The ‘Golden Age’ of comics is one of the widest ranging eras in terms of years covered (spanning from 1938 until the mid-1950s); it was also one of the most diverse in terms of the number and kinds of genres and sub-genres published. The Golden Age was the period when comic books rapidly gained in popularity and first started to attract regular readers, some of whom later became collectors. If you’re at all interested in Golden Age comics, then this post is for you.
I’ve actually begun to get more interested in Golden Age comics as time goes by. Over the last few years, I’ve also started picking up more titles from that era. Like a lot of people who grew up reading and collecting modern comics (and by modern I mean from Bronze Age, 1970s era, and up), for a long time I was intimidated by the Golden Age. But if, like me, you just love comics, and if you’ve been collecting for more than a few years, you’ll eventually want to expand your horizons and start reading or collecting these older comics that are simultaneously so different and yet so familiar.
Golden Age comics, that is to say, are in many ways similar to the comics we read and love today but with their own style and quirks that make them very attractive to some collectors.
If you want to seek out and actually purchase some of these books, how would you go about it?
Well, to start, as with all things, make sure you do your homework and know what you’re buying. This means knowing what makes any particular book a Golden Age title.
This leads to the first question newbie collectors need to answer when beginning to explore the GA: what makes comics from this era distinct?
Let’s start with the name. The title “Golden Age” is not one that signifies incredible value or higher cost; nor very often does it signify superiority – either in terms of artistic or of narrative content. Albeit the appellate ‘Golden” can, in an almost intimidating way, suggest objects ‘out of reach’ or even ‘mythical’. Nonetheless, as a quick search on eBay immediately confirms, nothing could be further from the truth. Many Golden Age titles are bought and sold; available for collectors in many different grades.
GA books, although scarcer and less common than later era titles -especially in high grade or decent condition- have still been preserved and occasionally can be purchased for the same price, or sometimes even less, than select Silver or Bronze Age comics.
So, the first step to take in exploring the Golden Age is: don’t let stories of Nicholas Cage selling his copy of Action Comics #1 for over 2 million dollars fool you into thinking that every Golden Age book will cost you six figures.
But if ‘Golden Age’ doesn’t mean most important or valuable, where does the term come from? Glad you asked: the origin of the classification of these books as “Golden Age”, surprisingly, does not go back not to the 1930s (when the first Golden Age comics were actually published) but actually dates to 1960.
According to Ken Quattro citing Bill Schelly, “The first use of the words “golden age” pertaining to the comics of the 1940s was by Richard A. Lupoff in an article called “Re-Birth” in COMIC ART #1 (April 1960).” (see here).
But a term is just a term: recognizing what the term signifies is what makes a collector knowledgeable. Under the term Golden Age, we can list all the comics published between 1938 and 1955 or so. These were comics published by big name (DC, Timely, EC, Quality) and smaller publishers. Some of these titles are absolute classics (Action Comics, Detective Comics, etc), some feature corny content or imitations of pulp fiction themes. The genres popular in the GA ranged from: Superhero to War, Horror to Western, Romance to Crime comics and a variety of Science Fiction titles. Like other ages, the GA had its famous artists, many classic covers were produced and persistent themes showed up again and again.
In future posts, I want to share my own GA hunting experience. I’ll also try to highlight the themes and qualities that attract collectors of the GA, as well as examine some of the more controversial and rare issues and titles out there from the Golden Age of comics.