Friday, June 21, 2013

Original or Reprint: Analysis of Action Comics #1

Original or Reprint: Analysis of Action Comics #1

June 21, 2013  •   by Troy Dove    •    Subculture Comics

Original Action Comics #1 from 1938.
Considered the Holy Grail of Golden Age comics, comic book collectors can spot the cover of Action Comics #1 from across a crowded room. But, while most serious collectors can easy distinguish an original issue from the multitude of reprints issued over the past 75 years, every once and a while you still hear of a collector purchasing an ‘original’ issue, only to find out that it is actually a  vintage reprint. While a few reprints do have some value in the collector market, it is nowhere near the value of an original issue.

The original 1938 issue of Action Comics #1, was 68 pages in length and featured an array of characters starring in a multiple original stories. Superman was the first story in the book, and was only about 12 pages in length, the remainder of the book featured characters such as Chuck Dawson, Zatara Master Magician, Pep Morgan, and Tex Thompson. (Most reprints focus only on the original Superman story and are therefore only about 12-16 pages in length, so they are easy to distinguish from the original 68-page issue.)

The most common reprint that is mistaken for an original issue is the 1978 DC Comics reprint entitled Famous 1st Edition, which is a page-by-page reprint of the original. Throughout the 1970s DC published a series of famous golden age comics under the Famous 1st Edition title, not just Action Comics.

While DC intended for the Famous 1st Edition release of Action Comics #1 to be an exact reproduction of the original, there are a few differences that make it easily distinguishable from the 1938 issue.

Listed below is a quick guide to help distinguish between the 1978 Famous 1st Edition reprint and the original issue from 1938.

1.  All DC Comics’ Famous 1st Edition reprints were originally sold with two covers, an outer and an inner cover. The outer cover clearly stated that it was an issue from the Famous 1st Edition reprint series. Underneath the outer cover was an inner cover, which was a replica of the 1938 original. Often, the Famous 1st Edition reprint issue is found without the external cover, making it appear more like an original issue.

The 1978 reprint of Action Comics #1 as part of DC Comics' Famous 1st Edition series. The outer cover (left) clearly indicates the issue is a reprint, but with the outer cover removed, the inner cover (right) can be deceiving.
2.  The outer cover of the 1978 reprint was printed on heavy paper stock which was held together with three staples on the spine (the original 1938 issue had only two staples).

3.  If the outer cover of the Famous 1st Edition has been removed, it will very closely resemble the original 1938 issue, but a quick way to distinguish between the two is that the 1978 reprint was issued on ‘slick’ paper and the 1938 original was issued on standard matte paper.

4.  The slick paper cover of the reprint is also missing a few art elements that appear on the original 1938 issue (see below).

The Famous 1st Edition reprint from 1978 (lower panel) is missing art elements that appeared on the original 1938 cover (upper panel). 1. The broken stones from the front of the crushed car (A); 2. Highlights on the car's fender (B); 3. The two beads of sweat off the brow of from the man in the foreground.
5.  The 1978 reprint was also slightly oversized from the original issue, measuring 10” x 13.5” whereas the original measured 7.25” x 10.25”.

 6.  Finally, the back cover of the original 1938 issue had an advertisement for Johnson Smith Company, the 1978 reprint does not.

While this quick guide is not meant to be all-inclusive, it should help collectors easily distinguish between the 1978 Famous 1st Edition reprint of Action Comics #1, and the original issue from 1938.

1 comment:

  1. Just a couple of nitpicks. The Famous First Edition reprint of Action Comics #1 was issued in 1974, not 1978, and it does have a Johnson Smith & Co. novelties ad on the back cover.