us “Secret Origins of the Super DC Heroes.” At first glance, I was happy to see another book that had Golden Age stories in it. Sadly, there were far too many Silver Age origin stories, including Superman from 1975. Many of the Golden Age origins, including the ones of the Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel and Batman had shown up in other reprints, including the The Great Comic Book Heroes.  This book of secret origins had previously “unreprinted” stories from Batman #47, and the Golden Age origins of Green Arrow, Hawkman and the Atom.  Carmine Infantino wrote the introduction.

 When published, these were the only Golden Age reprints available in bookstores. They were placed in the "Humor" section. And, with two exceptions, it would remain that way for the rest of the decade.

The next book of Golden Age reprints to be found in bookstores during the 1970s was probably more famous for its introduction than its stories. Gloria Steinem, a leader for the civil rights for women, wrote the introduction to Wonder Woman, typing her into the ongoing “woman’s movement.” She wrote that Wonder Woman “symbolizes many of the values of the woman’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream.” Ms. Steinem never mentions bondage as one of their goals.

Here's another small detour from the book store. By the mid 1970s, Comic Book Stores were becoming  common. Soon there would be 10,000 of them, now we have less than 3,000.  Since they had more space for comic book related material, more reprint comics began to come out. Marvel was now regularly publishing, Where Monsters Dwell, Beware and other comics featuring stories from their 1950s Atlas Era. By the mid 1970s about 25% of Marvel’s output were reprints. None were from their Golden Age of the 1940s.

As the new Comic Books stores opened they all had their own price lists, which would later be called price guides. These lists were rexographed or mimeographed using the cheapest forms of reproduction available at the time. The lists were not made to last long, their inventory and pricing changed almost daily. Their lists became invaluable, revealing important information!

In 1979 and 1980 DC gave us a taste of the Golden Age with three trade paperbacks: America and War, Mysteries in Space and Heart Throbs. These comics feature the “best” of war, science fiction and romance comics respectively. The volumes also featured complete checklists for their respective genres.

Not all the stories were from the Golden Age of the 1940s and early 1950s, some were Silver Age Tales.
But we are running out of space, so I have to divide this topic into two chapters. Too bad, I won't have the space to explain the importance of the next two panels to our voyage of discovery until next time. 

Or how a few stamped, self-addressed envelopes began to uncover the mysteries of the Golden Age.

So now go to part II!


  1. Things are really beginning to heat up now, Barry. Roll on the next instalment. I'm surprised you haven't had more comments about these labours of love, but I'm sure your readers are appreciating them none-the-less.

  2. Thanks Kid, and thanks for you help again.

    I notice people respond on other sites, I guess they are shy about responding here. I am very interested in finding our about their experiances, especailly those in other countries.

  3. Wonderful. The original Steranko history, though, did not have the title on the cover. That was added for later printings.

    I just recently sold my copy of the Batman volume. Never had or even saw the Wonder Woman or Secret Origins volumes.

    I can't tell you how influential ALL IN COLOR...was for me! I was able to tell Dick Lupoff a few years back though, and Don Thompson some years before that.

    Here's a piece I published 6 years back on a few of my influences. http://booksteveslibrary.blogspot.com/2006/01/comic-book-books.html


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