There’s no time like the present to get started with your vintage comic book collection, but walking onto the scene today means diving into more than 70 years of accumulated comic canon. Collecting the vintage comic books of yore requires a special touch, an eye for a good deal, and knowledge of the jargon and history that makes certain old comics great.
In this article, we’ll walk you through common vintage comics jargon, explain the different eras of comic books and why they matter and wrap up by letting you know about a few special comics that you should pick up if you ever get the chance.
Traits of Vintage Comics
Contemporaneously, vintage comics sold for far less than the comics of today. In the Golden or Silver Age of comics, you could expect to pick up an issue for less than a quarter and grab a yearly subscription for less than $3.
If you handle a vintage comic, you’ll also find that the covers and back page are thicker and lack gloss. Bending the covers will result in a substantial loss of a comic’s value, so try to keep them pristine.
Silver Age comics typically aged a bit worse than their Golden Age compatriots because of lower quality printing stock, so they can be quite hard to find in good condition. Bronze Age comics run the gamut from totally dilapidated to nearly as durable as their Modern Age equivalents.
Comics come in a few different formats, including:
- Collected editions
- Prestige editions (large single issues)
- Single issues
- Variant cover (single issues with different cover schemes)
- Limited series
- Annual series
Once you understand which each of these mean, you can probably consult a full glossary of comic book terms if you encounter another term that you’re unfamiliar with. The most important pieces of jargon are the “Age” differentiations which we’ve mentioned before but will go into greater detail within the next section.
What Are The Comic Book “Ages”?
Vintage comic book collectors break up comics chronologically into different “ages” which account for the historical and artistic movements of the time of their publication. Each of the ages (with the arguable exception of the Modern Age) is uniquely differentiated from the others by its content, the diversity of that content, the technical skill and resulting aesthetic of the art, and the depth or seriousness of the plot lines depicted.
The commonly recognized ages are:
The Golden Age
The Golden Age of comics is starting in the late 1930s and spanned until the mid-1950s, and was the very start of the comic book genre. Most comics of this era were based around superheroes, though later in the era comedy made an entrance as well. It’s during the Golden Age that loveable characters like Batman and Superman made their debut in series like Action Comics. Pristine condition issues from this early era are extremely valuable, with some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Silver Age
The Silver Age of comics saw the return of the superhero genre. This was after a relative decline at the very end of the Golden Age and spanned through the 1960s. Where DC had been the dominating force in the Golden Age, Marvel became the dominant publisher of the Silver Age. On the whole, the Silver Age comics are where we start to see much more modern and recognizable character designs and the start of notable series like the X-Men.
Silver Age comics vary drastically in their selling price. Some are fetch over a million dollars and others as inexpensive as a couple of hundred. As the Silver Age wound down in the late 1960s, the Bronze Age took over.
The Bronze Age
The Bronze Age marked a departure from the Silver Age regarding content. Stories were darker, more serious, and arguably less child-friendly than the gung-ho Silver Age or sparsely serious Golden Age. The art of the Bronze Age began to look more and more like the Modern style. And some of the lightly detailed areas reminiscent of the Silver and Golden Ages remained.
This Age spanned from 1970 to 1985 and was also notable for its inclusion of minority superheroes alongside traditional superheroes like Superman and Batman. Relative to the primacy of Marvel in the Silver Age, the Bronze Age saw a resurgence of DC, meeting Marvel’s par—at least until DC over-extended its base of publications and nearly went bankrupt in its notorious “DC Implosion.”
The Bronze Age fleshed out all of the major plot lines and backstories of the most popular characters to the canon that most series use today. This was an important piece of comic book history. Bronze era comics are usually affordable enough for collectors to pick up. Your cost may vary depending on the exact issue that you’re thinking of buying.
Most collectors agree that any comics published after 1985 are “modern.” Looking ahead, there may be some characterization of the period from 1985-2000 as the Copper Age.
Putting The Ages In Perspective
It’s important to remember that the medium of comics itself matured substantially over the course of each of these ages. Simple Golden Age comic storylines can’t compare with the heavily detailed Modern Age comics.
As far as art value goes, the creativity of the creators of Golden Age comics is hard to beat. They had to invent fantastical characters and landscapes without any previous reference points. But, the Silver or Bronze Age comics are where you’ll find the meatiest content.