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Comic Legends: Was Action Comics #1 Really Released on April 18th?

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and seventy-sixth week where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

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Click here for Part 1 of this week's all-Superman legends. Click here for Part 2 of this week's all-Superman legends.

COMIC LEGEND:

Action Comics #1 was released on April 18, 1938.

STATUS:

Appears to be false

Reader Jesse F. tweeted to me the other day, "Don't know if this is Legends-worthy, but I saw a lot of talk on Wednesday of April 18t being the actual day of ACTION #1's release 80 years ago and... I don't think I believe that. I may be misinformed, but I'd heard the exact date of release was lost, just a range of a few weeks. Also, the exact date just happens to fall on a Wednesday? I mean, I'm sure it's in the ballpark, but is it really the exact day?"

I initially responded that it's fair to say that, after a number of years, the exact on-sale dates tend to be lost to history. In the case of Action Comics #1, however, we actually have a shockingly "of the time" resources for the release date, as National Allied Publications (the company that eventually became DC Comics) actually sued another company for the release of a comic book by Fox Publications that National believed infringed on their Superman copyright. The lawsuit took place in 1939 and in the lawsuit, Jack Liebowitz recalled the release date of Action Comics #1:

Leibowitz: “I can explain that first issue. We put that out April 18 and we left it on sale for about 6 weeks. The next on-sale date was about May 25, and thereafter it was published about that time so there was only a month’s difference after that time.”

Now, when a guy tries to recall an on-sale date 10 years later, I'm wary, but when a guy has a specific date just a year later, I tend to believe it and that's what I told Jesse on Twitter.

However, I was thinking more about it and I was wondering about WHERE, exactly, Liebowitz got that date and looking into it, I see the problem.

You see, Liebowitz got the date from National's records at the time (as they reported them to the Library of Congress), but National's records were for COPYRIGHT DATES, not the on-sale date.

It would be decades before National would actually report the on-sale dates of their books to the Library of Congress.

So April 18, 1938 is when National received the copyright date for Action Comics #1. That, though, is categorically NOT when the comic book was actually released into stores. Typically speaking, it would be a couple of weeks after the copyright date. We know that there are copies of Action Comics #1 that were hand-dated in late April (that is, someone wrote in pencil in the actual copy something like 4/26/38 for the store's own records), meaning that allegedly, those stores did receive their books at the end of April, but that is not exactly proof (as who knows when the person actually wrote the dates on the book?), but it does suggest that there were some copies in stores by the end of April (which makes sense, as back then, different stores in different parts of the country got their deliveries on different schedules).

The most likely release date, though, is probably May 3, 1938, as theorized by Mike Voiles of the always amazing (so amazing that it is even in the title), Mike's Amazing World, who noted that Action Comics was released early in the month at the time and since they were released on Tuesdays, the first Tuesday in May in 1938 was May 3 and hence, May 3, 1938.

Could Mike be slightly off? Perhaps, but the main thing is that whenever the comic was actually released, it definitely was NOT on April 18, 1938.

Thanks to Jesse for the question and thanks to Mike for the information!

Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed - Was There Nearly a Batman/Godzilla movie?

OK, that's it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week's covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo, which I don't even actually use on the CBR editions of this column, but I do use them when I collect them all on legendsrevealed.com!

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