The Eras of Comics and Cartoons

Blurring the line between comic books and comic strips

As early as 1970, comic book collecting as a hobby became extremely popular. Over the years, “comic-dom” has grown, matured, and become more knowledgeable. Specific periods of time have been broken down into eras. These eras, based on historical events, milestones, or trends, have been given names that today are commonly used and accepted terms associated with the comic book collecting culture.

But what about comic strips?

When funny animals were popular in the pages of comic books, Pogo was appearing in the newspaper. When westerns were the genre of choice in comic books… Barney Baxter strapped on his six-shooter. When Superman, Batman, Captain America, and Namor battled Hitler… Barney Google, Snuffy Smith, and Tailspin Tommy were right there with them.

The truth is, upon further examination and study, most scholars will determine that there is very little difference In the eras of these two closely related art forms as both are a direct reflection of the times and cultures of the period.

As evidence of this fact, I have attempted to define these eras below as they relate to both comic books and comic strips.

The “Pioneer-Age” (1500 – 1828)
The best definition of the term “comic strip” comes from a book by David Kunzle called “The Early Comic Strip: Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c. 1450 to 1825”. He defines the term “comic strip” as “a mass produced series of narrative images printed either on a single sheet, or else strung across several sheets…”. Using this definition, the ancestors of the modern comic strip can be traced back to the early 1500’s. Original art examples from this era are considered NON-EXISTENT to EXTREMELY RARE.

The “Victorian-Age” (1646 – 1900)

The “Platinum-Age” (1883 – 1937)
In 1895, The New York World, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, begins publishing a series of comics by Richard Outcault taking place in Hogan’s Alley, and featuring a boy in a yellow nightshirt who becomes known as “The Yellow Kid.” Rudolph Dirks’ The Katzenjammer Kids appears for the first time in the New York Journal on December 12, 1897. In 1905, Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay, begins running in the New York Herald. In 1907, Mutt and Jeff becomes the first successful daily comic strip. In 1913, Krazy Kat, which originated as filler drawings at the bottom of The Dingbat Family, is spun off into its own strip by writer and artist George Herriman. In 1919, Frank King’s Gasoline Alley begins. In 1924, Harold Gray begins Little Orphan Annie, a tale of rags to riches… to rags, to riches, and back again. In 1930, Chic Young begins Blondie. She marries Dagwood in 1933. That same year, Funnies on Parade, a collection of reprinted newspaper comic strips, is given away as an advertising promotion. In 1934, Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates begins. In 1937, the first issue of Detective Comics is released by the company that will eventually be named DC Comics (DC is an abbreviation for “Detective Comics.”). Original art examples from this era are considered EXTREMELY RARE.

The “Golden-Age” (1938 – 1945)
It is universally accepted that the “Golden-Age” of comic books began in 1938 with the publication of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman. A year later, “The Bat-Man” made his debut in the pages of Detective Comics #27. Also in 1939, Timely Comics releases Marvel Comics #1, which features the first appearances of Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch. Timely would eventually be renamed Marvel. DC introduces The Flash, a superhero who can run faster than the speed of light and in 1940, Alan Scott becomes the Green Lantern. That same year, Dale Messick’s Brenda Starr debuts in newspapers. In 1941, Steve Rogers is given super-soldier serum, becoming Captain America. DC introduces Wonder Woman, and a red-headed teenager named Archie Andrews makes his first appearance in Pep Comics. Original art examples from this era are considered VERY RARE.

The “Atom-Age” (1946 – 1955)
After World War II, the need for superheroes dwindled and culturally, we turned our eyes skyward and embraced Science Fiction. Funny Animal, Jungle Adventure, Western, Romance, War, and Horror comics were also very popular during this time. The later genre, made even more horrific by EC Comics, led to the invention of the Comics Code Authority in 1954. This era also saw the birth of quite possibly the most important, best-loved comic strip of all time… Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz in 1950. Dennis the Menace debuts in 16 newspapers on March 12th, 1951. Original art examples from this era are considered RARE.

The “Silver-Age” (1956 – 1969)
The superhero revival begins in 1956 with the publication of Showcase #4, the first appearance of the “Silver-Age” Flash. This era also gave birth to the “Marvel-Age” of comics beginning with the publication of The Fantastic Four from Marvel Comics in 1961. In 1969, Warren Publishing introduced comic-dom to a scantily clad blood-sucker named Vampirella. Original art examples from this era are considered EXTREMELY SCARCE.

The “Bronze-Age” (1970 – 1983)
The “Bronze-Age” begins in 1970 with the publication of Marvel Comics Conan #1, and the appearance of “Kirby’s Fourth World” published by DC Comics. Also in 1970, Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury begins appearing in daily newspapers. 1971 saw the debut of DC Comics Swamp Thing in House of Secrets #92. In 1974, Marvel Comics introduced Wolverine in the pages of The Incredible Hulk and in 1975, the adamantium-clawed Canadian joined Storm, Cyclops, Night-Crawler, Colossus, Banshee, Sunfire, and Thunderbird to form the new X-Men debuting in Giant-Size X-Men #1. In 1976, “The Battle of The Century” occurred when the first collaboration of Marvel and DC Comics “Superman VS The Amazing Spider-Man hit the stands. In 1977, Cerebus the Aardvark, by Canadian artist and writer Dave Sim, begins its 300 issue run. Cathy Guisewite introduces Cathy, a comic strip loosely based on her own life. Garfield begins his long nap in the nation’s newspapers in 1978. In 1979, the For Better or For Worse comic strip debuts and in 1980, we’re introduced to The Far Side and Bloom County. Original art examples from this era are considered VERY SCARCE.

The “Copper-Age” (1984 – 1991)
A new breed of writers and artists took center stage during the “Copper-Age”, and these “independent” publishers flooded the market with their typically “black & white” offerings. The “Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles” remains one of the few “independent” success stories of this era. Original art examples from this era are considered SCARCE.

The “Modern-Age” (1992 – Present)
If the “Copper-Age” of comics was to the independent publisher their “Golden-Age”, then the “Modern-Age” is their “Silver-Age”. A new publisher, Image Comics, took on the “big two” (Marvel and DC Comics) with the publication of Spawn #1 which sold over 1.7 million copies. The “Modern-Age” also gave readers “The Death of Superman” courtesy of DC Comics.

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