Friday, April 16, 2021

It blows my mind that illustrated comic books in full color were sold so cheaply in the middle of last century.

When I think that comic books in the mid 20th century used to be like twelve cents, I'm kind of blown away by that. If you account for inflation, that's like $1.32 in today's dollars. These were publications that had hand-drawn art. They were colorized, and many of the art panels were packed full of details. I recently finished an art piece myself. Admittedly, it is way more detailed than what many comic book panels have. However, it took me months to draw it. Comic book artists crank out these things like they are nothing, which really makes me appreciate how talented they all are.

But twelve cents? How was that even possible? A book today that is an illustrated edition can run into the hundreds of dollars. Comic books never had illustrated editions because the whole book was illustrated. I would also argue that distribution nationwide of these things was a marvel of its time as well. Imagine how much it would cost you to get something distributed to stores nationwide in today's dollars. Yet the founders of the comic book industry, like Stan Lee, were able to get this kind of thing done in an obviously affordable way that actually allowed them to pay talent a living wage.

And what about color? I would argue that it is cheaper and easier to get access to color printing in the modern world than it has ever been. But how could you print out entire comic books consisting of ten or more pages in full color for less than 12 cents (or a $1.32 today). It actually couldn't be done at all.

Anyway, it's just a random thought I had regarding art and how cheaply many artists work. They/we spend days and even months toiling away at something, and it ends up looking great, but I doubt if all that many actually make a dime on all that work. Art is cheap, and comic book art must have been cheap and easy to do (because extreme talent made it easy) or there's no way an entire industry could have risen from it. All those characters from Spider-Man to Galactus to Superman to Wonder Woman and Black Manta all had a unique look that originated in an artist's head, was put to paper, story-boarded, colored, and then printed for mass consumption for less than you can buy practically anything in today's world.

That's just nuts. I know that a lot of comic books from the Golden Age are worth some money these days, especially if they feature "first appearances" by famous superheroes, and they are in good condition. However, I'm going to put a controversial opinion out there: they should have been worth a lot of money when they were first printed. The amount of effort that some artists put into these could never have been rewarded with the proper financial compensation (if they only charged 12 cents for a book). 

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend.


  1. Actually the early comics were usually stuffed with written stories. Some of Stan Lee's early work was writing stories in Captain America comics.

    1. Since it was just on Pluto TV, there's an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 short film called "The Chicken of Tomorrow" about raising chickens and at one point Mike Nelson has a reaction like yours, saying that the process of raising chickens for eggs and meat is so complicated that eggs should cost a thousand dollars each.

      If you haven't yet, you should read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The first 2/3 of it are about the "Golden Age" of comics. Most of the comics were created by young guys who worked around the clock for little money and then didn't even retain control of their creations.

    2. @Pat: We are living in an age where people are waking up to exploitation. On one hand, it is really good for people like you and me. On the other hand, it is also really bad for people like you and me. Allow me to explain: you've probably noticed the cost of goods has just skyrocketed. My weekly groceries now cost 75% more than they did pre-Covid. Everything is more expensive. And you can't hire people to do menial work for hours on end for crap wages. No one is taking those jobs anymore. On one hand, this is good. But on the other, we pay a nurse from my dad's estate an eye-watering sum that is equivalent to full-blown high-end assistive living. It's his money...and I'm glad he has that option. I'm the caretaker so I make sure that all that money is spent to ensure his last days on this Earth are in comfort. However, I do pause occasionally and wonder, "What ever happened to people that would do this work for like $10.00 per hour? This nurse only has a C.N.A. and she makes more than I do at my job and I have a bachelor's degree." But then I realize that we tried to find someone else that wanted to deal with his poop and other issues, and no one would for less money. So yeah...people are now demanding they get paid, and it's both good and bad. To relate this to comic books, there is no way that industry could have even started if all those comic book artists and writers had demanded the pay they deserve. Industry (it seems) is built on the ability to exploit for free labor.

  2. Some were less than that.
    That's why I'd have no interest working for Disney as an illustrator. Most make a paltry wage and work long hours.

  3. Goods were cheaper then, too. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing.