In the search for great comic books from the yesteryear, most aficionados will have to hit auctions and estate sales to find what they want. Titles from the Platinum Age (1897 – 1938) to the Golden Age (1939-1950), introduced the era of the superhero to more than just one generation of readers, but purchasing these comics now is near impossible. Unless you are rich, forget it.
Thankfully, 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 digital archivists actively looking to preserve this bit of the past for readers preferring online content. 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), which boasts a wide variety of titles available for anyone to read for free (though the operators may ask for donations to help offset the costs of keeping the the website running).
Readers can delight in 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 to renew 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 have 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. While people take to tablets as the de facto device to read from services like ComiXology, not everyone wants to be connected to the ‘net all the time. Most of the material is downloadable, but is not transportable to another device.
Other apps on both iOS and Android exist to allow for reading these downloadable content anytime and anywhere. Eventually, an app might materialize to make for interfacing with these preservation sites better, so finding those golden oldies is not like digging through an antiquated library card system. The digital age has done wonders to make the past accessible, so let’s take advantage of it!