ad for Green Lantern paperbacks

The arguments about what was the first graphic novel will probably rage on forever, but Will Eisner’s A Contract With God tends to get the nod (though I might plump for Lee and Kirby’s Silver Surfer book that came out at around the same time). Back in the dark days of the early 1970s, the chance of seeing comics between card covers were few and far between. There were a few attempts to create an early version of the graphic novel — or, more accurately, what we’d now call a trade paperback — and one such can be seen here. With Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams revolutionising comics with their Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, someone hit on the idea of putting out these comics in the more-durable-than-a-floppy-pamphlet paperback book.

With just a panel or two per page, they managed to fill a whole book with just two issues. I don’t own these particular volumes, but I’m pretty sure they’re in black and white. And they’re not the easiest thing in the world to read, the narrative flow being severely truncated by the need to turn the page every 3.7 seconds or so. Still, this sort of thing seemed genuinely magical at the time — could it really be that comics might one day be taken seriously and be available in book shops? Unlikely as it happened:  these things tended to sell very poorly and were quickly remaindered.

They’d had a try at the format several years before during the comics craze caused by the Batman TV show. Several volumes of paperback adventures of the Caped Crusader made it to the shelves, as did some Superman and Wonder Woman tomes. Even Tower got in on the act with THUNDER Agents and Dynamo (sub-titled “Man of High Camp”, which told you exactly where they were coming from). These still show up from time to time, and make for interesting curios. An evolutionary dead-end on the road to the graphic novel.

Green Lantern and Green Arrow ©2010 DC Comics