Life Before Superman: Ask your Grandparents


Reading comics on the front porch: a tradition for 80 years.

My Grandmother is 93 years old (b. 1920), meaning that she was 18 when Action Comics #1 debuted on newsstands : She represents a hidden transition: the last of a generation that remember a time before superheroes or comics in book form, like those who remember life before television, computers, or sliced bread. Once her generation is gone, so do the perspectives that inadvertently remind us of how deeply comics have become integrated in our culture since their time.

If I’m not mistaken, Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee is only two years younger than my Grandma (born 1922). He was about my grandmother’s age when he received his first job in the comic book industry. We have Mr. Lee’s memory on the world before Superman for historical purposes, but what about the average person? The ones who bought Mr. Lee’s work, or those who dismissed it as “kid’s stuff”? Sadly, by the time I realized this my grandmother was already in the depths of dementia. Not all is lost, since I do recall how she used to respond to my own comics and I can always ask my mother how she used to react to my uncle’s collection.

People have Interviewed World War II veterans and (in the 1930s) former slaves for archives, but what about the first generation of comic book readers and the people they interacted with? They are grandparents, friends, neighbors, co-workers, someone we know in one way or another. Whom in their “funny magazines” did they consider their “superman” before there was one?