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History of American Comics: Bronze Age

An on-line supplement meant to enhance the History of American Comics lecture offered by Public Services Librarian Matthew Morrison in honor of National Comic Book Day.

History Of American Comics - The Bronze Age

Challenge Of The Comics Code Authority!

Amazing Spider-Man #96 CoverIn 1971, Marvel Comics was approached by the US Department of Health Welfare and Education about doing a story in Amazing Spider-Man that showed the dangers of drug abuse. Stan Lee was all for it, but the CCA rules prohibited any kind of depiction of drug abuse, even if the intent was to educate readers as to why it was bad! Marvel bet that the good publicity from publishing an anti-drug storyline would offset any loss of sales by publishing a non-CCA approved comic. The gamble paid off and a larger controversy arose over how the CCA guidelines were preventing anti-drug information from being published.

Conan The Barbarian #1 CoverThis led to the first major revision of the CCA and a Renaissance of sorts as genres besides superheroes became fair game once again. There was a horror comics boom, as the new CCA guidelines allowed for vampires and other monsters depicted in a manner consistent with classic literature and folklore. There was a similar boom for fantasy comics, since heroes could now wield previously forbidden weapons and actually kill their enemies. This led to Tomb of DraculaConan the Barbarian and Warlord becoming some of the most popular comics of the era.

Copyright Information

All Images on this page are the property of their respective copyright owners and are used for a scholarly purpose under the guidelines defined by 17 U.S.C. § 107: Fair Use.

Representation Matters!

Luke Cage Hero For Hire #1 CoverAs the Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement advanced through the 1970s, so too did the comic book industry attempt to diversify itself. Of course there had been superheroines and minority superheroes before but a greater effort was made to give these characters their own comics instead of limiting them to guest roles or supporting roles in other titles.

Luke Cage (aka Power Man) became the first black hero to get their own solo comic in 1972. Captain America began sharing his monthly comic with the Falcon, after the two heroes formed a partnership in 1974. Black Lightning would become the first black hero at DC Comics to get a solo comic series in 1977.

Giant-Size X-Men #1 CoverWomen didn't get quite as fair a shake, as superhero comics were still seen as a boys-only market at the time. Most of the new female characters introduced at this time were derivative of male heroes (i.e. Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel) and their solo adventures were usually confined to anthology comics, like Batgirl in Detective Comics

Still, this was a step forward, and several unique heroines began to emerge during this period. Ironically enough given the title, one of the best series in this regard was Uncanny X-Men, which introduced new heroes like Storm, Shadowcat and Rogue.

Enter... The Direct Market!

Dazzler #1 CoverAnother important innovation that came from this time period was the beginnings of the Direct Market, where large distributors worked directly with the comic publishers to distribute comics. Before the Bronze Age, comics were largely sold at newsstands and grocery stores through the same distributors that handled magazines. These distributors were less than reliable, however, and it was all but impossible for collectors to be assured of finding their favorite books.

This gave rise to the first comic book specialty stores that focused on selling comic books to collectors. It also led the publishers to begin selling books that were only avaialble through direct market specialty stores, with Marvel's Dazzler #1 being the first in 1981. In time, the distributors catering to the speciality stores began to merge, with most of them being bought out by Diamond Distributors in the 1990s. Today, Diamond enjoys a virtual monopoly overseeing comic book distribution in the United States.