2020 has proven to be the ultimate disruptor in life and the comic book biz. It's even given birth to the first new Age of Comics in almost 20 years! For your entertainment and edification, Sitcomics breaks down the 8 ages of comic books!
The Platinum Age - pre-1935
Publishers sell reprinted collections of newspaper cartoons with no original material.
The Golden Age - January 1935 to June 1947
January sees a new publisher National (later DC) debut with New Fun Comics #1 - the first 64 page periodical featuring all new material for a 10 cent cover price. A few years later, the same comic introduces Superman in Action Comics #1 to huge sales, ushering in the new superhero genre that spearheads massive industry growth. Kids become crazy for comics and new publishers arise hoping to entertain them. Disney, Dell, Archie and many others sell millions of funny animal and humor comics to young readers who call them "Funny Books."
The Atomic Age - July 1947 to November 1958
Comics begin decreasing page count to avoid raising prices. 52 pages for ten cents becomes 32 pages for ten cents. This desire to keep prices low eventually led to newsdealers losing interest in selling comics because they could make more money selling more expensive magazines. Postwar comics see an increase in darker, more mature content with most superheroes pushed aside for new genres for older readers like romance, true crime, western, war, more risque "good girl" titles and graphic horror. This adult content leads to backlash from conservative interest groups which leads to the creation of the industry's self-censoring comics code authority. Marvel experiences a distribution implosion, causing massive cuts to their publishing line and their Atlas imprint. Throughout the agel, funny animal and teen humor genres maintain dominance with younger readers while the rapid growth of television leads to a rapid increase of licensed titles based on TV shows.
The Silver Age - December 1958 to August 1970
As DC begins to find an audience for superheroes beyond Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, Marvel slowly recovers from implosion but with very strict limits on number of titles. Joe Maneely’s final work is published the same month Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko return to what was branded as Atlas Comics. With those creative pieces in place, Marvel tries to emulate DC's success with superheroes, arguably surpassing them by the end of the 60s. Marvel’s characters begin sellings millions of comics as well as getting deals for licensing of tie-in products and TV cartoons. The live action Batman series is a massive, if short-lived, hit showing the continued viability of superheroes in other media. Funny animal and teen humor continue to entertain younger readers.
The Bronze Age - September 1970 to April 1985
Kirby moves to DC as Marvel overtakes DC in sales for the first time Stan Lee gives way to younger wave of fans turned pro writers. Near the halfway point, DC suffers it’s own implosion and sees large cuts across its entire line. The success of licensed comics helps Marvel and DC as Star Wars, GI Joe, Micronauts and other movie and toy tie-ins become incredibly successful for their respective publishers. The birth of the direct market leads to new publishers and an increase in cover prices and paper quality. Newsstand sees sales drop as the most devoted customers move their business to comic shops. Longtime publishers of niche genre or kid-friendly titles including Harvey, Gold Key and Charlton are forced to shut down because they aren’t publishing what the specialty shops want to order for their aging customers. Marvel’s Secret Wars concludes the same month DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths begins. Inflation sees prices quadruple from 15 cents to 65 cents but direct market non-returnability renders this increase less important since retailers must order new comics to stay in business.
The Copper Age - May 1985 to August 2000
The direct market assumes dominance as what’s left of newsstand sales erode to near nothing. Black and white indie publishing era rides the success of Ninja Turtles then crashes even as the Turtles become international movie, TV and toy sensations. Adults become publisher’s main customer as kids become more interested in other entertainment such as video games, video tapes/DVDs and the growing internet. Indie publishing starts to get noticed as a talent farm as more publishers take advantage of comics’ relatively low cost of entry compared to movies and TV. Indie publishers become licensing machine as their own original content hit becomes hit movies like The Mask and Men In Black. Popular creators become more important than their characters. Star creators like Jim Lee, Frank Miller, Todd McFarlane and others take advantage of new creator-owned publishing deals with larger publishers or form their own imprints and self-publish (usually via Image). Comic prices more than triple again as mainstream publishers know retailers have to order their comics to stay in business and the higher cover prices equal increases in dollar share of market.
The Plastic Age - September 2000 to April 2020
Joe Quesada assumes EIC and the intended audience for comic book publishers moves from older readers to increasingly jaded retailers who make ordering decisions based on novelty and nostalgia. Higher cover prices mean most comics are purchased with credit cards instead of pocket change. Variant covers make it clear that the industry goal is to get retailers order as many copies as possible, regardless of whether any customers will ever read them. Marvel creates Marvel Unlimited to deter the rapid rise of digital piracy. Trade paperback and hardcover collections of every possible story arc whether important or not eat up more retailer dollars and move readers to order these collections via online retailers. Indie creators recruited to abandon house style of superhero writing and use postmodernism and decompression to make superhero comics feel more “real” and consistent with the massively popular film and tv versions of characters in the 2nd half of the Age. The easy access of digital content and collected editions lowers interest in readers collecting back issues to complete runs for reading. CGC creates a definitive set of parameters to increase value of key issues and key issues begin to dominate what’s left of the back issue market. Publishers add single issue reprints and facsimiles of those keys to get in on the frenzy. Scarcity of variant covers further fuels speculator market. The last vestiges of making mainline superhero comics that are appropriate for younger kids goes away completely.
The Pixel Age - June 2020 - present
Covid-19 shuts down industry for several weeks, leading DC to abruptly end their distribution partnership with Diamond Comics. The entertainment trend of corporations cutting out the "middle man" and selling their content direct to consumers via digital platforms begins to dominate corporate-owned comic book publishers. Marvel and DC cut costs by canceling print series and making them digital exclusives to keep pipeline of new comics flowing to their digital apps. Finally, in response to the binge culture popularized by online streaming services such as Netflix, Sitcomics introduces the Binge Book format which gives print readers a "greatest hits" of previous comic book ages giving the value of the Golden Age, the innovation and fun of the Silver Age, the story complexity of The Bronze Age and the printing quality of The Plastic Age. Having grown tired of the corporate-think guiding other publishers, readers of all ages embrace The Binge Book format, buying millions of copies of Sitcomics in a few short years!
(Okay, we took a few liberties with the last few sentences but the future is unwritten and we set lofty goals! You can it all happen by going to your local comic shop and buying copies of The Blue Baron, Super 'Suckers or our other Binge Books today!)