Comic books today typically feature brooding superheroes and twisted villains bent on world domination. The days of more life-like comics are certainly a thing of the past. However, during the “Golden Age of Comic Books,” which lasted from the late 1930s to the early 1950s there were actually some comics that offered realistic settings. While not actually common, there were books – such as the above The New Two-Fisted Tales – that even featured a sun helmet or two.
In the early 1950s cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman suggested to Bill Gaines, who would later go on to launch Mad Magazine, that comic book publisher EC create an adventure comic, and thus Two-Fisted Tales was born. The comic mixed Indiana Jones adventure stories with Cowboy and Indian tales, as well as various historic military themed accounts. The bi-monthly comic was published with a companion comic called Frontline Combat, which focused on a variety of military actions from Napoleon to the then current Korean War. It is worth noting that while Two-Fisted Tales began as a rousing adventure themed comic, the war tales in both books were very anti-war in tone.
Argosy actually preceded the “Golden Age” and could be considered a late “Platinum Age” comic book – meaning it ran from the early 1930s until the outbreak of the war. These featured more realistic tales and the comics were typically in black and white rather than color.
Movie Comics was an early “Golden Age” comic book, which premiered in 1939 but with the outbreak of World War II had an unfortunately short run. The premier issue featured an 11-page comic book version of the film Gunga Din.
The fantastical Forbidden Worlds comic book published 145 issues between July/Aug. 1951 to Aug. 1967, and often times featured stories of strange adventures as noted in the above example. While many of the stories were of the supernatural this cover offers the typical view (at the time) of the intrepid explorer in pith helmet!
Launched in the early 1950s Explorer Joe doesn’t exactly seem all that “politically correct” by today’s standards. The comic book, which centered on the exploits of the great white hunter and actually arrived a few years before G.I. Joe came onto the scene, didn’t have a long run however. Apparently just two or three issues were all that this explorer could handle.
Just as Classics Illustrated offered comic book versions of famous novels, Dell published comic books based on movies of the era. This 1964 comic was a companion to the film Zulu. Unlike the earlier Movie Comics the Dell comics were actually in full color and closely followed the film’s plot in a full 32 page book.
While it has the look of a “classic” comic book Adventure Classics actually began publishing in the past decade. It takes the approach of Classics Illustrated and offers famous books in comic book form – likely because most of the stories are in the public domain and the publishers don’t have to pay for the rights. However, as the above cover suggests the artwork in this series is very good.