By the 1950s comic book content was dominated by genre material, the most popular being war, western, humor, mystery and romance. The once unbeatable superheroes who dominated the newsstands in the 1940s faded from popularity in the following decade, although a few of National/DC's long-running characters survived, specifically Superman (and related characters), Batman and Wonder Woman. In a period of four years (1956-1960) DC's attempts to update/revise once popular characters such as The Flash, Green Lantern and the "Justice Society of America" (as the Justice League, a more contemporary name that resonated with baseball fans) were tested in anthology titles, met with impressive sales and went on to headline their own titles. Companies such as Archie, Gold Key and Atlas attempted to follow suit, with varying degrees of success.
The cover to Hero # 1 (December 1962) spotlights DC, Marvel and Gold Key characters. Art is by Buddy Saunders, a prolific fanzine contributor and publisher who would go on to run his own profitable retail business, Lone Star Comics.
When 28-year-old Jerry Bails published Alter-Ego in 1961, a fanzine celebrating the heroes of his youth and promoting their revival, others followed in his footsteps (fanzines devoted to comic books were inspired by earlier amateur publications devoted to science fiction). Hero was one such publication, crafted by Larry Herndon, who was described in Bill Schelly's intriguing book, The Golden Age of Comic Fandom:
"One of the beautiful things about fandom was that physically challenged individuals could become giants in the fan community. G.B. Love was one example, and so was Larry Herndon of the Texas Trio. Herndon had muscular dystrophy and was generally confined to a wheelchair (though he could get around on crutches). Small of frame, and possessing genuine humility, Larry was one of fandom's most prolific writers and organizers. Editor of Hero, Batwing and later The Nostalgia News, Herndon wrote hundreds of articles, letters and ama-strips."
Herndon's editorial in Hero # 1 pointed to a growing interest in producing fanzines, which, according to Herndon, consisted of approximately 10 in 1962 - a number that would expand considerably in the years to come. Fanzines became an outlet for kids to share their knowledge and enthusiasm, but, perhaps of greater consideration, it gave them an opportunity to become part of a community. In the isolation of a small town, or the loneliness of a big city, comic book fans might never encounter another like-minded individual. The 1960s didn't have the technology of today's world; the "internet" was something you might read about in a science fiction tale (or superhero comic). Communication with fans outside your environment was problematic, particularly for many teenage fans with limited finances. Long distance phone calls could be quite expensive, so correspondence by mail was the cheapest way to go. Fanzines also provided an outlet for creativity; writing articles and drawing superhero adventures was a form of expression that helped many hone their skills for future professional work (editors such as Stan Lee and Julie Schwartz read and took notice of fanzines. Roy Thomas was one of many writers and artists who contributed to fanzines and later graduated to the pros).
And, as Herndon succinctly stated, it was also a lot of fun.
Herndon chose a long article by Harold Julian, "The Hero Boom", to open his debut issue (seen below in its entirety). I'll add a few observations afterward.
Although it is only one fans' opinion, Julian represented a segment of the audience that was clearly passionate about comic books. The thoughts he expressed, while awkward in places, conveyed an intense devotion to the subject matter. Julian's article is a 54-year- old chronicle from a period when National/DC was king of the hill, but upstart Marvel Comics (then known as Atlas and barely two years into their burgeoning superhero line) was gaining traction every month, as an awareness of their atypical approach grew.
Like many fans who wrote about comics, Julian focused with razor sharpness on superheroes, claiming that other genres were in decline. When you look at the actual product being published at the time it's obvious that was not the case. (Hero # 1 is dated December 1962, the same month some of the titles it discusses, such as Tales of Suspense # 39 and Amazing Spider-Man # 1 hit the stands. The fanzine was likely mailed out at the end of the month, or perhaps in January of 1963).
This link to Mike's Amazing World of Comics showcases a "virtual" comic book rack from December 1962:
One was as likely to encounter comics such as Adventures of Bob Hope as they were superhero adventures in a 1962 candy store rack. Cover to # 79, March 1963 cover date. Owen Fitzgerald art. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database http://www.comics.org/
It's evident that a wide variety of comics were published every month, including the long-running teen-humor oriented Archie line; Harvey's comic strip/animated output (Caspar, Mutt and Jeff, Sad Sack); Charlton's array of western, war, romance and mystery (Cheyenne Kid, Fightin' Navy, Strange Suspense Stories, Teen Confessions); Dell and Gold Key's humor and television/movie adaptations (Bonanza, Bugs Bunny, Thirteen), along with the considerable non-hero output from National and Atlas (Adventures of Bob Hope, House of Mystery, Our Army at War, Heart Throbs, Kid Colt Outlaw, Millie the Model, Patsy Walker). The total number of superhero and adventure related comics published in December 1962 amounts to 22, as opposed to the non-hero titles, which number 95.
These comic books, often ignored by fans, were consistent sellers and appealed to the general public, including an important demographic: children. Superheroes and adventure/team titles were the order of the day for a majority of enthusiasts who put pen to paper, though, and their level of intensity will be explored next time out.