On History: Golden Age of Reprints

By | Tuesday, September 26, 2017 Leave a Comment
It's been called the Golden Age of Reprints in comicdom the last few years. It's a hard point to argue since we're getting all sorts of wonderful collections of old material. Everything from complete hardcover collections of Peanuts and Pogo to obscure Tijuana Bibles and a Wimmen's Comix to superhero books that showcase the original line art at actual size. Hell, we've even got books being reprinted today that were originally cancelled because they were printed illegally!

That said, this apparently newfound wealth of comics reprints has been in the making for at least a quarter century now.

When I first seriously got into comics in the early 1980s, my primary book of choice was Fantastic Four. After I read a few months' worth of current issues, I got hooked and, not long after that, realized that there were around 250 issues featuring these great characters that I hadn't read yet. That's when I began hunting back issue bins, trying to dig up as many old FF comics as I could find.

Somewhere in the back half of my college years, I managed to get the number of FF comics I was missing down to less than a half dozen. They were mostly, if not all, single digit issues. That was when I realized that I didn't really need to get the actual issues any more. I could hunt down these handful of comics and pay a few, if not several, hundred dollars for each one (this was before the speculator market and "slabbing" and all that crap) and what would I get out them? I had some of those single digit issues already, and I'd only flipped through them once because A) they were fragile and I didn't want to over-handle them, and B) I'd already read those stories.

Now, when you're talking about the first dozen or so issues of Marvel's flagship title, it's no surprise they'd been reprinted. I think I had five or six reprints of #1 by then without really even trying. And those issues I was missing were all in the first Marvel Masterworks book I already had.

I got a couple more of those missing issues almost accidentally. (I was at small con and just asked to look at them -- the owner haggled them down to a quarter of his original asking price before I even said anything. It was too good a deal to pass up!) I wound up getting a few more as gifts. (My parents got me a copy of Fantastic Four #1 as a college graduation present!) But I never really hunted for those other issues. To this day, I have still never picked up #2 or #5.

But I realized back then that, for what I was looking for -- the comic stories themselves -- I didn't need the original issues. And I was went forward in my collecting from there, I kept that in mind and made a point of looking for reprints instead of originals. I created a list of where all those Human Torch solo stories from Strange Tales got reprinted, and what stories Marvel Tales contained. And Marvel Triple Action. (Special shout-out to Chris Marshall for compiling a lot of that info! I don't know how long he's been putting posting reprint info online -- I want to say he dates back to USENET -- but I know I was VERY grateful that he shared so much info that helped me read up on the Marvel Universe without spending a truckload of money!)

Not everything was reprinted, of course but even then (this would be the mid-to-late 1990s) you could find LOTS of material that had been reprinted. And that was just expanding and expanding, as publishers started to realize they could collect old stuff in book form to sell it again. DC and Dark Horse began emulating Marvel's Masterworks line. Marvel and DC both came out with cheaper black and white "phone books" lines. There were special collections based on a specific creator and/or character. (Frank Miller's Spider-Man, Neal Adams' Deadman, etc.)

The variety of formats means that, yes, it would be kind of annoying to try to read through Amazing Spider-Man chronologically in my collection since you have to pop around between multiple titles and formats. But since I almost never read more than two or three issues sequentially, it's at least never a problem for me. I'm more prone to look for a specific issue or story as research for something I'm trying to write up. So as long as I have that at hand, I don't much care which long box or bookshelf I pull it from.

All of which is to say that this Golden Age of Reprints didn't exactly come out of nowhere. It's been something that I, for one, have been watching for over two decades now. And even with the advent and preponderance of digital comics, I quite welcome it!
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