3D Comics: A Brief History and How They're Made

Updated October 19, 2021
Curious little boy wearing three dimensional glasses and reading a book

When you picture three-dimensional images, you probably think about the silly red and blue paper glasses you wore to the theater as a kid to watch up-and-coming animated features; however, stereoscopic illusions got their start much earlier than the mid-20th century. In fact, this style was once so popular that it even made its way into the Golden Age of Comics with 3D comics. Three-dimensional comics might have had a short but memorable run in the 1950s, but their charm has never faded.

How Were 3D Comics Made?

Before the advent of substantial technologies and CGI manipulations, 3D images were created using stereoscopics. Early versions of this ocular technique took two images that were slightly different from each other and placed them right beside one another on cards known as stereographs. When viewed using a stereoscope, these images would look as though they were moving. By the mid-20th century, illustrative stereoscopics had evolved into something known as anaglyphs.

Anaglyphs and 3D Comics

The classic red and blue images that you might envision when you think of three-dimensional images are called anaglyphs. This ocular illusion comes from color manipulation, where the blue/red glasses cause one eye to perceive one of the printed images and the other eye to perceive the second printed image. When these are fed into the brain, a new sense of dimension is given to them, creating a seemingly 3D image onto a 2D plane.

1953 Harvey True 3-D comic book, #1

A Brief History of 3D Comics

Although stereoscopic 3D images have been around since the early 1920s, the fascination with the technology really took off in the 1950s. Three Dimension Comics featured cartoon characters like Mighty Mouse, Captain 3D, and Jungle Joe, bringing this new viewing experience to the comic book world. In fact, the very first of these comics (Three Dimension Comics #1) sold over 2.5 million copies upon its release.

Superman comic 3D

The 3-D Illusteror Emerges

Using a unique process involving acetate cells and a punching system for accuracy, creators Joe Kubert and Norman Maurer launched the 3D comics genre and patented their "3-D Illusteror" process to the comic book market. Jack Adler, a DC company employee at the time, further advanced this system in his own way, leading to the release of Superman's first 3D comic in November 1953. Its popularity encouraged other comic book companies to release their own comics without getting licensing to use Kubert and Maurer's method, which helped democratizing the fad but served to effectively bankrupt the St. John Publishing Company.

The Writing's on the Wall for 3D Comics

In fall 1953, Kubert and Maurer were sued for copyright infringement based on the fact that they'd unknowingly infringed on a 1936 stereoscope method patent. Coupled with falling sales on 3D comics, the once famous trend began to die a speedy death.

Collectible Comics That Got the 3D Treatment

Millions of comics have been printed since they first rose to prominence with children in the 20th century, and the short period that 3D comics were printed makes them an entertaining and whimsical collectible to have. While they're not particularly valuable to comic book collectors, they can make for a unique addition to anyone's collection. Given their short printing cycles, there are far fewer books out there to find, though the ones you do find can be valued on the market anywhere between $1-$25 on average, with Mighty Mouse being the most commonly listed comic book series out there. Here are some of the main titles you might come across:

Children wearing 3d glasses to read the mighty mouse 3d edition

Experience the Delightful Double-Vision

Step into the past in an unexpected way with 3D comics from the early 1950s. From superheroes to horror tales, there's a storyline that's sure to keep you compelled, and you can try on those old paper 3D glasses from the theater you got as a kid to put your double-vision in high-gear. And if you find 3D comics fascinating, explore other rare comic books to see what's out there.

3D Comics: A Brief History and How They're Made