Created by artist Jack Kirby, the character first appears in The Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966), the first of a three-issue arc that fans call "The Galactus Trilogy".
The Silver Surfer debuted as an unplanned addition to the superhero-team comic Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966). The comic's writer-editor, Stan Lee, and its penciller and co-plotter, Jack Kirby, had, by the mid-1960s, developed a collaborative technique known as the "Marvel Method": the two would discuss story ideas, Kirby working from a brief synopsis to draw the individual scenes and plot details, with Lee finally adding the dialogue and captions. When Kirby turned in his pencil art for the story, he included a new character he and Lee had not discussed. As Lee recalled in 1995, "There, in the middle of the story we had so carefully worked out, was a nut on some sort of flying surfboard". He later expanded on this, recalling, "I thought, 'Jack, this time you've gone too far'". Kirby explained that the story's agreed-upon antagonist, a god-like cosmic predator of planets named Galactus, should have some sort of herald, and that he created the surfboard "because I'm tired of drawing spaceships!" Taken by the noble features of the new character, who turned on his master to help defend Earth, Lee overcame his initial skepticism and began adding characterization. The Silver Surfer soon became a key part of the unfolding story.
Following the Surfer's debut, Lee and Kirby brought him back as a recurring guest in Fantastic Four #55–61, 72, and 74–77 (ranging Oct. 1966 – Aug. 1968). The character made his solo debut in the backup story of Fantastic Four Annual #5 (Nov. 1967).
The following year, Lee launched the solo title The Silver Surfer. John Buscema was penciller for the first 17 issues of the series, with Kirby returning for the 18th and final issue. The first seven issues, which included anthological "Tales of the Watcher" backup stories, were 72-page (with advertising), 25-cent "giants", as opposed to the typical 36-page, 12-cent comics of the time. Thematically, the stories dealt with the Surfer's exile on Earth and the inhumanity of man as observed by this noble yet fallen hero. Though short-lived, the series became known as one of Lee's most thoughtful and introspective works.
Following his series' cancellation, the Surfer made sporadic appearances as a guest star or antagonist in such comic books as Thor, The Defenders, and Fantastic Four. Lee remained partial to the Surfer, even asking other writers not to use him as a general rule, and with Kirby collaborated on a seminal 1978 graphic novel starring the character, the only original story featured in the Marvel Fireside Books series.
After a 1982 one-shot by writer-artist John Byrne (with scripting by Stan Lee), the Surfer appeared in his second solo, ongoing title in 1987.
Initially written by Steve Englehart, the series was to be set on Earth and one issue was completed under this premise before Marvel agreed to let Englehart remove the long-standing restriction regarding Silver Surfer being imprisoned on Earth. This first issue was shelved and a brand new first issue was written, to set up this plot twist; the original first issue would ultimately be reprinted in Marvel Fanfare #51. The series marked the first Silver Surfer stories not written by Stan Lee, a fact which Lee was openly unhappy about. He explained:
After I gave up Spider-Man then someone else did Spider-Man, and someone else did the Fantastic Four and Doctor Strange and The X-Men and all of them. I felt that it was kind of nice for me to have been the only writer of the Silver Surfer, so I felt a little bit disappointed when somebody else did it. I would have liked to have been the only person. Had I known they were absolutely going to have the book done, I would have found the time to do it myself. I didn't really have time but I would have made the time, rather than have anybody else do it. ... this is not at all a criticism of Steve [Englehart] or of Marshall [Rogers, artist on the series], it's just that it's one book that I would have liked to have always done myself. [emphases in original]
Englehart introduced many villains for Silver Surfer, as well as featured space politics involving Surfer's homeworld Zenn-La, which was caught in the middle of a renewed Kree-Skrull War. However, issues regarding Englehart wanting to use his Avengers character Mantis as Silver Surfer's companion, as well as editorial refusing to let him use Thanos or other concepts conceived by Jim Starlin, led Englehart to leave the book with issue #31. Jim Starlin took over as writer with issue #34 after several fill-in issues, and incorporated Thanos, Adam Warlock, and Drax the Destroyer into the series.
Under Starlin and later Ron Marz, the series would receive acclaim and sales boost due to Silver Surfer's involvement with Starlin's Infinity Trilogy, with George Pérez and J. M. DeMatteis also having brief writing stints on the series as well. Additional artists included Tom Grindberg, Ron Garney, and Jon J. Muth, as well as periodic guest spots by John Buscema. The title experienced great initial success which allowed Marvel to push the character into other media, including a 1990 video game, 1992 trading card set, and 1998 animated series, as well as spinning off a variety of other comics series including Cosmic Powers, Cosmic Powers Unlimited, Captain Marvel vol. 2, and Star Masters. It ran 146 issues, through 1998. The next year it was followed by the two-issue miniseries, Silver Surfer: Loftier Than Mortals.
A two-issue Silver Surfer miniseries (later collected as Silver Surfer: Parable), scripted by Lee and drawn by Moebius, was published through Marvel's Epic Comics imprint in 1988 and 1989. Because of inconsistencies with other stories, it has been argued that these stories actually feature an alternate Silver Surfer from a parallel Earth. This miniseries won the Eisner Award for best finite/limited series in 1989.
A new ongoing Silver Surfer series began in 2003, focusing on the character's alien nature and messianic allegory. It lasted 14 issues. The Surfer later appeared in an issue of Cable & Deadpool and has been reunited three times with the superhero group the Defenders. In 2006–2007, he starred in the four-issue miniseries Annihilation: Silver Surfer and co-starred in the miniseries Heralds of Galactus, both part of the Annihilation fictional crossover.
In 2007, the Silver Surfer starred in a four-issue miniseries Silver Surfer: Requiem by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Esad Ribic. The first issue was released May 30, 2007 to coincide with the character's first movie appearance. Published under the Marvel Knights imprint, Silver Surfer: Requiem portrays the character upon learning that he is dying as the silver shell he is encased in is deteriorating.
This was followed by the miniseries Silver Surfer: In Thy Name, by writer Simon Spurrier and artist Ten Eng Huat.
After an appearance in the "Planet Hulk" storyline in 2006, the Surfer was featured in its spin-off series starring the Hulk's son Skaar in 2008, both written by Greg Pak.
The Silver Surfer received a sixth volume, an eponymous 5-issue mini-series written by Pak, debuting in February 2011. He was also a core cast member in The Thanos Imperative (2010), Annihilators (2011), and Fear Itself: The Deep (2011). Beginning in 2011, the Silver Surfer began appearing regularly in The Mighty Thor and a new volume of Defenders, both written by Matt Fraction.
In March 2014, Silver Surfer volume 7 began as part of All-New Marvel NOW! by writer Dan Slott, artist Mike Allred, and colorist Laura Allred. In January 2016 Silver Surfer volume 8 began with a special 50th anniversary edition expected release in March 2016.