By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
To read some great comic books from the yesteryears, most aficionados will have to hit auctions and estate sales to find what they want. From the Platinum Age (1897 – 1938) to the Golden Age (1939-1950), these titles are nearly hard to find. The latter introduced the era of the superhero to more than just one generation of readers and to purchase these comics now is near impossible. Unless you are rich, forget it.
Depending on the title, some are worth a hefty price or require handing out at least an Andrew Jackson ($20 USD) to own.
Thankfully, there are digital archivists actively looking to preserve this bit of the past and offer them to readers to read online. Not everyone is out to make an investment with an Action Comics #1 so they can wind up having a million dollar nest egg to retire on sixty-five years later. There are people out there who simply want to read these decades-old comics and recall what they enjoyed back in the days when 10 cents could buy a hamburger. For newer generations, perhaps all they want is to look at how their favourite hero or narrative medium has evolved over time.
To name a few, Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blogzine and Fury Comics are two very good websites to start digging through. Another archival website is Comic Book Plus. Along with the Digital Comics Museum (DCM), a wide variety of titles are available for anyone to read at no cost. To keep these websites up, the operators may ask for a donation to help offset the costs of keeping the the website running.
Readers can delight into looking at the various genres, ranging from horror to romance to science fiction that were released back then. They will not find free comics like Superman, Bat-Man or Captain America. Publication giants DC (previously known as National Allied Publications) and Marvel (Timely Publications) made sure that they have renewed their hold over their flagship heroes. Instead, publishers like Fawcett Comics and MLJ Publication (who would become Archie Comics) are easier to locate.
Familiar titles that are often featured in these archive websites include Shazam!, Abbott & Costello and Gunsmoke. Over at Comic Book Plus, they even archive newspapers and magazines, like Collier’s Weekly.
The quality will vary from site to site. Depending on what’s available as the source, photostats made from the comic or microfiche reels are digitized. The images will vary in sharpness and readability based on what’s found. The goal may not always be to get a perfect copy of the comic. Instead, it’s to provide fans of this storytelling medium a look at how comic books, the narrative, and approaches to providing drama have changed since its early days. A reader who is familiar with the style from one decade will find the approaches to storytelling has changed twenty years later.
Sometimes, all that’s needed is a touch of nostalgia to remind readers that comic books are still an enduring medium even in an age that’s dominated by pixels and mp3s.