Steranko Histories

By | Thursday, April 29, 2021 Leave a Comment
Steranko History of Comics #1
Even if you haven't read them, you've probably at least heard of Jim Steranko's History of Comics. It was one of the first serious attempts to write down the entire history of the medium, and certainly the first from someone already in the business. Steranko's position as a respected professional allowed him access to a number of creators who had worked during the Golden Age of comics. The covers of the two completed issues are rather famous in and of themselves for depicting a fairly wide range of characters from several publishers.

Less well known is that there are actually four different covers between the two issues...
Steranko History of Comics #1 Steranko History of Comics #1 Steranko History of Comics #2 Steranko History of Comics #2
As you can see, two of the covers feature no text at all, while the others sport the title prominently across the top. The interiors are unchanged, so you might call these variant covers. (Though they certainly weren't called that at the time.)

Although I've seen the titled versions labeled as "1A" and "2A", I believe that to be incorrect. "Misleading" might be a better word. When I had Steranko sign my (logo-less) copies, he noted that the wordless versions were a little more rare because he initially had underestimated demand. The implication being that they came out first, with the titled version being done as a later iteration. I've seen notes from others who got them when they were first published also say that the wordless versions came out first with the titled copies being, in effect, second printings. This is further backed up by the logo-less versions frequently commanding a higher price. (Although, to be fair, a higher price doesn't necessarily mean greater rarity, just greater demand relative to supply. It's possible that fans just like the wordless version better because there's nothing disrupting the illustrations.)

Further, if you look at the layouts, the illustrations are lowered on the page to accomodate the title. In doing so, several of the characters are uncomfortably cut off -- most notably Joker on #1; and Thing, Hulk, and Hawkman on #2. Not only does it seem unlikely that Steranko would add all of the extra figure work on the logo-less copies, but if he drew the illustration with a title in mind, why would he have placed those figures so low on the page that they might be chopped in half? From a design perspective, it makes more sense that the titled versions came later.

If you are trying to track down copies of these, you should be buying them for the content. I found them surprisingly dryly written, though they are incredibly informative. Even today, with literally hundreds of history books written about comics, they still have a great deal to offer. But if, in tracking these down, you find yourself wondering why there are some copies with a title and some without and what the difference is, it boils down to whether you're looking at a first or second printing, although it won't say that on the interior anywhere.
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