So, you call yourself a comic buff? You’re a fan of the Avengers and Justice League, but how much do you know about the secret history of comics? It could be said that comics are as American as jazz, the banjo, and apple pie. Everyone seems to know about Batman, Superman, X-Men, and the Fantastic 4. But how much do you know about their creators?
Prepare to be enlightened! In this article, we will touch upon the most famous American comics of all-time as well as the recent documentary from AMC “Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics.”
Comics in America
While every American has at least heard of DC and Marvel, there are so many more great comic companies that hardly receive any attention these days. Harvey comics, who popularized characters such as Casper the friendly ghost, Dick Tracy, and Blondie in the 1950’s. EC Comics, launched in the 1940’s, responsible for such features as “MAD” and “Tales from the Crypt” which would become well-loved TV programs decades later. And Dell, the first real American comic company, created in 1929 and closed in 1974.
From “the big two,” DC and Marvel, to the lesser-known companies such as Chaos, EC, and Dell. Comics are now tightly woven into the fabric of American entertainment. Since 1934, DC Comics has been producing American superheroes from their headquarters in Burbank, California. Likewise, Marvel, their biggest competition, was founded five years later in New York City and has been spitting out the likes of Spider-Man and the X-Men.
Comics, initially, were exciting short stories loaded with moral lessons and aimed directly at children. Based off of the “funnies,” or micro comic strips which appeared in newspapers of the time, the comics of the early 20th century were primarily the product of entrepreneurs trying to earn a living through entertaining publishing.
Before World War II, comics were beginning to take off. However, their popularity dwindled after the war. It would be nearly two decades after the end of the war that they indeed began to regain popularity. In the 1960’s and 70’s public interest in comics started to climb and has never stopped.
The Documentary: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics
Comic companies aside, there is far more to most mainstream comics than meets the eye, which is precisely what Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics is all about. The documentary covers everything from the creators of famous companies like DC and Marvel to the real stories behind the success, and failure, of legendary writers and artists like Bob Kane, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Jerry Siegel and Steve Ditko.
Who is Robert Kirkman?
Robert Kirkman himself is one of the most influential comic creators currently alive. He is the creator of The Walking Dead, and artist of multiple works such as Invincible, Ultimate X-Men, and several other favorite Marvel comics. After spending two decades working in the industry, as well as a carrying out a lifelong love affair with comics, Kirkman teamed up with AMC to create a behind-the-scenes tell-all program about the history of comics.
The secret history of comics TV program
The TV series, Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, aired on AMC between Nov 12, 2017, and December 11, 2017. Each of the six episodes is one hour long. Delving deeper into the world of comic book creation than any other documentary ever has before. Episodes include S1 E1: The Mighty Misfits Who Made Marvel, S1 E2: The Truth About Wonder Woman, S1 E3: The Trails of Superman, S1 E4: City of Heros, S1 E5: The Color of Comics, and S1 E6: Image Comics: Declaration of Independents.
Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics is one of the most exciting TV programs ever created for comic book fans. Kirkman, however, went out of his way to not cast much spotlight on himself, which is why he is only mentioned in one out of the six episodes. Episode six to be precise. It would be impossible to leave out such an impactful artist, not to say the creator and executive producer of The Walking Dead!
The first episode focuses on two of the most iconic comic book creators of all time; Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It also covers the emergence of Marvel as an industry leader. Episode two is about William Moulton Marston, the man who created Wonder Woman, which he based off of his wife as well as his mistress!
Episode three of the secret history of comics centers on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the original creators of Superman. The men sold their rights to DC Comics, became DC staff writers and artists, and then sued the company for a piece of the action eventually. They lost the suit, got fired, and struggled for years. Ultimately, both men were awarded settlements from DC as well as credit for creating Superman in time for the first ever Superman film.
The fourth episode goes into detail about the influence that 9/11 had on the comic book industry. Something that indeed forever changed comics. Episode five is a bit more sensitive than the previous chapters, as it centers on the racial color of the comic book industry. Including African American writers, artists, as well as the beginning and end of an African-American-owned comic imprint from the 1990’s, Milestone Comics.
The final episode of Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics deals with the comic company, Image Comics. To compete with DC and Marvel, seven top-tier artists depart from DC Comics and start their own company in 1992. Their departure allowed themselves, and other artists, to retain creative control of their characters in the future.
Most Popular American Comics of All-Time
American comic book superheroes have become genuinely influential icons over the past century. Many are so well known that people on practically every continent in the world recognizes them. Here is a short list of some of the most famous iconic American comics of all-time!
1. Superman – Introduced to the public in 1938 by DC. With over 600 million comics sold, Superman is perhaps the most well-known superhero the world has ever known.
2. Batman – Established in 1939 by DC, Batman is more than likely the next best-known superhero on planet Earth. Flash the bat symbol on any continent, and folks know what time it is! Batman comics have sold nearly half a billion copies.
3. Spider-Man – A bit more of a recent creation than Superman, or Batman, Spider-Man was released by Marvel in 1963. The comic has sold over 360 million copies.
4. X-Men – Debuting the same year as Spider-Man, from the same company, this favorite superhero-team comic has sold close to 300 million copies.
5. Captain America – One of the first iconic American superheroes, Captain America has been around since 1941! One of the most significant villains he faced in the comics was none other than Hitler himself.
If You Love Comics, You Will Love Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics!
Any true comic fan is sure to enjoy Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics. From exploring the true origins of the most legendary comic creators to the founding of powerhouse companies like DC and Marvel, there is something new for everyone.
Robert Kirkman himself admits that he learned a lot more about the secret history of comics than he thought was possible, being such a big part of the industry himself. For the average comic book fan, there are tons of exciting and previously unshared stories to enjoy!
If you call yourself a lover of comics, Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, is a must-see program. So, what are you waiting for – check it out!
Feature Image via IMDb