Monday, June 10, 2013

Science Fiction and Comic Books-Part 1

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is said to have begun in 1938 when John W. Campbell, Jr., assumed full editorial control of Astounding Stories (thereafter renaming it Astounding Science-Fiction). The previous editor, F. Orlin Tremaine, asserted that the Golden Age, or at least a Golden Age, began in 1933 when he himself took over at Astounding. I won't quibble with Tremaine or with the science fiction authors and fans who claim 1938 as their beginning date. In either case, this year is an anniversary year for science fiction, a diamond jubilee if the year was 1938, an eightieth anniversary if the year was 1933.

Two thousand thirteen is an anniversary year for the beginning of another Golden Age. And again, there is disagreement as to when that Golden Age--the Golden Age of Comic Books--began. Some say 1938, and for good reason, for that was the year Superman made his debut in comic books. Others claim 1933 as the beginning, for in that year comic books in their present form first appeared. Again, this year is either the seventy-fifth or the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of a Golden Age. (1) Again, I won't quibble. I'll just say Happy Anniversary.

Although there could not have been science fiction until there was such a thing as science, historians of the genre trace its origins back thousands of years. Likewise, historians of the comics look to ancient (or even prehistoric) sources for the origins of their medium. You can make a good case that science fiction predates comics. If you do, you might use Mary Shelley's romance Frankenstein (1818) as Exhibit A. (2) The earliest examples of what we might recognize as comic strips were the work of Rodolphe Töpffer (1799–1846) and date from 1827. (3) But what about science fiction and comics in their present form? When did they originate?

To be continued . . .

(1) If 1938 was the year, and the first Campbell issue of Astounding and Action Comics #1 were the two periodicals that kicked off their respective Golden Ages, then we are, as I write this, in what you might call a two-month anniversary period: John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding with the May 1938 issue, while Action Comics #1 was dated June 1938.
(2) According to Wikipedia, Brian Aldiss has argued in Mary Shelley's favor.
(3) If Frankenstein was the first science fiction story and Rodolphe Töpffer the first comic strip artist, then maybe Switzerland should claim both science fiction and comics as its own: Frankenstein was conceived beside Lake Geneva; Töpffer was born in Geneva.

Copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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