Thursday, October 21, 2021

Real Heroes


Mark Arnold invites feedback and controversy with his version of the breakdown for comic book eras.


Since I’m not a fan of super-hero comics and am more of a fan of humor and children’s comics, I made some adjustments to the designations of the “Ages” of comics that exist in reality, rather than conforming to the Bob Overstreet opinion that every other comic book collector seems to have latched onto.

Golden Age: 1933-1954

To me, the defining moment when comic books changed course was in 1954. I don’t subscribe to the fact that a particular genre or character defines an “age.” This process discounts (as usual) the non-superhero genres and just takes into account such accidental “events” such as the debut of Martian Manhunter as the beginning of something new. My criteria for this age is that it is the only age where all comics were unregulated or uncensored. Similar to film when they developed the Hays office and later the MPAA ratings designations, the introduction of the Comic Book Code Authority stamp in late 1954 signaled the end of what was. Mainstream comic books could no longer publish whatever they wanted. And unlike early attempts by Archie and EC, this was the code that was accepted by all publishers (save Western/Dell/Gold Key), and signaled the end to many comic book companies, namely EC and Fawcett.

Silver Age: 1954-1969

I cannot accept an arbitrary price increase as the end of the Silver Age. If it was, then the end of the Silver Age should be 1961, when comics raised their price for the first time ever that year. My Silver Age was going to go all the way until 1982, but comic books had a substantial cosmetic change when the 60s became the 70s. After careful thought, I acquiesced, only because 1970 was the year of the first Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, forever legitimizing comic book collecting as a serious hobby. To this day, advertisers in the Guide are still looking for pre-1970 comics (although admittedly in recent years that has been upped to pre-1975 if only to include X-Men #94), and comics published after 1969 are generally regarded as readily available and in plentiful supply in top conditions, compared to years prior.

Bronze Age: 1969-1982

My Bronze Age ends at the time where comics shifted dramatically from being available in every mom and pop drug, liquor, and grocery store, to being direct marketed to stores devoted solely to comic books, which had been popping up during the 70s. The result: all-new comics were now readily available in collectible condition, about 3-4 weeks in advance of the non-comic stores. 

Also around this time, Harvey, Fawcett (Dennis the Menace), Charlton and Gold Key/Whitman were all winding down their publishing schedules. And the first major changes in paper stock and pricing across the board by publishers happened at this time. Finally, the beginning of Pacific Comics, which was the first to utilize the direct market solely, and the first to offer creator-owned publications.

Direct Age: 1982-1997

During this age, comics were booming again! Thse were the years of many comic book “events” such as Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Wars, Zero Hour, and various Who’s Who and index type series targeted specifically to the comic book fan.  More #1 issues came out at this time than at any other time in comic book history, thanks mainly to publishers like Harvey, who felt #1 meant sales, and others like Archie and Marvel, who felt that renumbering everything with #1 meant that collectors could now “collect” all the issues. 

Word to all publishers: at this point I only respect and admire comic books that have retained their original numbering from the beginning. Starting over at #1 should be relegated only to the Groo series.

Internet Age: 1997-?

With events like the death of Superman and multiple X-Men covers, it seemed that comic books were invulnerable. Ah, but invulnerability is what breeds “Ages.” Each Age that I defined above corresponded with a particular “event” that caused publishers to rethink what they were doing. Comic books continue to lumber along, but the Internet has killed a huge chunk of the market share. The industry has been verrryyy slow to react, and as a result, the final deaths (so it seems) have occurred for Harvey and Disney; while Archie, DC, Marvel, Bongo, Dark Horse and Image remain the mainstream survivors to date. New types of marketing and promotion have yet to see the light, and time will tell if the “No Comics at All Age” will happen…

What do you think?

Mark Arnold is a comic book and animation historian and a writing, art, and film/video production professional. He writes comic books and articles on comic books and animation for various publications in addition to scripts, short stories and novels. He is also skilled in sales, marketing and promotion, and has film and TV production experience with digital video, video tape, and film. He has many online websites including Fun Ideas, Mark's Rare Comics, The Harveyville Fun Times!, So Rare!, and Food Shop. He also writes an (almost) daily blog and writes and draws a weekly comic strip called Protecto, the Little Robot. For the curious, Mark can be reached online at Whew!

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