Ask most comic collectors about the “birth” of the medium and they will probably tell you it all started with the first issue of Action Comics with the cover date June 1938. This is about as true as the story that Abner Doubleday invented Baseball while on a trip to Cooperstown New York in 1839. In fact Doubleday was nowhere near Cooperstown that summer, he was at West Point and there is no evidence that e ever even SAW a baseball game, much less invented it. But myth often has longer legs than reality. So it is with Comics.
Action #1 was the first comic book to feature a “modern” superhero, but it missed being the first comic book by several decades. The credit for being the first publication that would be recognized as a “comic book” generally goes to Richard Outcault’s “Yellow Kid”, a series of comics published in Hearst’s New York World. These strips were published in a collected edition called “The Yellow Kid In McFadden’s Flats” in 1897. (Although Roudolphe Topffer’s “The Adventures of Obadiah Duck” was actually published in 1827, it was more an illustrated story or graphic novel than a comic book).
By 1905 Windsor McCay was creating “Little Nemo In Slumberland” for the New York Herald, another strip (lavishly illustrated) that would later be published in several collected editions. McCay was noted for his expressive drawing style and set Nemo’s world in a dreamscape. He is also noted for creating the very first animated cartoon featuring a character with a distinct personality, “Gertie The Dinasour” (1915).
In 1933 “Funnies On Parade”, another reprint collection made it’s debut as a giveaway promotional item and is later followed by the long running “Famous Funnies” which typically sold for a dime. This ten cent price, it’s size (5.5X8”) made “Funnies On Parade” the first “true” comic book.
In fact Action #1 was not even the first DC comic book! In 1934, National Allied Publications, under the ownership of the colorful Major Maclom Wheeler –Nicholson published “New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine” #1 and would follow up with “New Comics” #1 (also cover dated 1934) before launching Detective Comics planned for 1936 (cover dated March 1937). “New Comics” would later evolve into “Adventure Comics” which ran through issue #503 (1983).
Dc was well underway before it Harry Donnenfeld took over the company and launched a series of new titles featuring new content. Action #1 would make it’s debut with an untried concept created by two young men from Cleveland named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster…Superman.
There you have it…myth or fact…nothing is ever as simple as it seems!