Free: Download 15,000+ Free Golden Age Comics from the Digital Comic Museum

The Digital Comic Museum offers free access to hundreds of pre-1959 comic books, uploaded by users who often offer historical research and commentary alongside high-quality scans.

The site’s moderators and administrators are particularly careful to avoid posting non-public-domain comics (a complicated designation, as described in this forum thread). The resulting archive is devoid of many familiar comic-book characters, like those from Marvel, D.C., or Disney.




On the other hand, because of this restriction, the archive offers an interesting window into the themes of lesser-known comics in the Golden Age—romance, Westerns, combat, crime, supernatural and horror. The covers of the romance comics are great examples of popular art.

Interested in understanding how homefront American culture reflected fighting in World War II and Korea, and the anxieties of the Cold War? The archive is full of titles like "Fighting Yank"  (or "Warfront") that trade on true stories of past combat and present-day engagements. Many, like these “Atomic Attack” books from the early 1950s, have a distinctive Cold War flavor, with science-fictional imaginings of futuristic combat. ("See how the war of 1972 will be fought! The war that YOU, yourself, might have to take part in...")

The museum holds some unexpected and forgotten titles, like the Mad Magazine knock-off “Eh.” Here you can see how looking at a comic that wasn't successful enough to have a lasting legacy (and, therefore, a renewed copyright) can be enlightening in and of itself. What subjects did "Eh" cover that Mad might have avoided?

The DCM asks users to register and log in before downloading comic files. Registration is free, and—for now—there’s no limit on the number of titles you can download. You can enter the archive here.

When you're there, make sure you visit the site's ever-growing collection of those notorious 'Pre-Code' Horror comics of the 50s. Also see the Archives and Collections area where artists of note have been given their own individual spotlight.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March, 2013.

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Rebecca Onion is a writer and academic living in Philadelphia. She runs Slate.com’s history blog, The Vault. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaonion.

R.I.P. Stan Lee: Take His Free Online Course “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture”

"I grew up in an exurb where it took nearly an hour to walk to the nearest shop, to the nearest place to eat, to the library," remembers writer Adam Cadre. "And the steep hills made it an exhausting walk.  That meant that until I turned sixteen, when school was not in session I was stuck at home.  This was often not a good place to be stuck. Stan Lee gave me a place to hang out." Many other former children of exurban America — as well as everywhere else — did much of their growing up there as well, not just in the universe of Marvel Comics but in those of the comics and other forms of culture to which it gave rise or influenced, most of them either directly or indirectly shaped by Lee, who died yesterday at the age of 95.

"His critics would say that for me to thank Stan Lee for creating the Marvel Universe shows that I’ve fallen for his self‐promotion," Cadre continues, "​that it was Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and his other collaborators who supplied the dynamic, expressive artwork and the epic storylines that made the Marvel Universe so compelling."




Marvel fans will remember that Ditko, co-creator with Lee of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, died this past summer. Kirby, whose countless achievements in comics include co-creating the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk with Lee, passed away in 1994. (Kirby's death, as I recall, was the first I'd ever heard about on the internet.)

Those who take a dimmer view of Lee's career see him as having done little more artistic work than putting dialogue into the speech bubbles. But like no small number of other Marvel Universe habitués, Cadre "didn’t read superhero comics for the fights or the costumes or the trips to Asgard and Attilan. I read them for fantasy that read like reality, for the interplay of wildly different personalities — ​and for the wisecracks." And what made superhero stories the right delivery system for that interplay of personalities and those wisecracks? You'll find the answer in "The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture," an online course from the Smithsonian, previously featured here on Open Culture and still available to take at your own pace in edX's archives, created and taught in part by Lee himself. You can watch the trailer for the course at the top of the post.

If you take the course, its promotional materials promise, you'll learn the answers to such questions as "Why did superheroes first arise in 1938 and experience what we refer to as their “Golden Age” during World War II?," "How have comic books, published weekly since the mid-1930’s, mirrored a changing American society, reflecting our mores, slang, fads, biases and prejudices?," and "When and how did comic book artwork become accepted as a true American art form as indigenous to this country as jazz?" Whether or not you consider yourself a "true believer," as Lee would have put it, there could be few better ways of honoring an American icon like him than discovering what makes his work in superhero comics — the field to which he dedicated his life, and the one which has taken more than its fair share of derision over the decades — not just a reflection of the culture but a major influence on it as well.

Enroll in "The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture" here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Stan Lee (RIP) Gets an Exuberant Fan Letter from 15-Year-Old George R.R. Martin, 1963

martin-LETTER

The letter above goes to show two things. George Raymond Richard Martin, otherwise known as George R.R. Martin, or simply as GRRM, had fantasy and writing in his blood from a young age. Decades before he wrote his fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, which HBO adapted into Game of Thrones, a 15-year-old George R. Martin sent a fan letter to the now departed Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the legendary creators of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four (called "F.F." in the letter).

When you read the note, you can immediately tell that young Martin was steeped in sci-fi and fantasy literature. He could also string together some fairly complex sentences during his teenage years -- sentences that many adults would struggle to write today. Above, you can watch Martin read his 1963 fan letter note, and Stan Lee's short reply: "We might want to quit while we’re ahead. Thanks for your kind words, George." We're all surely glad that Lee and Kirby kept going.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Learn Anatomy Through a Pictorial History of James Bond 007

Remember the scene in Tomorrow Never Dies when sexy double agent Wai Lin handcuffs James Bond to the shower and leaves him there?

Alternately, remember “Table 9” from anatomist Bernard Siegfried Albinus’ 1749 Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani?

Kriota Willberg, an educator, massage therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and author of Draw Stronger: Self-Care For Cartoonists and Other Visual Artists, is sufficiently steeped in both Bond and Albinus to identify striking visual similarities.

That shower scene is just one iconic moment that Willberg included in her mini-comic, Pictorial Anatomy of 007.

Agent Bond’s sartorial sense is a crucial aspect of his appeal, but Willberg, a Bond fan who’s seen every film in the canon at least five times, digs below that celebrated surface, peeling back skin to expose the structures that lie beneath.

Sean Connery’s Bond exhibits a veteran artist’s model's stillness waiting for the right time to make his move against Dr. No’s “eight-legged assassin.” Even before Willberg got involved, it was an excellent showcase for his pecs, delta, and sternocleitomastoid muscles.

Leaving her flayed Bonds in their cinematic settings are a way of paying tribute to the antique anatomical illustrations Willberg admires for their dynamism:

…sitting in a chair, taking a stroll, holding its skin or organs out of the way so that the reader can get a better look at deeper structures. Some of the cadavers are very flirty. The pictures remind us that we are the organs we see on the page. They do stuff! 

The New York Academy of Medicine selected Willberg as its first Artist in Residence, because of the way she explores the intersections between body sciences and artistic practices. (Other projects include an intricate needlepoint X-Ray of her own root canal and Stitchin’ Time!, a fictional encounter in which Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE), author of  De Medicina, and surgeon Aelius Galenus (129  – c. 200 CE) team up to repair a disemboweled gladiator.

Is there a squeamish bone in this artist's body?

All signs point to no.

Asked to pick a favorite Bond movie, she names Goldfinger for the mythology concerning the infamous scene wherein a beautiful woman is painted gold, but also 2006’s Casino Royale for keeping the torture scene from the book:

I didn’t think they’d have the balls! Sorry! Poor taste but I couldn’t resist. Although Timothy Dalton physically resembled Bond as described in the books, most of the movies make Bond out to be smarter than Fleming wrote him. I think Judy Dench called Daniel Craig, Casino Royale’s Bond, a “blunt instrument” which is pretty much how he’s written. He’s tough and lucky and that’s why he’s survived. Plus the machete fight is great. 

Sometimes people get too prissy about the body. I am meat and liver and sausage and so are you. Your body is inescapable while you live. You should get to know it. Think about it in different contexts. It’s fun!

When From Russia With Love’s Rosa Klebb punches master assassin, Red Grant, in the stomach, she is squishing a living liver through living abdominal muscles.

Hard copies of Kriota Willberg’s anatomy-based comics, including Pictorial Anatomy of 007, are available from Birdcage Bottom Books.

Listen to an hour-long interview with Comics Alternative in which Willberg discusses her New York Academy of Medicine residency, anatomical research, and the ways in which humor informs her approach here.

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When Andy Warhol Made a Batman Superhero Movie (1964)

Each of us has a favorite Batman movie. My own allegiance still lies with the one Tim Burton directed in 1989, a prototype of the modern dark superhero blockbuster in which Jack Nicholson made quite an impact as the Joker. But Heath Ledger made an even bigger one in The Dark Knight, an especially beloved entry in Christopher Nolan's acclaimed Batman pictures of the 21st century. These days, with enough distance, some even admit to enjoying Joel Schumacher's ultra-campy takes on Batman from the late 1990s, or their spiritual predecessor Batman: The Movie from 1966, an extension of the self-parodying television series starring Adam West. But before all of them there was Batman Dracula, directed by no less a visionary — and no less a Batman fan — than Andy Warhol.

Starring Warhol's fellow experimental filmmaker Jack Smith in both title roles, Batman Dracula pits the Caped Crusader of comic-book fame against the vampiric Transylvanian count of legend, the millionaire vigilante who seems to fear nothing but bats against the immortal recluse who spends much of his time in the form of a bat.




Smith may bear a faint resemblance to Christian Bale, Nolan's Batman, but there all aesthetic resemblance to the "real" Batman movies ends. Shot in black and white on various rooftops around New York and Long Island as well as in Warhol's "Factory," Warhol's unauthorized approach to the material seems to get as abstract and spontaneous as most of the cinema put together by his coterie — or at least the surviving footage makes it look that way. Though Warhol did complete Batman Dracula, he only showed it at a few of his art shows before DC Comics called and demanded an immediate end to its screenings.

Nobody has found a complete print since, but you can watch a few minutes of the surviving footage cut to "The Nothing Song" by the Velvet Underground & Nico (a much more enduring product of the Factory) in the video at the top of the post. Below that we have the LowRes Wünderbred video essay "Deconstructing Andy Warhol's Batman Dracula," which provides more details on the making of Batman Dracula and its context in the careers of Warhol and his collaborators. The Film Histories video on Batman Dracula just above gets into how the movie opened up a "Pandora's box" of unauthorized Batman and Batman-like movies, including The Wild World of Batwoman and the Filipino Alyas Batman at Robin. So many Batman projects, official and otherwise, now exist, and so many more remain to be made. But will any of the material's future stewards push its artistic boundaries as much as Warhol did?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hunter S. Thompson Hated Getting Caricatured as “Uncle Duke” in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury: ‘If I Ever Catch That Little Bastard, I’ll Tear His Lungs Out’

Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury is hardly the cultural touchstone it once was, but then again, neither are comic strips in general, and political strips in particular. No amount of urbane witticism and sequential narrative humor can compete with the crazed jumble of arcane memes in the 21st century. Hunter S. Thompson may have written about the late-20th century political scene as a hallucinatory nightmare, but perhaps even he would be surprised at how close reality has come to his hyperbole.

In its heyday, Trudeau’s topical, liberal-leaning satire of politicians, political journalists, clueless hippies, and cynical corporate and academic elites hit the target more often than it missed. For many fans, one of Trudeau’s most beloved characters, Uncle Duke—a caricature of Thompson introduced in 1974—was a perfect bullseye. Writer Walter Isaacson paid tongue-in-cheek tribute to the character as his “hero” on the strip’s 40th anniversary. Duke even made an animated appearance on Larry King Live in 2000 (below), announcing his candidacy for president after serving as Governor of American Samoa and Ambassador to China.

It would be a tremendous understatement to say that Thompson himself was not flattered by the portrayal. The amoral Duke—a “self-obsessed, utterly unscrupulous epitome of evil who has sent a chill down readers’ spines,” writes The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, sent Thompson into a paroxysm of rage. The gonzo writer saw the character “as a form of copyright infringement.” He “sent an envelope of used toilet paper to Trudeau and once memorably said: ‘If I ever catch that little bastard, I’ll tear his lungs out.’” The threats got even more specific and gruesome.

“Hunter despised Trudeau,” writes Thompson biographer William McKeen in his book Outlaw Journalist. “’He’s going to be surprised someday,’ Hunter said. ‘I’m going to set him on fire first, then crush every one of his ribs, one by one, starting from the bottom.’” He had been turned into a joke. Jan Wenner, “when he couldn’t get Hunter to write for him… put him on the cover of Rolling Stone anyway, as Uncle Duke in a Trudeau-drawn cover.” Thompson pondered a $20 million libel suit. “All over America,” he ranted, “kids grow up wanting to be firemen and cops, presidents and lawyers, but nobody wants to grow up to be a cartoon character.”




The mockery began immediately after Uncle Duke first appeared in the strip in 1974. In a High Times interview, Thompson describes the day he first learned of the character:

It was a hot, nearly blazing day in Washington, and I was coming down the steps of the Supreme Court looking for somebody, Carl Wagner or somebody like that. I’d been inside the press section, and then all of a sudden I saw a crowd of people and I heard them saying, “Uncle Duke,” I heard the words Duke, Uncle; it didn’t seem to make any sense. I looked around, and I recognized people who were total strangers pointing at me and laughing. I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about. I had gotten out of the habit of reading funnies when I started reading the Times. I had no idea what this outburst meant…It was a weird experience, and as it happened I was sort of by myself up there on the stairs, and I thought: “What in the fuck madness is going on? Why am I being mocked by a gang of strangers and friends on the steps of the Supreme Court? Then I must have asked someone, and they told me that Uncle Duke had appeared in the Post that morning.

While Trudeau seems to have taken the physical threats seriously, he didn’t back down from his relentless satirical takedowns of Thompson’s violent tendencies, paranoia, and comically exaggerated substance abuse. As Dangerous Minds describes, in 1992, Trudeau published a book called Action Figure!: The Life and Times of Doonesbury’s Uncle Duke “that chronicled the misadventures of Uncle Duke.” It also “came with a five-inch action figure of the dear Uncle Duke along with a martini glass, an Uzi, cigarette holder, a bottle of booze, and a chainsaw.”

See the Uncle Duke action figure at the top—one of a half-dozen images Dangerous Minds pulled from eBay (his t-shirt reads “Death Before Unconsciousness.”) As much as Thompson despised Uncle Duke, and Trudeau for creating him, he himself helped feed the caricature—with his alter ego Raoul Duke and his chronicles of his own bizarre behavior. Trudeau’s admiration, of a sort, for Thompson’s excesses was a continuing driver of the writer's fame, for good or ill. “Uncle Duke was who fans craved,” writes Sharon Eberson at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “and Thompson often felt obliged” to live up to his cartoon image.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

“The Long Tomorrow”: Discover Mœbius’ Hard-Boiled Detective Comic That Inspired Blade Runner (1975)

Alejandro Jodorowsky may never have made his film adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, but plenty came out of the attempt — including, one might well argue, Blade Runner. Making that still hugely influential adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott and his collaborators looked to a few key visual sources, one of them a two-part short story in comic form called "The Long Tomorrow."

Illustrated by none other than French artist Mœbius, one of the richest visual imaginations of our time, it tells the futuristic hard-boiled story of a private detective in a dense, vertical underground city filled with androids, rowdy bars, assassins, and flying cars. "I'm a confidential nose," says the protagonist by way of introduction. "My office is on the 97th level. Club's the name, Pete Club."

Then comes the fateful piece of narration that begins any detective story worth its salt: "It started out a day like any other day." But by the end of that day, Club has taken a job from a classic dame in need, fended off both a four-armed thug and a hired assassin, slain an alien monster with whom he finds himself in bed, and recovered the president's missing brain.




The story was written written by Dan O'Bannon, then known mainly for the film Dark Star, a science-fiction comedy he'd made with his University of Southern California classmate John Carpenter. On the strength of that, Jodorowsky had brought him onto Dune to work on its special effects, just as he'd brought Mœbius on to create its storyboards and concept art. With nothing to do before shooting began — which it never did — O'Bannon first drew "The Long Tomorrow" himself as a way of keeping busy. Mœbius took one look at it and immediately saw its promise.

The French may have coined the term film noir, but this early work of future noir benefited from having an American writer. "When Europeans try this kind of parody, it is never entirely satisfactory," Mœbius writes in the introduction to the book version of "The Long Tomorrow." "The French are too French, the Italians are too Italian … so, under my nose was a pastiche that was more original than the originals." It also, with Mœbius' art, laid the visual groundwork for generations of sci-fi stories to come.

"The way Neuromancer-the-novel 'looks' was influenced in large part by some of the artwork I saw in  Heavy Metal," said William Gibson, referring to the English version of Métal hurlant, the magazine that popularized Mœbius' work. (O'Bannon also worked on the animated Heavy Metal anthology film, released in 1981.) But perhaps Ridley Scott, who started working with the artist on 1979's O'Bannon-scripted Alien, described the influence of Mœbius' art on our visions of the future best: "You see it everywhere, it runs through so much you can’t get away from it." In a cultural sense, all of us live in Pete Club's city now.

via Dangerous Minds

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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