During the Great Depression and World War II, most Americans wanted to find happiness in anything. Throughout this era, there were not many places people could find happiness; so they began looking for entertainment in books. However, these were not just any ordinary types of books; they were indeed comic books.
Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was the founder of the first comic magazine, which was called New Fun. Although his comic did poorly, Malcolm was able to create a company called Detective Comics. The company was able to create a new magazine called Action Comics, founded in 1937.1 But before Malcolm was able to publish the new magazine, he fell into bankruptcy. Disregarding his personal setback, the company carried on without his involvement. The first issue in Action Comic was published in 1938. The comic consisted of an abnormal man who had incredible strength and wore a skintight suit, commonly known as Superman. In the span of a year, Superman had received his own book title and sold over 1.2 million copies per issue. It later became a radio show in 1940, opening with the phrase “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s…Superman!”2 Eventually other publishers began developing their own superheroes as well. The second comic, which was produced in 1939, is the now popularly known comic series Marvel Comics. By 1940’s Superman was joined by other heroes such as: the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, Batman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman.3 In fact, Wonder Woman was meant to represent the importance of women in the war effort. During the boom of new superheroes being created, Superman was still the most popular of them all.
Unfortunately the comic industry was attacked by educators, psychiatrists, journalist, and even the federal government. They believed comics had no beneficial outcomes for society; instead of bringing entertainment, they were promoting ideas of violence and crime. They also believed that not only did the comics bring harmful thoughts to young minds, but the thin paper was supposedly destroying their eyesight.4 Despite the numerous complaints, Congress took no legal action against the publishers of the books. With this incident, it helped create a trade system, known as the Comic Codes, to help prevent indecency in the industry.5
No one could have guessed that comic books would have created some issues for years to come. For example, various art teachers discovered that the students who disliked and were performing poorly in art class, were the same students who had an interest in comic books; they were often getting into trouble for sketching comics instead of paying attention.6 The students wanted to get away from reality and what better way to do so than by creating your own story-line in a comic book?
That is the whole reason comic books were created, to help distract people from the tough times they were experiencing in life. That is why most people enjoyed them, because they wanted to escape reality by reading about situations that could never happen in real life, by flooding the minds of people of all ages with imagination. It is not hard to see why Americans would be very entertained by the concept of superheroes; they were created to help prevent disasters and to comfort those who were frightened by real-world events. For that reason this era was the perfect time for comic books to emerge. Some people were opposed to them, but in general they helped society in several ways. Although comics may not be as popular as they once were, it gave Americans a new world to discover, even if it was just imaginary.