1936: An Industry On The Brink
The past few years have been good times for comics historians, particularly for those interested in seeing how comics were bought, sold, and read throughout our industry's history. Google's Life Magazine archive has been a treasure trove of images of comics on the newsstand and elsewhere, and even flickr has turned up some interesting surprises (here's the best picture of comics being sold in the 1940's that I'm aware of, for example).
New stuff in this area continues to turn up at a pretty regular pace, as more photo archives come online and people dig stuff up out of old magazines, but when this November 1936 Life Magazine photo started making the rounds recently, it caught my attention — it is the first American newsstand photo of comics that I am aware of (and perhaps the earliest photo of American comic books "in the wild" yet to surface).
I hesitate to say that there's no major key issue there that most mainstream collectors would recognize, because of course at that early date, they are all pretty important to comics history (and the holy grail of hobby researchers in this area — a picture of Action Comics #1 in the wild, has not yet been found).
It's simply a cool moment in time for the industry — a short row of comics right above the current New Yorker, Time Magazine, and the debut issue of Life. The Detective Comics series was about to begin, and Action #1 was a year and a half away. A business in its infancy and about to explode.