Comic strips paved path for heroes

By Don McAlavy: CNJ Columnist

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. The first part ran in the Jan. 25 Clovis News Journal.

The forerunner of the comic book was of course comic strips. Comic strips have been around as early as 1896. The first “comic book” was a collection of comic strips by Richard Outcault. He created “Yellow Kid” which ran in the New York American and in March of 1897 and facsimile newspaper strip reprint collection came out. (Yellow Kid gave rise to the term “Yellow journalism” meaning cheap or common.)

Commercial and promotional reprint collections, usually in cardboard covers, appeared through the 1920s and featured such newspaper strips as “Mutt and Jeff”, Foxy Grandpa”, “Buster Brown”, and “Barney Google.”

During 1922 a reprint magazine Comic Monthly, appeared with each issue devoted to a separate strip, and in 1929 George Delacorte published 13 issues of the Funnies in tabloid format with original comic pages in color, becoming the first four-color comic newsstand publication.

The “Big Little Books” came out in 1934. More Fun, published by National Periodical Publications in 1935, was the first comic book of a standard size to publish original material and they continued publication until 1949.

Mickey Mouse Magazine began in the summer of 1935 and in 1940 became Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. Walt Disney is a fine example of how a poor comic strip artist can balloon a simple mouse character into the world’s biggest family entertainment empire.

In 1937 the first non-reprint comic book devoted to a single theme was Detective Comics, an offshoot of More Fun. The book’s initials, “DC,” standing of course for Detective Comics, was owned by National Periodicals Publications. It is now owned by Warner Communications.

Then in 1938 DC’s Action comics No. 1. Writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster created Superman, inaugurating the “Golden Era” in comic book history. In 1939 the first episode of Batman by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, Superman Comics appeared. In 1940 DC Comics introduced Robin the Boy Wonder as a sidekick to Batman. Then Captain Marvel became the only superhero ever to surpass Superman in comic book sales. Shazam!

A year later All-Star created Wonder Woman. Archie Comics appeared the same year and it has remained popular for over 40 years. In 1961 the first Fantastic Four featuring Mr. Fantastic, The Human Torch, the Thing, and the Invisible Girl, inaugurated an enormously popular line of titles from Marvel Comics featuring a more contemporary style of superhero. In 1978 Warner Communications drastically cut back on the number of DC Comic titles and overhauled its distribution process.

I’m going to sit back and keep an eye on my son’s collection. Who knows, perhaps the fun in comics is collecting them. (My son Keevy, age 37, and I enjoy the comic strips of old, and some of the new ones.)

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: