The Early History of Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics is the common name and primary imprint of Marvel Worldwide Inc., formerly Marvel Publishing, Inc. and Marvel Comics Group, an American publisher of comic books and related media. In 2009, The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Worldwide’s parent company.


Marvel’s First Issue

Marvel started in 1939 as Timely Publications, and by the early 1950s had generally become known as Atlas Comics. It all started with a single comic released in October of 1939. The comic issue titled Marvel Comics #1 featured two of its most popular early characters, The Human Torch and the Submariner and was published by Martin Goodman.

After WWII superheroes fell out of fashion. Goodman’s comic book line dropped them for the most part and expanded into other genres. Using he logo of “Atlas News Company,” the company distributed children’s and teen-themed comics. An attempted revival of superhero titles in 1953-54 did not take off.

In September 1954, comic book publishers got together to set up their own self-censorship organization—the Comics Magazine Association of America—to appease their audiences. The Comic Code Authority, which appeared at the end of 1954, came about as an attempt to limit the violence that appeared in comics. After the code was published, comic book companies had to send their comics to the authority in order to gain their seal of approval. The stamp on the cover of a comic book showed audiences that the comics were considered wholesome, entertaining, and educational.

Marvel’s contemporary history dates from 1961, the year that the company launched The Fantastic Four and other superhero titles created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and many others. During this era, writer-editor Stan Lee revolutionized comics by introducing superheroes designed to appeal to more older readers as opposed to children.


Marvel’s Fantastic Four (1961 1st Series) 

This approach struck a chord both teen and college-aged readers, bringing comics to a new audience. In 1965, Spider-Man and the Hulk were both featured in Esquire magazine’s list of 28 college campus heroes, alongside John F. Kennedy and Bob Dylan. The cultural significance of comic books as a mass-art form had been established.

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