The comic book industry has become big business.
In 2000 domestic sales of the comics and graphic novels amounted to an estimated $265 million. Not bad? Well, fast forward sixteen years to the present day and that figure is now a whopping $870 million.
This is mainly due to the rise of the “superhero movie” craze beginning with X-men (2000) and Spiderman (2001). But let’s not give the films all the credit. The superhero’s natural habitat, the comic, has made some amazing strides itself in the past 100 years.
Today we will be looking at some of the most important moments over the past century and the comic books that highlight them.
Some of the comics will be impossible to collect unless you have the financial pulling power of a small country, but some you can pick up if you have a bit of cash and luck on your side.
Action Comics No. 1
Would any history of the comic book be complete without this?
This is the original comic, bringing to the world one of pop culture’s most enduring icons in Superman.
Recently a CGC 9.0 copy of the original comic (bought on a newsstand in New York for 10cents back in 1938) was purchased at auction for $3.4 million.
So I wouldn’t get your hopes up about adding this to your collection. This began the golden age of comics and saw the introduction to the vast majority of characters that we know and love today. To have any good quality comics from this era (late 1930’s to the mid 50’s) then you are doing well.
This comic is so special that there are reports of a film being made about the theft of Nicholas Cage’s copy of the comic.
Captain America No.1
Ok, so this is another one you’ll have a hard time purchasing.
With DC bringing out Action comics, it wouldn’t be right to mention the comic that really helped to launch Marvel.
The history of this comic is pretty interesting. Normally a new superhero character is launched in an annual so that the company can gauge their popularity before even considering them for a solo outing. But that was not the case with Captain America. With WWII looming over Europe and the atrocities the Nazi’s were committing against the Jewish population, two Jewish American creators coined Captain America to weigh in.
The comic launched a few months before the attack at Pearl Harbour. It was attributed for instilling young men with the confidence to sign up to the army.
Le Journal de Tintin
Before the rise of American comics, Europe was the hub of sequential art.
Franco-Belgian comics (or bandes dessinées) held a stylistic depth over its American counterparts. Predating both of our previous entries is Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin.
However, the origins of Tintin are not as noble. Originally commissioned for use in a decidedly right-wing newspaper “Le Vingtième Siècle” in Belgium, Tintin initially was a vehicle for the fascist ideologies of the newspaper until it was shut down in 1940 by the Nazi’s.
Hergé altered Tintin to appease the new German management that saw the absence of political themes.
It was only until 1946 that Hergé was able to use his characters as he saw fit, free from the ideology of others and it was then that Tintin really came into his own.
However, the early strips from “Le Vingtième Siècle” and “Le Soir” as well as copies of Tintin’s early adventures from the 30’s are immensely valuable, even if they are somewhat controversial now.
“Dog carcass in the alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach”.
Thus opens Alan Moore’s 1986 masterpiece Watchmen and the beginning of the self styed “Dark Age” of comics.
Watchmen is not only a great comic, but an important piece of literature.
Even being so influential as to get included on the Time’s most important 100 books of all time.
Dealing with many weighty issues and portraying violence in a much grittier way compared to the clean cut nature of most superhero comics. The best news about this is that there are still copies of the original run around. Some for as little as $50, so keep your eye out for it as it is most definitely an achievable addition to one’s collection.
When Karen Berger was given the reigns of a new branch of DC called VERTIGO.
Few could have predicted the monumental importance of her place in comic history.
Vertigo’s nuance was to publish comics that were too adult for the mainstream. Berger encouraged writers who wanted to use the medium to tell stories of weight and significance. Titles like Preacher, Hellblazer, Fables, Y: The last man and our previous entry Watchmen were given a platform to be heard. But when Berger convinced Neil Gaiman to bring Sandman to life she played her part in the making of one of the greatest series of all time.
Starting off as a horror title using one of DC’s defunct characters, Gaiman breathed new life into the story. He gave complete control over the story was able to expand it in new directions that transcend any notion of what you thought a comic could be. 75 issues later the series had achieved legendary status. Winning the world fantasy award (the only comic to do so) as well as numerous other awards.
An original printing of issue #1 in good condition can set you back upwards of $100 but 2nd printings are quite common (I have one).
A controversial but necessary look at the horrors of the holocaust.
Art Spiegelman’s interpretation of his father’s life during the Second World War as a Jew is most famous for its depictions of Jews and Nazi’s.
The former being represented as anthropomorphic mice and the latter cats.
Spiegelman plays on the notion that Jews were “vermin” to the Nazi’s. But there is nothing childish about the horrors of what transpired in Auschwitz. And the comic does not shy from the harrowing nature of its subject matter. Collecting Maus is simultaneously easy and difficult.
Spiegelman struggled to find a publisher after he had published the first few chapters. Until Pantheon Books collected the first half in a volume entitled “Maus, my father bleeds history”.
So collecting the books is very easy but the original comics are very difficult to find. Chapter one was published in a magazine called “RAW” in issue 2.
If you can get a hold of that, it would cement you as a collector of distinction. Since it is so rare, it is difficult to put a price on how much that would cost. Abut I think it would be fair to say a lot!
So there you have it, some of the medium’s most important moments. Of course there are so many that could have made this list, and hundreds more from personal preference. Whether you are a hard core collector or an amateur looking out for that frontispiece to spearhead your collection, I hope you found it here.