Welcome back as we continue our study of the history of comics. Check out part 1 and part 2.
Four Color Revolution
Newspaper comic strips in the U.S. were extraordinarily popular so it was only natural that they would make their way to book format. The Yellow Kid has the distinction for being the first comic strip but it was also the first comic book.
In 1897 The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats was published by G. W. Dillingham Company. It reprinted early Hogan’s Alley strips with text about The Yellow Kid and Outcault. On the back cover the term “comic book” was first used to describe the book.
A collection of comics from Puck magazine were compiled in Funny Folks in 1899. The Blackberries followed in 1901 and was the first full colored comic publication. Various other popular comic strips popped up in book form over the next few decades. Buster Brown, Mutt and Jeff, Bringing Up Father and Little Orphan Annie.
The very first monthly comic periodical arrived in 1922. Comics Monthly reprinted a different King Features title each month starting with Polly and Her Pals. It ran for a year.
Then in 1929 Dell Publishing began The Funnies, a 16 page tabloid periodical that lasted for a year. It offered all new material. Funnies on Parade (1933) came next and was offered as a promotional giveaway. Finally Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics and subsequently Famous Funnies, which republished existing comic strips, and original material starting with the second issue, was a huge success.
Not surprisingly Disney put out the 1931 comic magazine, Mickey Mouse Book which mixed comics and games, stories, and songs. Soon after the more comic book like The Adventures of Mickey Mouse was released soon after. Several other Mickey Mouse books preceded them.
The very first comic book to feature completely original material was Detective Dan, Secret Op. 48 by Norman Marsh (1933). It lasted only one issue but it shows the burgeoning medium ready to mature.
Without a doubt the most successful original comics of the early 30’s, during the height of the Depression, was Gulf Comic Weekly, a free giveaway at Gulf as stations. They ran The Uncovered Wagon, Curly and the Kids, and Smileage.
Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson on February 1935, New Fun Comics showed up at newsstands. Tabloid-sized (10″ x 15″) it was full of stories from veteran and new cartoonists showcasing all-new work or pieces rejected by other publishers. With issue #7 the name was changed to More Fun Comics and with issue #9 the comic was reduced in size to standard comic book size. Wheeler-Nicholson published New Comics a year later.
More and more titles appeared over the next few years. Tip Top Comics, Popular Comics, King Comics, The Comics Magazine, Detective Comics, and then…
Up, Up, and Away (To Super Sales)
Action Comics #1 exploded into popular consciousness in 1938. Superman and superheroes would change the face of comics for generations. (See our posts on the History of Superheroes here.)
There was one shining exception to the horde of superheroes, a red-headed teenager named Archie. What started as a filler story in a predominantly superhero title, Pep, Archie quickly moved into his own title, then other titles like Jughead, Reggie, and Betty and Veronica soon followed.
Still, Superheroes dominated the comic book industry. At least in America.
Meanwhile, Meanwhile Back in Europe.
The heroes in colorful tights didn’t have the same influence in Europe as they did in North America. Comedy and adventure were the reading choice of millions. Comics flourished all over the continent.
Tintin et les bandes dessinées
In 1929 in the magazine Le Petit Vingtième appeared a new comic strip by Georges Prosper Remi better known as Hergé. It was called Tintin au pays des Soviets (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets) and so started one of the most successful non-superhero comics of all time. Translated into more than 110 languages all over the world. What started as a satire of communism evolved into pure adventure and memorable characters.
Over the next 30 years comics in Belgium and France reached a level of respectability and acceptance unseen overseas. Titles such as Blueberry, Lucky Luke, Incal, Valérian and Laureline, and another international mega-hit, Asterix.
Asterix in France
Who would have thought a comedic adventure set in Julius Ceasar’s Roman Empire about two Gauls would be a huge hit? That’s exactly what happened in 1959 in Pilote magazine. Written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo Asterix was first serialized in Pilote then published in albums. It steadily grew in popularity and sales with each volume published. With Goscinny and Uderzo having passed Asterix is still being published today.
Stela is proud to be part of this long tradition. Part 4 continues next week.