Many of us nerds have a sweet comic book collection, but I’d wager they would look a little bit nicer with a copy of Action Comics #1. The issue featuring Superman’s debut is the single most valuable comic book in history. In 2014, a copy sold for over $3 million.
Its value is not just based on the immeasurable effect that it had, and continues to have on the world, but also because there aren’t many copies left. Wartime efforts to recycle paper, sometimes printed in the comics themselves, means that it’s incredibly difficult to find comic books from the golden age of the ’30s and ’40s, especially one in pristine condition.
And that is made even harder for Superman because the publishers ran a contest that effectively asked readers to destroy their copy of Action Comics #1, and the sad news is, we have a record of people who did exactly that. Watch the video below or keep reading to learn more!
Superman’s Super Splash
Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, claim it took them six years to sell their story which was originally conceived as a newspaper comic strip. They cut the strip up into a format that would fit the dimensions of a comic book and lifted a panel from the story to use as the last minute cover of Action Comics.
You can probably see the cover of Superman’s first appearance in your mind’s eye, or whatever, that jaw dropping image of Superman effortlessly lifting a car over his head while some stereotypical 1930s goons cower in fear.
The cover was seen as so outlandish at the time that the publisher reportedly banned Superman from appearing on any new covers of Action Comics, which is why the next few issues feature characters from other stories inside the anthology title.
After the initial print run of 200,000 books sold out in record time, it wasn’t long before National Allied Publications, the company behind Action Comics, realized it was because of the popularity of their Superman stories. Wanting to capitalize on this, the champion of the oppressed quickly returned to making appearances on the cover page.
Action Comics #1 launched a lot more than just the cape wearing Kryptonian into the public eye. It popularized superhero comics for decades to come. As author Mike Benton so eloquently wrote in Superhero Comics of the Golden Age:
“For a while, Siegel and Shuster’s tiny art studio at 10905 Amor Avenue was the only place in the world where stories about superheroes were dreamed, written, and drawn, but not for long.”
A Contest With Good Intentions
Action Comics #1 is the grandfather of comic books, the one that started it all, but before that, it was simply yet another comic book that National Allied Publications had to advertise to make sure it sold well. Thus, we get this promotional image printed in More Fun Comics number 31, regarded as the first published picture of Superman in history.
With the word out about this new comic title, potential fans were ready and waiting to stake their claim as the first nerds to get involved in what would soon become an enormous superhero explosion. In the decades after many readers could show their nerdiness by writing into a letters column.
That’s been pretty standard fare throughout the industry, but Action did not have a letters page. It did, however, have another way fans could get involved. Superman’s big debut had a color page contest that looked like this.
Readers could color in a black and white page from the Chuck Dawson story, which also appeared in Action Comics #1. Once readers had colored it in to the best of their ability, they would have to rip out the page from the comic and mail it to the publisher.
Let me restate that. These readers not only took crayons to what would eventually become the most valuable comic book in history, but they ripped out a page from it. If that wasn’t bad enough, the next part of the story might really make some of you cringe.
That first page of the Chuck Dawson story that fans tore out of the book? Well, the flip side of that page wasn’t just some random unimportant filler. If it was, we could forgive them because at least they left the Man of Steel alone, but they didn’t. On the reverse side of Chuck Dawson was the last page of the world’s first Superman story.
The Original Comic Book Nerds
The truth is, we don’t know how many readers went through with this, but we do know that 25 winners were chosen. Normally I’d be against this sort of nerd shaming, but these people are almost certainly dead by now, so here are their names real quickly:
They each destroyed their own piece of history, a story worth potentially millions of dollars for a grand prize of exactly one dollar, which to be fair is more like 17 when you adjust for inflation today.
Still, that’s a much better takeaway than all of the unnamed nerds who colored in and ripped up their copies of Action Comics #1 for nothing. Obviously I kid about shaming these people, but the fact is that they sacrificed their priceless Superman comic for something I’m sure a lot of us would love to have, historical records that they were the original comic book nerds.
Did you know about the competition that destroyed so many copies of Action Comics #1