The comic book got its start in the United States in the 1800s. American newspapers published the serial known as “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck,” based on a comic novel created by Swiss artist Rudolphe Topffer. Newspaper comic strips became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with characters like The Yellow Kid, The Katzenjammer Kids, and Little Nemo in Slumberland.
Comic strips were soon published in magazines and then collected and published as books. In December of 1936, National Allied Publications published the first comic book with all-original content as opposed to reprinted newspaper comic strips, Detective Comics. The following year, the company published Action Comics #1, where Superman first appeared. This kicked off the Golden Age of comic book publishing, which lasted until 1950. National Allied Publications became Detective Comics. Marvel Comics was also established during this time. These pioneers of comic book publishing also came up with the term “Super Heroes,” which is actually a trademark term owned by both DC and Marvel.
In the 1940s and early 1950s, copyright infringement lawsuits were common in the comic book publishing industry. Publishers struggled over who owned the rights to the comic book characters—the artists and writers or the publishers? Publishers still deal with these issues today. Another issue that publishers faced in the 1950s was that comic books were being accused of causing juvenile delinquency. People started scrutinizing the comic books, particularly the ones in the horror and crime genres, and believed the violent and sexually suggestive content had a bad influence on children and teenagers. To address society’s concerns, comic book publishers teamed up to create the Comics Code Authority (CCA). The CCA was a self-regulating group that gave a Seal of Approval to comics that they deemed more wholesome for consumers.
The Silver Age came next, from the 1950s to early 1970s, in which The Fantastic Four, Thor, X-Men, and Spider-Man were introduced. Small, independent comic book publishers started to emerge, with alternative comic genres gaining ground, such as that of Robert Crumb. The Bronze Age ran from the 1970s to 1980s, which featured darker, more socially relevant plot lines than those of the past. Also, some publishers allowed creators to keep their copyrights. The 1980s began the Modern Age in comic books, which continues today. This era was kicked off by such creators as Alan Moore with Watchmen, Frank Miller in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and Neil Gaiman with his work The Sandman.
Marvel and DC are still going strong today, having branched out into other media such as television, film, and online platforms. There are independent publishing companies that are becoming powerful too, such as Image Comics, IDW Publishing, and Dark Horse. The growth of the Internet, mobile devices, and ease of access to digital publishing has enabled more people to create and publish their own comic books.