Golden Age of Comic Books
The Golden Age of Comic Books was the first period in which comics emerged as a popular and successful art form in the United States.
Development of superheroes
The Golden Age of comic books was the period during which a generation of writers and artists defined many conventions of form and genre that remain today. The character of the Superhero was created and popularised and the format of the single-character comic book was born.
Comic books changed from being compilations of re-printed daily newspaper comic strips to new titles featuring original material, specially written and drawn for the new format. There is much debate as to when the Golden Age officially started, but for many experts it begins with the publication of Action Comics #1 by Detective Comics Inc in April 1938. It was the first appearance of Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster’s character Superman, and its popularity changed the comic book market.
Suddenly there were superheroes in every new title, and the genre dominated the market. Between early 1939 and late 1941, Detective Comics (later known as DC Comics) and its affiliate All-American Comics introduced a range of superheroes including Bob Kane’s Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman, and Aquaman.
Although superheroes dominated a large part of the comic book market, other genres also found success. Comic books based on popular Disney characters sold millions of copies, along with titles based on established characters such as Tarzan and Roy Rogers. Western-themed comic books were successful, along with those focusing on World War II.
The now-famous cover of Captain America #1 featured the character punching Adolf Hitler in the face, despite the fact that he did not appear in the actual story. At the time the U.S were not at war, but a number of artists felt that the country should be involved and many superheroes fought enemies with parallels to the Nazis. Once the U.S joined the war the market was flooded by titles in which the villains were portrayed by the Axis Powers.
End of the age
The end of World War II saw a drop in the popularity of the superhero genre, and many titles were cancelled. The market diversified into a wide range of genres, and sales fell. The market was rejuvenated in 1956 by the introduction of The Flash by DC Comics, and the subsequent period came to be known as the Silver Age of Comic Books.
Guide to Collecting
Comic books from the Golden Age are generally the most valuable and sought after by comic book collectors. Their age, rarity and importance to the genre mean that early issues for still-popular characters such as Superman, Batman and Captain America have sold for record prices in recent years. They have entered the realm of investment grade collectibles, and can be out of the price range for a lot of collectors.
A collector therefore needs some dedication and a certain amount of spare cash to focus on Golden Age comics, unless they get lucky and find a stash in the walls of their house, used as cheap insulation back in the 1930s.
The Golden Age also occurred during the Second World War, and many comics were recycled due to paper shortages, to be used for the war effort. This means that many Golden Age titles are quite rare.
It is a good idea to focus your collection on one publisher, writer, illustrator or character. This allows you to form a collecting goal and hunt down the copies missing from your collection.
You can find Golden Age comics at specialist comic book auctions, at comic book fairs and conventions, and through dealers and sites such as eBay.
Always make sure you are buying from a reputable dealer. Comic books are an area in which forgeries are quite difficult to accomplish, but not unheard of. Try to obtain a lifetime guarantee on every comic book you purchase.
A copy of Action Comics #1 (April 1938) featuring the first appearance of Superman sold for $1 million in February 2010 by ComicConnect, making it the most expensive comic book of all time.
It was broken for a third time the following month, when another copy of Action Comics #1 was sold, again by CommicConnect, for a price of $1.5 million. As of June 2011 it remains the most expensive comic book ever sold.
Other notable sales include:
- A copy of Batman #1 (May 1940) sold for $315,000 by dealer ComicLink in May 2010.
- The original 1942 artwork for the cover of Batman #11 by artists Fred Ray and Jerry Robinson, sold for $195,500 by Heritage in 2005
- A copy of Captain America #1 sold by Heritage in January 2006 for $96,686.25.