By: Dave Gieber
The origins of the comic book are somewhat controversial
and perhaps the jury is still out on comic book history. So
lets go back to the cartoonish broadsheets of the Middle
Ages, which were parchment products, created by anonymous
woodcutters. These could have been the very beginnings of
the comic book.
As mass circulation of these broadsheets became possible,
they soon developed a market, particularly at public
executions, popular events for centuries (ugh), which drew
thousands of happy spectators. Many of these spectators
would invest in an artist's rendering of a hanging or
burning, and thus making a very lucky day for the
The broadsheet evolved into higher-level content as humor
was introduced. Eventually, all types of broadsheets
emerged, which were eventually bound in collections, the
prototype of the modern magazine and thus the comic book.
Magazines formatted like the popular Punch, an elegant
British creation, became the primary focus of documentary
accounts of news and events, fiction and humor.
One can see in Punch, the sophisticated evolution of a
comic book style, particularly in respect of the evolution
of comics in Great Britain. Still and all, from an
historical standpoint, the comic strip, and later the comic
book, stood in the alley, waiting to be born. And then some
say Great Britain's Ally Sloper's "Half Alley" was the
first comic book. This was a black and white tabloid that
had panels of cartoons mixed with a sliver of news; circa
Now while all this was going on in Great Britain, this
inching towards the comic book, the United States had its
own brand of evolution. Instead of magazines, US newspapers
took the lead in creating the comic book industry.
Newspapers, with their first steps, took their single image
gags and evolved them into multi-paneled comic strips. It
was during this period that William Randolph Hearst scored
a knockout with the Yellow Kid, which was actually printed
in yellow ink.
So where did the actual comic book begin? Some say it was
with reprints of Carl Schultz' Foxy Grandpa, from 1901 to
1905. Although others say it was Great Britain's Ally
Sloper's Half Alley. In 1902, Hearst published the
Katzenjammer Kids and Happy Hooligan in books with
For a time, the Yellow Kid himself was a top contender. But
it depends how rigid you are in your description of a comic
book. These examples, for sure, were predecessors to the
modern comic book, which exploded in the 1930's.
The Whitman Publishing Company, in 1934, became one of the
pre-launchers for the modern comic book. They published
forty issues of Famous Comics, which was a black and white
hardcover reprint. The first regularly published comic book
in the more recognizable modern format though, was Famous
Funnies. It featured such memorable characters as Joe
Palooka, Buck Rogers and Mutt and Jeff.
Superheroes as we know them today took a strong foothold in
the 1930's. In 1938, Max C. Gaines, who was one of the
comic industry giants, brought "Superman" to Dell Comics
publisher, Harry Donenfield.
Donenfield scored the comic coup of the century when he
published a story written by two teenagers, Jerry Siegel
and Joe Shuster- and so "Superman of Metropolis" (the title
of their short story they wrote in their own fanzine) was
born. Superman was to set a standard for comic book heroes
that persist to this day.
About the author:
Dave Gieber is the owner and editor of a website built
around one of his childhood passions. Learn the basic
essentials to comic book collecting success with this
free 5-day course:
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