Learn about the history of comics from the 60s to the present as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Ascension Parish Library! You can check out these titles at one of our four branches or from one of our online platforms. Go to myapl.org to find them. Recommendations and comic history by Willie Nettles.
Also this month, come to the library to pick up one of our Comic Book Fun packets. Packets will be available starting on September 21, 2020. Inside you will find instructions and materials you will need to create your very own comic book, as well as a TV bingo sheet. Use the bingo sheet to play TV bingo while you watch an Inspector Gadget cartoon episode on Hoopla. Check out our Comic Book Fun YouTube video at youtube.myapl.org to learn
Due to a senate hearing where comics were said to cause juvenile delinquency, crime and horror comics fell out of fashion in the sixties. The comic industry reeled to try and keep up. DC Comics reintroduced some of their classic characters with a new science fiction twist. Green Lantern’s ring and lantern became weapons for an intergalactic police force instead of a magical lamp, and he, along with other new science fiction characters, formed the Justice League instead of the Justice Society. Meanwhile at DC’s competition, Marvel men like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby believed that more relatable, flawed characters would be the ticket to sales, and they turned out to be right. Humor comic books and comic strips were still doing well in the new ‘silver’ age of comics, and The Peanuts was becoming so famous it would land on the cover of Time Magazine.
In the 70s, a lot changed in the comic book world. Comic book titan Jack Kirby left Marvel and moved over to DC where he found great success with series like The New Gods and Superman’s Best Pal Jimmy Olsen. DC also got the rights to publish the Shazam comics that had been some of Superman’s biggest competition in the past. Other DC books like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow began dealing with the modern world in more direct ways. Meanwhile, at Marvel Comics a focus began on diversity as a team of X-Men from across the world were recruited to save the original five X-Men from a living island in Giant Size X-Men #1, marking the first appearance of many popular characters like Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. Marvel also found a surprising amount of success publishing tie-in comics to go along with the Star Wars movies.
Crossovers where a single story takes place between multiple comics are huge money makers for comics. That storytelling tradition is often linked back to 80s comics. Marvel launched Secret Wars in an attempt to help sell toys, and it didn’t take long for DC comics to launch their own crossover, Crisis on Infinite Earths, the next year. Teams of teenage superheroes started to see a lot of success with series like Infinity Inc., Legion of Superheroes, and Marv Wolfman’s masterfully crafted New Teen Titans series. Wendy Pini would gain so much fame for her independent fantasy series ElfQuest that NASA would eventually ask her to design a patch to be taken aboard the space shuttle Columbia, making her creations the first comic-styled character in space.
If the 80s comics industry invented the crossover story, then it is arguable that the 90s comics industry perfected it. No Man’s Land saw Gotham cut off from the rest of society by an earthquake and forced to fend for itself. Maximum Carnage saw Spider Man teaming up with other heroes in New York and grappling with complicated moral questions. Death of Superman was sold alongside black mourning armbands to mark the heroes ‘passing’. Finally The Infinity Gauntlet told how all of Marvel comic’s heroes had to unite to stop Thanos from killing half the universe with an item of infinite power. All of these crossovers made lots of money for their respective companies, but still didn’t save Marvel from eventually declaring bankruptcy in 1996. However, independent comics like Jeff Smith’s Bone began to rise in popularity. Archie Comics, which were already bestsellers because they were selling so well on super market checkout aisles, decided to meet the new demand for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic that was more kid friendly than the originals had been.
In the 2000s, crossovers became an expected summer event. Planet Hulk, Blackest Night, House of M, Secret Invasion, and Marvel’s game-changing Civil War all quickly became classic stories for their respective companies. Meanwhile, DC decided to spend more time exploring comics that weren’t tied down by decades worth of continuity and story. Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman told a Superman story that was unrestrained by the character’s history that dated back to 1938. DC also put out their first weekly comic in decades. 52 was published every week for a year and told the story of what happened to the DC Universe for a year if Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman weren’t there to save the world.
In the 2010s, the push for more independent comic publishing really began to gather steam. Graphic novels that told self-contained stories became more readily available and let people publish stories without the assistance of huge comic book-exclusive publishers. Meanwhile big companies started to see value in appealing to an audience many felt they had left behind, girls and women. Series like Batgirl, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Ms. Marvel received far more critical success than female-led comics had in the past.