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Table of Contents Introductory Note about the Chronological Structure of American Comic Book Chronicles.................. 4 Note on Comic Book Sales and Circulation Data.......................................... 5 Introduction & Acknowledgements . ........... 6 Chapter One: 1950 Variety on the Newsstand............................... 10 Chapter Two: 1951 Before the Storm................................................. 36 Chapter Three: 1952 Expansion............................................................. 54 Chapter Four: 1953 EC Soars, Fawcett Crashes................................ 72 Chapter Five: 1954 Comics in Crisis................................................... 90
Chapter Six: 1955 Censored!............................................................ 116 Chapter Seven: 1956 Birth of the Silver Age..................................... 142 Chapter Eight: 1957 Turbulence and Transition........................... 164 Chapter Nine: 1958 National Takes the Lead................................. 180 Chapter Ten: 1959 The Silver Age Gains Traction...................... 198 Appendix........................................................... 226 Works Cited....................................................... 230 Index................................................................... 234
Variety on the Newsstand
of Siegel and Shuster’s Superman in mid-1938 was the shot in the arm that set the fledgling comic book industry on its feet. The Man of Tomorrow was a distinctly different kind of hero, uniquely suited to the brash fourcolor booklets that had so recently become a recognizable presence on American newsstands. When the word got out that National Allied Publications’ Action Comics was a sales skyrocket, imitators followed, and an industry took hold. In 1950, the types of comic books on the racks demonstrated how far the industry had come from its roots, as it adapted to changing public tastes after the end of World War II. While costumed heroes dominated the field during the war—partly out of a need for optimistic, powerful heroes, and partly because other forms simply hadn’t been developed yet—the post-war era registered a significant drop-off in the public’s interest in such fare. Comic books as a medium lost some overall sales for a while, with demobilization and the reduction of readers in the armed services—virtually a captive audience during the war—but by then, the comic book as a mode of entertainment had gained acceptance. The readers were out there, and it remained for publishers to provide them with the kind of material that they found attractive and interesting. Publishers experimented with other kinds of subject matter, and by the decade’s end, newsstands offered a great diversity of genres: Westerns, romance comics, teenage humor, funny animal antics, crime comics, and newspaper reprints, each type, in turn, having sub-genres.
National Comics in 1950 As 1950 began, National Comics Publications Inc., now DC Comics (called National throughout this book), remained a sales leader for three principal reasons: employment of many of the most talented artists and writers in comics, conservative stewardship, and a program of prudent diversification.
Unlike many of its competitors, National’s core super heroes hadn’t succumbed. Superman was still going strong in his solo title as well as in Action Comics and World’s Finest Comics. Superboy seemed to be gaining momentum, appearing regularly in Adventure Comics and his own selftitled book. (Lana Lang made her debut in Superboy #10, cover dated Sept.-Oct. 1950.) Batman and Robin, too, held firm in their own title plus Detective Comics and World’s Finest. Robin was still appearing in solo adventures in Star Spangled Comics, though not for much longer. Wonder Woman would soon drop out of Sensation Comics, but the Amazon princess continued to dominate the world of men in her own book. And the Justice Society of America—the only remaining vehicle for the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawk10
man, and the other All-American heroes—hung on in All-Star Comics. Second tier hero Aquaman continued in his slot in Adventure Comics, and Green Arrow was in both World’s Finest and Adventure. All these National heroes would run unabated through the decade except for the JSA, whose All-Star Comics dropped them to usher in a format change to All-Star Western in 1951. The creative direction of National was being steered by the urbane, hard-drinking Whitney Ellsworth, whose career with the firm began as an assistant editor with Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Publications in 1934. As such, he pre-dated Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz with National, staying aboard when their machinations squeezed Wheeler-Nicholson out in 1938. That same year, Ellsworth rose to Associate Editor, producing cover roughs for several years (he was a cartoonist of some ability), and soon he was promoted to Editorial Director, the position he held in 1950. While Ellsworth provided general guidance, after consulting sales figures produced by the co-owned Independent News distribution company, he delegated most of the creative decisions to a staff of able editors, each handling a slate of titles. As Ellsworth became more involved in the development of the firm’s properties in movies and television in the late 1940s and early 1950s, these nominal “assistant editors” gained considerable autonomy. Mort Weisinger was per-
haps first among equals, entrusted with the stewardship of the flagship Superman titles. Jack Schiff steered the Batman books. Julius Schwartz (known as “Julie” by his friends) handled All-Star and a variety of genres. Robert Kanigher edited Wonder Woman and romance comics. Bernie Breslauer served in an editorial capacity on the humor titles; when he suffered a heart attack, he was replaced by Larry Nadle. George Kashdan was a story editor who rose to edit a number of titles in the new decade. One of the key differences between comic books of the early-to-mid 1940s and those of the 1950s was the page count. The traditional 10-cent book during World War II contained 68 pages including covers, at least until 1943 when paper rationing forced reductions (to counts ranging from 36 to 60 pages). After the war, the maximum page count to be found for 10 cents was, with few exceptions, 52 pages. By 1950, many more had dropped down to 36 pages. National held firm for the time being at 52, though it was clear that they would soon have to slim down. (The dimensions of a typical comic book at this time were 7” wide by 10¼” high.) Most 52-page comics had five or six stories, which was generally reduced to three or four stories in books that fell back to 36 pages. If National’s output of super hero comics filled pages in only 11 titles by 1950, what made up the rest of its lineup?
Lana Lang met the Boy of Steel for the first time in Superboy #10 (September-October 1950). Even though super heroes had lost a great deal of their popular appeal by the beginning of the decade, National’s top heroes remained relatively healthy. Right: Action Comics #141 (February 1950), Wonder Woman #40 (March-April 1950), and Detective Comics #156 (February 1950). Superman, Superboy, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin TM and © DC Comics
TIMELINE: 1950 A compilation of the year’s notable comic book history events alongside some of the year’s most significant popular culture and historical events. (On sale dates are approximations.)
June 25: North Korean forces cross the 38th parallel and invade South Korea, marking the start of the Korean War. The conflict would end over three years later when an armistice is signed on July 27, 1953.
March: Haunt of Fear #15, Weird Science #12, Weird Fantasy #13 appear on newsstands, completing the horror and SF “New Trend” roster at EC.
February: Vault of Horror #12 & Crypt of Terror #17, the first EC “New Trend” horror comic books, hit newsstands. They would spawn one of the two genres that especially distinguished comic book history from 1950 through 1954.
February 9: In a speech in West Virginia, Senator Joseph McCarthy claims to have a list of 205 people working in the U.S. State Department who were members of the Communist Party. While never proving his claims, the speech nonetheless thrusts McCarthy into the national spotlight as the foremost voice expressing fear that Communist spies have infiltrated the government.
February 25: The comedyvariety program Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Carl Reiner, debuts on the NBC television network.
June 30: National publishes Strange Adventures #1 with an adaptation of Destination Moon, the film based on Robert A. Heinlein’s book that would reach theaters in August. March 19: Edgar Rice Burroughs, sci-fi author and the creator of Tarzan, dies at the age of 74 of a heart attack.
Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories TM and © William M. Gaines, Agent, Inc. Strange Adventures, Superman, Big Town, Tomahawk, All-Star Comics TM and © DC Comics.
While Superman and Batman reigned supreme in the opening story in Action and Detective respectively, the backup features reflected the times. Action Comics #140 (January 1950) followed the Man of Steel with Tommy Tomorrow, Tales of the Texas Rangers, Congo Bill, and Vigilante. Detective Comics #155 (January 1950) backed the Dynamic Duo with PowWow Smith and Roy Raymond, TV Detective (first billed as “Impossible – but True”). World’s Finest Comics #43 (January 1950) did offer Green Arrow and Zatara, but also the Wyoming Kid and Full Steam Foley. Much of National’s line was made up of humorous comics of various types, in titles such as Comic Cavalcade (with the Fox and the Crow), Sheldon Mayer’s Scribbly (which would soon be retired), Funny Folks, Leading Comics, and Animal Antics. For teenage Archie-like humor, National published Buzzy, Leave it to Binky and A Date with Judy. It also produced
the romance books Secret Hearts and Girls’ Love Stories, which were joined in 1950 by Girls’ Romances. All American Comics had been converted to All American Western, replacing Green Lantern with the cowboy Johnny Thunder, and Western Comics, Jimmy Wakely, and Dale Evans filled out National’s Western roster. In summary, the thirty-nine titles published by National in mid-1950 broke down as follows: eleven super hero titles (often with non-super backups), seven funny animal/juvenile, six Westerns, four teen-age, four romances, three adventure, two crime, and two straight humor. Sales in 1950 averaged 7,791,402 copies per month, or about 93 million total copies for the year. That meant the average sales per book, most of them bimonthly, was about 400,000-450,000 copies (Tolworthy). With owner Harry Donenfeld having moved into the background, Jack Liebowitz ruled the offices at 480 Lex12
ington Avenue. Given his background in accounting and finance, Liebowitz was not surprisingly a conservative man, and his personality was apparent in National’s publishing output. Yet if new titles were needed, Liebowitz’s answer wasn’t simply to publish four or five more romance and Western books; he wanted Ellsworth to try new things, albeit with all due caution. Thus, he was receptive when Ellsworth had proposed licensing a Dale Evans book starting in 1948, a result of the editor-in-chief’s role as National’s contact in Hollywood. After supervising Atom Man vs. Superman, the second Superman serial, which was released in July 1950, Whitney Ellsworth continued by overseeing Superman and the Mole Men. For this Lippert Films project, a new actor was hired to play the Man of Steel, a handsome B-movie actor named George Reeves. While in California, Ellsworth lined up more licensed properties for comic book
July 12: Bill Finger’s Lana Lang makes her first appearance in Superboy #10 (“The Girl in Superboy’s Life”).
August: The first issue of EC’s Crime SuspenStories arrives at newsstands.
July 26: National’s Tomahawk #1, featuring the work of Bruno Premiani, Fred Ray, and Leonard Starr, arrives at newsstands.
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September: Two-Fisted Tales #18 features the work of Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, Al Feldstein, and Wally Wood. With its next issue, the title would become EC’s first war comic book.
October 2: As a precursor to Peanuts, Charles Schulz’s Li’l Folks is syndicated to seven newspapers. It stars four characters: Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Shermy, and a beagle named Snoopy.
August 24: Marvel Boy #1, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Russ Heath is Martin Goodman’s attempt to publish a new super hero. The series lasts only two issues.
July 20: Columbia releases the second Superman serial, Atom Man vs Superman, a precursor to the Adventures of Superman TV show.
The Hollywood connection was conjured up even when titles had no genuine connection to the movie capitol. Animal Antics became Movie Town’s Animal Antics; Leading Comics became Leading Screen Comics. National launched Miss Melody Lane of Broadway and Feature Films. Despite sales that were down from prior peaks, the Superman stories offered top artwork in 1950 and throughout the decade. The chief art-
November 1: Harvey Comics jumps on the horror bandwagon with Witches Tales #1.
August 5: Led by Estes Kefauver, a U.S. Senate Committee investigates the effect of crime comics on juvenile delinquency rates from 1945 to 1950. Surveys are sent to all the top comic book companies asking for circulation figures, demographics, revenues, opinions about juvenile delinquency, and whether or not their books have been approved by psychiatrists.
publication. The Adventures of Alan Ladd and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet debuted in issues cover-dated at the end of 1949, and Adventures of Bob Hope began in an issue dated February-March 1950. This tactic successfully capitalized on these performers’ widespread popularity. When the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis became a whitehot media sensation in the following year, National was quick to sign them up and get a book featuring the duo onto the stands.
November 15: National’s licensed Big Town begins, soon to be followed by more radio and TV adaptations.
October 1: Martin Goodman publishes War Comics #1, the first of the “modern” war comics. Goodman would go on to launch eleven more war titles through the end of 1952.
October: The Edvard Moritz-drawn cover to ACG’s Adventures into the Unknown #14 annonuces, “In this issue: The Haunted Morgue, Land of the Zombies, The Werewolf Strikes… and other strange features.” The title would become ACG’s leading series.
ist for the Man of Steel was Wayne Boring, who had learned the business assisting Joe Shuster on Superman, beginning in 1938. After Siegel and Shuster left National in 1947, Mort Weisinger made Boring and inker Stan Kaye the main art team for Superman and Action Comics. Boring’s style had already evolved into something original by 1950, a combination of both the primitive and the exotic. He would refine and polish his style until it reached its zenith at the decade’s end. Al Plastino and Winslow Mortimer also illustrated the Man of Steel, and ably so, but not with anything like the panache and style of Wayne Boring. Unfortunately, the stories had hit the doldrums, despite being written by able scripters such as Alvin Schwartz and William Woolfolk. Superman’s encounters with villains Luthor, the Toyman, and the playful Mr. Mxyztplk from another dimension had become repetitious and lackluster. 13
December 20: All-Star Comics #57 presents the last appearance of the Justice Society of America—and its members the Flash, Green Lantern, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hawkman, Atom, and Black Canary—in the 1950s. With its next issue, All-Star Comics is re-titled All-Star Western, featuring the Trigger Twins, the Roving Ranger, and Strong Bow.
Jack Schiff, editor of the Batman titles, also had his star artist at this time: Dick Sprang. Sprang’s artwork achieved a level of sophistication and excitement that few other comic book artists could match. When Schiff was trying to inject new life and a sense of modernism into to the feature, he had Sprang draw two key stories: “The Batmobile of 1950” in Detective #156 (February 1950), written by Joe Samachson, and “The Origin of the Batplane II” in Batman #61 (OctoberNovember 1950), probably penned by David V. Reed. The other main “Bob Kane” in the early 1950s was Lew Sayre Schwartz. The art of Dan Barry made a major impact at National in 1950 and into 1951. Barry had a literal, slick style that the conservative editors of the firm loved. Some of the books Barry was most associated with (sometimes inked by his brother Sy Barry) were Gang Busters, Big Town, and Mr. District Attorney, as well as Vigilante
Before the Storm
In 1951, the new United Nations building in New York City officially opened, even as the testing of nuclear explosions occurred with greater frequency, both in the Nevada desert and on an atoll in the Marshall Islands. J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye saw print, and I Love Lucy made its television debut on CBS. Transcontinental television began.
The public’s interest in science fiction was even more pronounced than in 1950, evident in the release of a number of popular films with SF themes, chief among them Man from Planet X, The Thing from Another World, When Worlds Collide, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Flight to Mars. It was only natural that comic books followed suit with science fiction comics. Bill Gaines contributed creatively to EC comics by virtue of plotting many of the stories with his right hand man, Al Feldstein. He also hired the artists and, again in concert with Feldstein, decided who would draw each particular script. Nevertheless, he focused much of his time on business management, such as analyzing sales information as it came in from his distributor, Leader News. “Bill used to have this system for charting sales which I always watched in wonder, but I never quite understood,” Harvey Kurtzman recalled. “He’d keep little piles of thumb-nail papers that would fit into the palm of your hand, and he would sit there with a slide rule and he’d make little marks on the papers, and he’d look at his slide rule and make more little marks on his papers. At any given moment he knew what was selling” (Benson 83). Monitoring sales and keeping on top of popular trends was de rigueur. Three genres had come to the fore as sales softened for romance and crime books: war, science fiction, and horror. As the year began, it seemed clear that of the three, horror comics were selling best, with sales continuing to climb even as the objections to violence and sex in comics grew louder. One could see dark clouds on the horizon, but Bill Gaines wasn’t worried. Complaints from a minority of cranks and do-gooders (as he saw them) weren’t going to stop him from publishing comics that were flying off the newsstands and generating a growing number of fan letters.
Horror was hot, but EC’s science fiction comics engendered their own special excitement, offering imaginative scripts and art by the best young artists in the business. As Gaines’ comics would soon trumpet, “We’re proudest of our science fiction titles!” SF was busting out on the racks, and EC comics led the pack from a creative and, very likely, sales standpoint. 36
ing when he would receive royalty payments for EC’s adaptations, Gaines quickly sent him a check, and they hammered out an arrangement for further adaptations. Henceforth, these adaptations appeared under Bradbury’s name and original story titles. (Gaines subsequently curtailed unauthorized adaptations of other writers’ works.) Wally Wood was already developing into the star artist of EC’s science fiction titles. Born in Menahga, Minnesota, in 1927, Wood was a slender, diffident young man who came alive at the drawing board. His chief influences were Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs. He loved drawing rocket ships and alien planets, and had a style that was highly detailed and attractive. The only thing Wood liked better than drawing rocket ships was drawing sexy women; his were some of the sexiest to appear in any comic book. He produced a story in all twelve of EC’s 1951 SF comics, such as the aforementioned “Deadlock!,” often involving menaces from other planets (“The Aliens!”in Weird Science #7, MayJune 1951). Each was a gem, and each showed incremental improvement. His work kept getting better and better. Wood’s artistic
The Thing from Another World was released on April 29th, 1951. It was loosely adapted from John W. Campbell Jr.’s story “Who Goes There?” The Thing From Another World TM and © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
In 1951, EC published six issues each of Weird Science (#5-10) and Weird Fantasy (#17, then #6-10 when the title changed its numbering system). Al Feldstein drew all the Weird Science covers except for the last two of that year’s run, which were handled by Wally Wood. Feldstein scripted the interior stories this year, other than those written and drawn by Kurtzman. (Wally Wood did some plotting and possible scripting on “Deadlock!” in WF #17, JanuaryFebruary 1951.) The artwork was mainly by Feldstein, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, and Jack Kamen. For script ideas, Gaines and Feldstein looked to previously published prose stories from the SF pulps and magazines, but they never credited their sources. In 1950 and 1951, Weird Science and Weird Fantasy based stories to one degree or another on works by Henry Hasse, Edmond Hamilton, Roald Dahl, Donald Wandrei, Anthony Boucher, Murray Leinster, and Fritz Lieber, among others. The same was true of the horror comics. Because he was dieting to lose weight, Bill Gaines was taking Dexedrine, a drug that had an effect like amphetamine (“speed”). As a result, he had trouble getting to sleep. So he read SF and horror stories late into the night (and early morning). As he did this, he jotted down ideas for what he and Feldstein called “springboards,” story gimmicks that served as the basis for Feldstein’s finished scripts. A single story often suggested several springboards, and a certain number of the EC science fiction strips came directly from the original prose stories. The first Ray Bradbury tale to be “adapted” in this fashion was “The Handler,” which was re-done in Haunt of Fear #6 (March-April 1951) with the title “A Strange Undertaking…,” drawn by Graham Ingels. The first of these unauthorized Bradbury adaptations to appear in an SF title was “Home to Stay!” in Weird Fantasy #13 (May-June 1952), a combination of the author’s “Kaleidoscope” and “The Rocket Man.” When Gaines received a letter from Bradbury ask-
Weird Science #7 (May-June 1951) with cover by Al Feldstein. Above: images by Wally Wood from the splash panel of “The Maidens Cried” in Weird Science #10. TM and © William M. Gaines, Agent, Inc.
April 27: Created by Julius Schwartz, John Broome, and Carmine Infantino, the super heroic Captain Comet debuts in National’s Strange Adventures #9.
A compilation of the year’s notable comic book history events alongside some of the year’s most significant popular culture and historical events. (On sale dates are approximations.) February 9: The first issue of National’s Mystery in Space—a sister SF title to National’s Strange Adventures—arrives at newsstands. It is edited by Julius Schwartz with stories written by John Broome, Gardner Fox, and Robert Kanigher, and drawn by Frank Frazetta, Carmine Infantino, and Alex Toth.
January 1: The 100th issue of Marvel Tales hits newsstands. The horror-SF title evolved from Marvel Comics, the first comic book published by Martin Goodman (and the comic book which introduced the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, and others). From issue #2 through #93, the series was titled Marvel Mystery Comics.
March 1: Goodman’s publishes the first issue of Strange Tales. It would become his longest running horror title.
June: Famous Crimes #20 is one of the last comics published by Fox Comics. Victor Fox’s firm goes out of business in 1951, following a hiatus of several months. No one would miss his sleazy line of comic books.
April 1: Harvey Comics’ second horror title, Chamber of Chills, comes with horror hosts and EC-like plots.
June 25: CBS transmits the first commercial color television broadcast in the form of a one-hour special from New York to four other cities.
March 29: A jury finds Julius and Ethel Rosenberg guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage in their selling of classified information to the Soviet Union that helped the communist nation build an atomic bomb. A week later, a judge sentences the Rosenbergs to death, which is carried out on June 19, 1953. March 12: Hank Ketchum’s Dennis the Menace comic strip appears in newspapers across the U. S. for the first time.
May: Avon’s Space Detective #1—written by Walter Gibson and drawn by Joe Orlando and Wally Wood—arrives at newsstands.
May 9: ACG publishes the 52-page Forbidden Worlds #1, edited by John Hughes.
Marvel Tales, Strange Tales, Combat Kelly and Atlas globe are TM and © Marvel Characters Inc. Strange Adventures and Capt. Comet TM and © DC Comics. Shock SuspenStories TM and © TM and © William M. Gaines, Agent, Inc.
growth was partly the natural evolution of a young artist’s style as he worked out the kinks and partly a result of the friendly competition between the EC artists, especially in the SF books. How was Gaines able to attract so many who turned out to be industry leaders and future Hall of Fame artists? A new, young cadre of artists had emerged after World War II, many of them using the G. I. Bill to attend art schools (such as Burne Hogarth’s Cartoonists and Illustrators school in New York City) while looking for work. EC was known for always having a check ready when the artist turned in a story, and for paying very good rates. This attracted artists like flies to honey. Gaines was able to spot artistic potential and respected the artists’ individuality. EC not only didn’t impose a “house style,” it published artwork that went well beyond the bounds of mainstream conformity, welcoming the grotesque horror
work of Graham Ingels and, later, the high brow explorations of Bernard Krigstein. Amid all this freedom, though, there was restriction. The artists were required to work within the panels and in the space pre-determined by Al Feldstein. Feldstein proved to be such a fast and facile writer that he could rule panels on a page of art board and write the text directly on the boards with little or no planning. Then Feldstein had the pages lettered. (Bill Gaines continued his father’s use of Leroy lettering. This was a method of lettering using a mechanical device that made all the letters completely uniform.) Only then were the pages given to the artist, with a degree of his artistic choices determined because the captions and word balloons were already in place. Also, Feldstein’s wordy panels occasionally encroached upon the space available for the images. Still, the EC artists flowered, producing art that has con38
tinued to impress succeeding generations of comics enthusiasts. National’s science fiction comics were typical of that publisher: competently written and drawn but rather conservative in terms of the material presented. In other words, National’s SF stories were plot-driven and geared toward a somewhat younger reader. Editor Julius Schwartz prominently showcased work by top writers in the SF pulps and magazines of the day. Schwartz later recalled, “When I did Strange Adventures, I gave credits, especially because I used big-time science fiction writers. I used Edmond Hamilton; H. L. Gold, who was later the editor and founder of Galaxy Science Fiction; Manly Wade Wellman, who was a grand master of science fiction and fantasy. I thought it would have name value” (Benton 60). Hamilton created a continuing character named Chris KL-99 who made eight appearances in Strange Adventures’ first 15 issues. The majority of the
August 1: With his cover dated November comics, Martin Goodman affixes the Atlas globe on the covers. Thus begins the Atlas Comics era.
July 16: Catcher in the Rye is published. Written by J.D. Salinger, the controversial novel stars the antiheroic teenager, Holden Caufield. The work would eventually be considered one of the most important novels in the history of American literature.
December 1951: Shock SuspenStories #1 hits newsstands as EC’s final horror-related “New Trend” title.
September 28: The science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still is released in theaters, making the words “Klaatu barada nikto” that autumn’s popular catch phrase.
October 15: Starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the situation comedy I Love Lucy premieres on the CBS television network. The show would run until 1961, becoming one of the most pioneering and popular programs in the history of television.
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AUGUST August 1: Combat Kelly #1 goes on sale. The series would last 44 issues but ultimately became a victim of the Atlas Implosion.
July 1: The first issue of Harvey’s flagship war title Warfront arrives at newsstands. The series would run until 1958.
December 30: The Roy Rogers Show debuts on NBC television, quickly becoming television’s most popular Western program.
DECEMBER December 1: Charlton publishes The Thing #1, seven months after Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World was released in theaters on April 21, 1951.
October 3: In one of the most celebrated games in the history of baseball, Bobby Thompson hits a game-ending home run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League baseball pennant. The home run would soon be termed “The Shot Heard Round the World.”
November 23: Superman and The Mole Men—a 58minute film starring George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane—is released in theaters. Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton as Perry White do not appear. Superman and the Mole Men TM and © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. The Day the Earth Stood Still TM and © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Dennis the Menace TM and © King Features Syndicate, Inc. Other images © respective copyright holders.
stories, however, were written by Schwartz stalwarts John Broome and Gardner Fox. Julie Schwartz recalled, Following Strange Adventures’ success, Whit Ellsworth, who was editorial director, called me in and said that he wanted me to put out another science fiction comic, and I said that it would be impossible because there were no titles left—at the time there were so many pulp magazines out there that all of the good titles had been already taken. “No problem,” he snapped back. “I already have the title: Mystery in Space.” “Oh,” I replied, acknowledging that it was a good title and adding, “these will be mystery stories that take place in
interplanetary settings—sort of adventure stories.” “No,” he quickly corrected me, “just use the same type of stories you’ve been using in Strange Adventures and put them in Mystery in Space, too.” “Then why are we using that title?” I asked. “Space I can see because the stories take place there, and space means science fiction ... but mystery?” Whit explained ... “Mystery in Space is a good commercial title, a good selling title: It has a hook for both mystery readers and science fiction readers.” (Schwartz 80) Ads for Mystery in Space #1 (AprilMay 1951) billed it as “The magazine that unlocks the secrets of the future!” From the beginning, it was clear that this was to be an equal to 39
Strange Adventures in every way. That first issue alone presented artwork by three young artists who were every bit as talented as those at EC, and who would go on to become comic book legends in much the same way: Carmine Infantino, Alexander Toth, and Frank Frazetta. Carmine Infantino drew the cover and opening “Knights of the Galaxy” story, inked by his friend and frequent collaborator, Frank Giacoia. Honing his work and improving rapidly at the start of the 1950s, Infantino had emerged as the leading artist in the Schwartz-edited comic books. The Brooklyn-born artist, a graduate of the School of Industrial Art (later the High School of Art and Design), worked for various publishers until being hired by National in 1947 to pencil the first Black Canary story. Infantino was a student of the Caniff school, as were many in the late 1940s, and had developed a distinctive individual style by the time
National launched Mystery in Space in 1951, a companion to its science fiction hit, Strange Adventures. TM and © DC Comics.
his work in the 1950s SF comics appeared. He would later hone his work to an even higher level, but in 1951 he was already doing excellent work in Strange Adventures and several other National titles.
for National, and assisted his friend Al Williamson on art jobs for EC science fiction, before becoming a ghost on Al Capp’s L’il Abner through the end of the decade. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that he specialized in painting book covers, becoming the premier fantasy painter of his time.
Alex Toth illustrated “The Men Who Lived Forever,” a 10-pager scripted by John Broome. Toth was a wunderkind who sold his first freelance art at the age of 15. Like Infantino, he attended the School of Industrial Art and began working for National in 1947 when he was 19. He proved himself one of the most brilliant panel and page designers in the business, and also one of its most serious-minded. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he drew Green Lantern, the Flash, The Atom, and others, as well as Western features such as Sierra Smith. He could be moody and had an explosive temper, but his talent was undeniable. Already one of the finest graphic storytellers in comics by this time, Toth only got better in the coming years.
When discussing the new costumed heroes of the 1950s, Captain Comet must be included. Created by Schwartz himself (supposedly based on Edmond Hamilton’s Captain Future) along with writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino, Adam Blake was a mutant born to a farming couple from the American Midwest. As he grew up, he discovered he had super powers (most of them based on mental abilities such as mind-reading, telekinesis, etc.), and was helped in pursuing a full-time career as a hero at large by Professor Emery Zackro. He thwarted alien invasions on earth and flew into space in his Cometeer to battle other menaces from outer space. As Captain Comet, he wore a distinctive red and white costume, and appeared on most of the covers from his debut in Strange Adventures #9 through his final appearance in issue #49 (October 1954). Murphy Anderson took over from Infantino to become the regular Captain Comet artist with issue #12 (September 1951, “The Girl from the Diamond Planet”). Gil Kane handled the cover art.
Despite making his name as a superstar painter of fantasy art, Frank Frazetta did exciting comic book work in the late 1940s and early 1950s. As a teenager, he worked in comics beginning in 1944 in Tally-Ho Comics (a one-shot) and bounced around small-to-medium sized publishers drawing funny animals, Westerns, fantasy, historical drama, and more. He drew Gardner Fox’s “Spores From Space” script in Mystery in Space #1. Frazetta did a bit more work 40
Women in ’50s Comic Books Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin During World War II, women had proven how capable they were on the homefront, yet in the conservative 1950s they were under pressure (by the images shown in the media, among other ways) to move back in the shadow of their men. A woman’s place was supposedly in the home as a housewife, and not in men’s domain in the workforce. Of course, many women had no choice but to work; others weren’t happy giving up the earning power and satisfaction of having their own careers. Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin were two important female artists who got their start in comics of the 1950s, both of them going on to lifelong careers in the comics field and being inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame.
out and bought some comic books and studied them for a couple of weeks before attempting to draw samples. Maybe I was supposed to be an illustrator, but I just never knew it. I somehow instinctively knew how to illustrate comics and how to dramatize things. I guess I had it in me.” Fradon continued, “When I began working for DC Comics, I was the only woman there, but everyone would always ask me if I knew Marie Severin. As far as I know, she was the only other woman working in the industry at the time. I was treated like everyone else. I didn’t experience any sort of prejudice. Truthfully, there were just very few women who wanted to do that sort of work.” (Vasquez)
Ramona Fradon, a woman working in a “man’s world” in the early ’50s. Murray Boltinoff is sitting next to the window. Others are unidentified. Thanks to Ramona Fradon
Fradon’s first job came from editor Murray Boltinoff doing the Shining Knight for National. The six-page “Gadget Boom in Camelot!” appeared in Adventure Comics #165 (June 1951) as a backup behind Superboy, who was the lead feature on the title. Then with “Treasures of the Sea” in Adventure #167 (August 1951), she began illustrating Aquaman, the character (along with Metamorpho and Brenda Starr) who Fradon would be most associated with over the years. Though Aquaman was created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger in More Fun #73 (September 1941), Fradon’s consistent, skillful handling of the art on the character all through the 1950s made her what many consider the feature’s top artist. With Robert Bernstein, she co-created Aqualad in Adventure #269 (February 1960).
and Jon Cooke.
When interviewer Tina Vasquez asked Ramona Fradon to recount how she got into comics, the artist responded: My whole career was sort of an accident. After art school, I married a cartoonist and we were living off of $75 a month. My husband suggested I draw a couple of samples to try to get some work, but I didn’t read comic books and I didn’t know anything about them. I was an ardent reader of comic strips, especially Terry and the Pirates. So I went
Marie Severin While Marie Severin was always a talented cartoonist and caricature artist, she didn’t draw comic books until the mid1960s, when she was asked by Stan Lee to try penciling a feature for Marvel. However, as the colorist of virtually all of the EC comic books from 1951 onward, she was a major comics artist of the 1950s by any measure. Harvey Kurtzman, editor of Two-Fisted Tales, was dissatisfied with the coloring done by Chemical Color Engraving in Bridgeport, Connecticut. John Severin, a key EC artist
Aquaman TM and © by DC Comics.
If the 1950s was “the best of times, the worst of times” for American comic books, 1952 was a year that exemplified the “best of times.” It was a year of industry expansion, both of the number of high quality titles and the imitative also-rans. New genres established in the prior years proliferated, crowding newsstands with new horror, war, and romance titles. Uncle Scrooge’s star was ascendant, and a sensational new type of comic book from EC came out of left field. A horror comics boom comprised a large part of the expansion. Nearly all of the horror titles published in 1951 by AGC, EC, Atlas, Harvey, and others continued into 1952, having met with robust sales and profits sufficient to warm any publisher’s heart. The word was out, and everyone wanted to grab a piece of the action. Exactly how did others find out what was “hot”? By the time the letter column in Vault of Horror #25 (June-July 1952) revealed that EC’s sales were 1,500,000 copies a month, the cat was out of the bag. Distributors were supposed to keep sales figures confidential, but publishers also had relationships with wholesalers who could—and did—talk freely about what was and wasn’t selling. What’s more, writers and artists usually worked for more than one firm, facilitating a flow of information along the industry grapevine. Besides, when the larger publishers began increasing the number of titles in any given genre, the evidence of a best seller was right there on the stands. A plethora of new horror titles appeared in 1952. As horror comics became a national craze, every publisher jumped on the band wagon:
American Comics Group introduced Out of the Night and Skeleton Hand. Ajax-Farrell published Haunted Thrills, Strange Fantasy, and Voodoo. Atlas added Adventures into Weird Worlds, Amazing Detective Cases (now all-horror), Journey into Mystery, Mystery Tales, Spellbound, and Uncanny Tales. Avon rolled out City of the Living Dead, The Dead Who Walk, Diary of Horror, Phantom Witch Doctor, and Witchcraft. Charlton jumped in with The Thing, and Comic Media introduced Horrific and Weird Terror. Fawcett published Beware Terror Tales, Strange Stories from Another World, Strange Suspense Stories, Unknown Worlds, and Worlds of Fear. Gilmor brought out Weird Mysteries. Harvey introduced Tomb of Terror. Hillman added Monster Crime Comics. Tame National had ended 1951 with the introduction of House of Mystery, and converted Sensation Comics to “horror,” dropping Wonder Woman from its pages. (She still had her solo book.) A few months later, Sensation Comics was renamed Sensation Mystery, and then one month after that, The Phantom Stranger began.
CHAPTER THREE 54
Prize brought back Frankenstein and introduced Simon and Kirby’s Strange World of Your Dreams in 1952. Quality published Web of Evil. Standard contributed Adventures into Darkness, Out of the Shadows and The Unseen. Stanley Morse had Weird Tales of the Future. Star put out Startling Terror Tales. St. John got into the act with Strange Terrors and Weird Horrors. Toby had Tales of Horror and Tales of Terror. Youthful put out Beware and Chilling Tales. Ziff-Davis added Nightmare. As for the horror comics leader, Entertaining Comics, Bill Gaines launched one more book with a connection to the genre: Shock SuspenStories #1 (February-March 1952). The Al Feldstein-drawn cover appropriately featured a shot of a man in an electric chair. It was initially conceived as a “sampler” book of all the genres EC offered: horror, SF, even war. In the first issue, Gaines and Feldstein wrote, We’ve tried to satisfy every one of you readers who have written us insisting that EC increase its output! Many of you wanted another sciencefiction mag... you horror fans wanted another horror book... and you suspense readers wanted a companion mag to Crime SuspenStories! We decided, therefore, to make this new mag an “EC Sampler” ...and to include in it an S-F yarn, a horror tale, a Crime SuspenStory, and... for you readers of Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales... a war story! Although there was a wide variance in the types of mags requested, all of you fans seemed to agree on one thing: all of you wanted the stories to have the usual EC shock endings! So what could be more natural than to call the magazine Shock SuspenStories? The interior stories were illustrated by Jack Kamen, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando and Graham Ingels, and all were scripted by Feldstein. Shock SuspenStories can be considered the last “New Trend” horror book, though it seems clear that Gaines and Feld-
Some of the horror comics that proliferated on newsstands in 1952, including St. John’s Strange Terrors #4 with an odd William Ekgren cover (in the center of row 2). House of Mystery TM and © DC Comics. Tomb of Terror TM and © Harvey Comics or successors of interest. © respective copyright holders.
Al Williamson’s splash panel to “Space-Borne!” from Weird Science #16 (November-December 1952).
TM and © William M. Gaines, Agent, Inc.
Black Comic Book Creators of the 1950s While some black cartoonists worked in the comic book production shops of the 1940s, the field was almost all-white. Despite gains made by African Americans in the post-war years, and the integration of U. S. armed forces during the Korean War following President Truman’s 1940s decision, there were few black writers and artists in 1950s comic books. The race of the person creating comic books meant nothing to the readers, of course, because they had no way of knowing if a book was produced by black or white hands. Nevertheless, it took an African American with considerable confidence and ability to knock on publishers’ doors, knowing that racial discrimination was widespread. The men of color discussed here—most of them working in the comic book industry during the 1940s as well as the 1950s—were persons of fortitude and should properly be considered pioneers in the field. Matt Baker is rated a “superstar” comic book artist who was largely considered the best “good girl artist” of his day. He was born Clarence Matthew Baker in North Carolina on December 10, 1921 and began working in comics in the S. M. Iger comic book production shop in New York City in 1944. He started out by assisting on the “Sheena” feature in Fiction House’s Jumbo Comics. Before long, he handled the finished work himself. It immediately became apparent that Baker depicted the female form exceptionally well. While at Iger’s shop (which supplied completed stories to Fiction House, Fox and others), Baker drew features starring a plethora of
Covers by Matt Baker: Phantom Lady #17 (April 1948), Teen-Age Romances #39 (September 1954), It Rhymes with Lust (1950). Photo of Matt Baker is © the Estate of Matt Baker, and may not be reproduced without permission of the Estate. Used with permission. St. John covers © respective copyright holders.
In 1950, Matt Baker collaborated with writer Arnold Drake to draw what some consider the first graphic novel, It Rhymes with Lust, published in paperback form by St. John. He also worked on a short-lived syndicated newspaper strip called Flamingo with writer (and Iger partner) Ruth Roche. It ran from February to July 1952.
jungle heroines and other similar material, including the “headlight” cover of Phantom Lady #17 (April 1948), his most famous single illustration. In 1948, Baker left Iger to work as an independent freelancer (he could make more money that way) and soon found himself producing all he could for St. John Publishing, his home in comics until 1955. At St. John, Baker became a romance comics specialist, producing work that showed a much greater grasp of gesture, nuance, and facial expressions than his earlier good girl art had demonstrated. He turned out nearly all of the covers on such titles as Teen-Age Romances, Wartime Romances, Cinderella Love, Pictorial Romances, and others. His superb artwork is one of the two main reasons St. John’s romance comics are considered the best in a large field. (The other reason is the writing of Dana Dutch.) Baker also served as St. John’s art director, reviewing the work of others as it came in. 67
After St. John went to all reprints in 1955 (except for covers, some by Baker), and the death of Archer St. John on August 13th of that year, the artist began producing more romance comics for Quality, Harvey, and eventually Charlton. He also drew Westerns for Atlas in such titles as Western Outlaws and Gunsmoke Western. Had he lived, Baker would likely have been a part of Martin Goodman’s comics renaissance in the 1960s. But Matt Baker had a weak heart, probably a result of contracting rheumatic fever as a boy. Tragically, he died of an apparent heart attack, passing away in his sleep on August 11th, 1959.
EC Soars, Fawcett Crashes
1953 was a year of extremes in the American political and social scene. At one end of the spectrum, Dwight David Eisenhower was sworn into office as President of the United States on January 20, his persona emanating a sense of benevolence and security to his electorate. At the other end of the spectrum, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin whipped his anti-communist witch-hunt into a frenzy during the same year that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sent to the electric chair after being convicted of passing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. And with the announcement that the Soviets had an atomic bomb, fear of annihilation ran beneath the “carefree” surface of American life. In 1953, overall comic book sales were flattening out, with some publishers (like Atlas) experiencing declines and others (like Dell) on the upswing. The number of individual titles was up. Over 300 issues appeared on the stands in September, almost three times as many as had appeared in the same month in 1943. For Superman, 1953 was a very good year. The Adventures of Superman television series debuted coast-to-coast on February 9, bringing the Man of Steel’s exploits into millions of homes. The show benefited from the fortuitous casting of George Reeves as Superman and brought a great deal of attention to the Man of Steel’s supporting characters. Lois Lane had been an integral part of Superman’s stories since the super hero’s first appearance in 1938’s Action Comics #1. Editor Perry White and cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, however, had both been introduced later and in a somewhat desultory manner. Now, partly due to the necessity of focusing most of the television show on non-super heroic activity, these secondary characters were elevated and would from this point forward be more important in the Superman comics. For the television show, John Hamilton portrayed Perry White while Jack Larson played Jimmy Olsen. The role of Lois Lane was at first filled by Phyllis Coates, an attractive young actress of serials and low budget features. She took other employment after completing the first Superman season. (The show’s first year was filmed in 1951, but broadcast was delayed.) Subsequently, Noel Neill—the Lois from the Superman serials—was cast as the female reporter. Robert Maxwell, who supervised the Superman radio program, produced the first season, putting all the key elements in place. The stirring Superman theme music, the opening (“Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!,” carried over from the radio show), and the fa-
Character TM and © DC Comics.
CHAPTER FOUR 72
Atomic Fear in Comics Although EC’s product was relatively literate, the atomic-themed comics of its competitors predictably veered into the realm of exploitation. For instance, the cover of Ace Publications’ Atomic War! #1 (November 1952) showed New York City being destroyed by an atomic explosion, and the covers of subsequent issues were equally alarmist. Youthful’s Atomic Attack #5 (January 1953) sported a garish mushroom cloud cover and a World War III story with the unsettling title, “Tomorrow’s War.”
On January 7th, 1953, outgoing President Harry S. Truman announced that the United States had developed a hydrogen bomb. The government was conducting ongoing nuclear tests at a site in southern Nevada. With that, fear of atomic annihilation reached a kind of crescendo and was felt in many aspects of American life. In the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (released June 13, 1953), an atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle thawed out a hibernating dinosaur (animated by Ray Harryhausen). This was one of a number of movies that unleashed giant monsters on mankind, often a result of a nuclear accident or mutation. Atomic fear permeated movies, the news, TV, and, inevitably, comic books.
Amid the blossoming atomic fear came Gilberton’s Picture Parade #1 (September 1953), a title that attempted to explain the positive uses of nuclear energy. Picture Parade was an educational series conceived and written by Eleanor Lidofsky, a college-educated Brooklynite hired by publisher Albert Kanter to work on publicity and press releases, and to write incidental material for Classics Illustrated. “I wrote the things in the inside of the front and back covers,” Lidofsky recalled in an interview for this book. “Then Mr. Kantor asked me to come up with an idea for an educational comic book. All anyone thought about atomic energy was the bombs that had been dropped on Japan. My husband was a professor of nuclear science at Columbia University, and he gave me the information about the good things that nuclear power could bring. I wrote ‘Andy’s Atomic Adventure’ in that first issue, naming Andy after Mr. Kanter’s grandson. Picture Parade sold very well. It was geared to a fourth grade reading level.” Lidofsky wrote more issues of Picture Parade, then left at the end of 1954 to have her first child. Wellintentioned as that “boy and his dog” cover was, to modern eyes there’s something absurd about Andy comforting his canine friend while a nuclear explosion occurs nearby. The cover seemed to suggest that an atomic war wouldn’t disturb life as we know it.
When John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding Science Fiction in 1937, he exhibited a propensity for stories about atomic power and nuclear disasters. Urging Bill Gaines to publish a science f iction comic back in 1949, Wally Wood and Harry Harrison gave him copies of Astounding so the publisher would see the kind of stories they had in mind. Thus, some of the earliest issues of EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy carried atomic-themed stories. There were “Cosmic Ray Bomb Explosion!” in Weird Fantasy #14 (July-August 1950) and “Radioactive Child!” in Weird Science #15 (November-December 1950). The cover of Weird Science #5 blared: “See the Earth 500,000 years after the first Atomic War!” In 1953, EC published two masterful, disturbing stories about atomic warfare and its aftermath. In Weird Fantasy #17, Al Feldstein adapted Ray Bradbury’s poetic story “There Will Come Soft Rains” about a “smart house” whose gadgets keep doing their jobs after its human occupants were decimated by an atomic explosion. And in Two-Fisted Stories #33, Harvey Kurtzman tackled the subject with “Atomic Bomb!,” showing the effects of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan ,on the city’s denizens. Wally Wood was at his EC peak when he drew both of these classic stories.
Some comics fans and historians have referred to the period from the end of World War II to the start of the Silver Age of comics in 1956 as “the Atom Age of comics.” Despite being used in Bob Overstreet’s influential Comic Book Price Guide, the phrase hasn’t yet gained widespread acceptance.
Youthful’s Atomic Attack #5 (January 1953), Ace Magazines’ Atomic War! #1 (November 1952), and Gilberton’s Picture Parade #1 (1953). Picture Parade - Classics Illustrated TM and © the Frawley Corporation & licensee First Classics, Inc. TM and © respective copyright holders.
better-selling comic books. Indeed, sales for these SF books weren’t good. When interviewed in 1969, Bill Gaines recalled,
Severin. The Civil War issues didn’t appeal to readers as much as those series’ earlier issues which had centered mostly on the Korean War and World War II. “It wasn’t enough,” Kurtzman said in comments published in the Complete EC Library. “All the stuff that I put into the Civil War stories — it just wasn’t all that popular. They essentially were subtle by comic book standards. A little too quiet. It was like asking a kid to read The New York Times” (Benson). It was another case, as with EC science fiction, when the comics had become a bit too literate for EC’s own economic well-being.
The sci-fi never did very well. I think the best they did was 75% sales, which is phenomenal by today’s standards. But back then 75% was just mediocre sales. The horror books sold 80-85% most of the time. Maybe we did get too good for the market. There’s no question that as the quality went up, the sales slid down. When I say we sold 75% originally, that was only during the first year, and I think they quickly dove down to 60%. (Hauser 181)
One comics-related development in 1953 showed just how deep an impression EC comics made on a certain, albeit small, number of its Selling 60 percent of a 300,000 copy readers. Fan Bhob Stewart decided print run was about the break-even to publish a fanzine (an amateur point. Gaines was proud of the SF not-for-profit magazine) devoted titles and kept them going on the to EC comics. Gaines printed a plug profits from his horror comic books. Planet Comics #73 (Winter 1953) was the last issue of the Fiction for The EC Fan Bulletin in the letter In the fall, when their sales decline House title, which had been going since 1940. TM and © respective column of Weird Science #20 (Julycontinued, Gaines decided to com- copyright owner. August 1953), and Stewart received bine Weird Science and Weird Fanabout 80 orders for the first issue. tasy into one book titled Weird Science-Fantasy, initially Though there were only two issues of the Bulletin, other intended as a quarterly. fanzines came along from other fans. This was the beginning of EC fandom. Perhaps inspired by Stewart’s fanzine, The problem ultimately seems to have been less with beEC established its “EC Fan-Addict Club” and published a ing “too good” than with the genre itself. Interest in sciclub newsletter to announce upcoming stories and other ence fiction comics had waned. Fiction House’s lower-brow developments. Planet Comics had been sputtering along, and finally ended with #73 (Winter 1953). (The problem with Mad Takes Flight Planet was probably worsened by The comics success story of 1953 its old fashioned look, running covwith the greatest long-term impact ers much in the style of those on SF belongs to Mad. This was the year pulps of the late 1930s.) when Mad caught on in a big way. The issues of Mad cover-dated 1953 Starting in late 1952, EC published are #3 (February-March) through #8 three special issues, entirely devot(December 1953-January 1954). But ed to stories of the Civil War, part of when, exactly, did Mad’s sales begin a plan by editor Harvey Kurtzman to to increase and how many copies dramatize major events of the whole did it sell at its peak? war over a series of seven issues. The series was launched in Frontline #9 The best available information re(November-December 1952) which veals that the Mad #1 print run was led off with the excellent Davis400,000 copies. In an article titled drawn “Abe Lincoln!” The second all“Madman Gaines Pleads for Plots” in Civil War issue was Two-Fisted #31 the February 1954 issue of Writer’s (January 1953), featuring the outDigest, Bill Gaines stated that the standing story “Grant!” with art by first four issues of Mad lost money, Severin. This was the last war comic but then he claimed, “When the sales with a front cover completely drawn reports began to come in on Mad No. by Kurtzman. The third (and, as it 5, with a bang we had done it! Today turned out, last) Civil War issue, in the print order on Mad is 750,000 Two-Fisted #35 (October 1953), took Two-Fisted Tales #31 (January-February 1953) featured and on its way to a million” (Gaines last cover on the title. By the end of the year, he was a more Southern focus, beginning Kurtzman’s 192). By analyzing all factors, comfocusing entirely on Mad. TM and © William M. Gaines, Agent, Inc. with “Robert E. Lee!,” handled by 83
ics historian John Benson concluded that the steep increase in the print orders probably began with Mad #7 and went sharply upward with issues #8 and #9, which appeared in the second half of 1953 (though issue #9 bore a 1954 cover date). Did the print run reach a million? It may have continued to increase, but 750,000 is the top figure Benson could find (Benson, “Start-Up Data for Mad’s Imitators” 12). Since Mad wasn’t advertised other than in announcements in the other
EC titles, the cause of the explosive sales increase could only have been due to good word-of-mouth. What then inspired such positive buzz? Mad #4 (April-May 1953) featured the Kurtzman-written/Wally Wooddrawn parody “Superduperman!” Not only is “Superduperman!” one of the best-known and highly regarded stories in Mad history, it’s credited as the story that propelled Mad into profitability. In a 1983 interview, Gaines stated without equivocation, “Mad was a loser until ‘Superduperman’ came out” (Decker 75). (Two other stories in Mad #4, “Robin Hood!” illustrated by John Severin and “Shadow!” featuring the artwork of Bill Elder, also parodied familiar popular culture figures, and probably contributed to the success of that pivotal issue.) By the time Mad’s fifth issue was released, more readers were snatching it off newsstands. Mad’s future was secured. Mad #5 featured another comic book parody by the Kurtzman-Wood team, “Black and Blue Hawks!,” as well as “Miltie of the Mounties!,” satirizing the popular “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” radio show, with art by Severin. “Outer Sanctum” spoofed the “Inner Sanctum” radio
program, making it the third of four parodies of widely-known popular culture subjects. This was followed by Mad #6 with three more comics and movie satires (Terry and the Pirates, Tarzan of the Apes, and King Kong). Mad #5 is also of historical importance for its inclusion of a one page humorous “biography” of Bill Gaines, a Mad version of the profiles of its creative personnel in other EC books. It likened Gaines to a Communist and child-molester, pretty strong stuff. When the facetious manner of the biography went unrecognized (or unappreciated) by parents and wholesalers, a major flap ensued. Gaines was quick to apologize, but it didn’t help EC’s reputation with the all-important wholesalers. Nonetheless, Mad’s prosperity inspired numerous imitations that tried to capture the same lightning in a bottle. Some were better than others, but none came close. They were often produced by able practitioners of comic art, but none had the creative genius of Harvey Kurtzman or his crew of wonderfully talented cartoonists. The first imitator, however, was produced before Mad’s sales shot up. At St. John, Joe Kubert and Norman Maurer produced Whack #1, cover-dated October 1953, a month after Mad #6 appeared, and a full two months before the next attempt to clone Mad.
Kurtzman/Wood’s “Superduperman!” in Mad #4 was the story that connected with readers in a big way, causing sales to soar. TM and © DC Comics.
The 3-D comics that offered such promise and excitement in 1953 turned out to be a short-lived fad. The form’s technical limitations and the smaller publishers’ shoddy product hastened the fad’s demise. Joe Kubert suggested another reason for its early death. “The publishers thought the gimmick would last forever so everybody tried to use the gimmick on everything,” he later opined. “When the market was saturated with 3-D, it was so common, readers began to ask, ‘Hey, what about the story? What about the content?’ The lack of content is what I think really caused the death of 3-D” (Groth 83). Also, 3-D was used on too many comics with stories that didn’t lend themselves to the process. Just seeing characters talking in a panel on two or three levels added nothing, even if the story was good. Two books that Kubert’s comments clearly didn’t apply to were Three Dimensional EC Classics #1 and #2, both dated Spring 1954. Each had four new, re-drawn versions of earlier EC stories from the same scripts (with a few minor changes). Most were re-drawn by different artists, allowing readers to experience a different visual interpretation of the (mostly) Gaines/Feldstein stories. “The Monster From the Fourth Dimension!” in Weird Science #7 (May-June 1951) was initially drawn by Al Feldstein. The 3-D version was handled by Bernard Krigstein. “Mr. Biddy ... Killer!” in Crime SuspenStories #5 (June-July 1951) had been illustrated by Jack Davis. Now readers had the chance to savor the same story drawn in the much different style of “Ghastly” Graham Ingels. Even when the same artist drew the new version, changes were made. Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood reworked “V-Vampires!” from Mad #3 (February-March 1953), expanding it from six to eight pages. The original splash panel was enlarged to a full page, and the opening sequence of the girl being stalked in the London fog was extended by several panels. Wood had used the CraftTint painted-shading process in the first version, but his use of that subtle shading technique was greatly expanded, perhaps partly to make up for the lack of color in 3-D. This re-worked, extended version of one of the finest Kurtzman-Wood collaborations in Mad is a treasure. EC planned a third issue of Three Dimensional EC Classics using six levels of 3-D depth as opposed to the four levels the first two issues had. When the 3-D bubble burst, however, Bill Gaines had no choice but to cancel its publication. (The four stories prepared for Three Dimensional EC Classics #3 were eventually printed in Wally Wood’s witzend #6 in 1969, in Jerry Weist’s Squa Tront #4 in 1970, and in Jerry Weist’s and John Benson’s Squa Tront #5 in 1974.) EC’s two 3-D comics were among the dozen or so 3-D books published with 1954 cover dates.
CHAPTER FIVE 90
the Dennis the Menace comic book from Pines in 1959), Otto Binder found that he was no longer persona non grata at National. With editors Julie Schwartz and Mort Weisinger beckoning, he began the second major phase of his comic book career.
Superman family of comics to capitalize on increased public awareness of the supporting characters in the Daily Planet newsroom. Mort decided Jimmy Olsen should be the first of them to have his own book. Though others at National were skeptical, Weisinger had confidence the series would succeed as long as its stories were entertaining and Superman appeared on the cover of each issue (and as a regular guest star). Binder turned out to be the perfect choice to write the book. The first issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen was dated September-October 1954. As Weisinger predicted, the series became a solid success, lasting into the 1970s.
Binder’s first story for National in the post-Marvel Family period was “I Delivered Mail from Mars” in Strange Adventures #42 (March 1954), drawn by Mort Drucker and inked by Joe Giella. His debut script for Mystery in Space was According to his personal records, “The Great Space-Train Binder scripted all but two Jimmy Robbery” in issue #19 Olsen stories in the series’ first 30 is(April-May 1954), illustratsues. Then he wrote two of every ised by Gil Kane and Bernard sue’s three stories through 1961’s Sachs. These short science Jimmy Olsen #51. The Flying Newsfiction stories came easily room, Jimmy’s disguise trunk, and to Binder. A lot of the story his Superman souvenir collection all resolutions involved quesappeared in the first issue, providtionable or at least sketchy ing fertile springboards for many scientific principles, but Page 1 of “V-Vampires!” by Kurtzman and Wood, as it appeared in Mad subsequent tales. It was Binder who the gimmicks were fun #3. TM and © DC Comics. and highly Archer St. John had invested heavily visual. Here, the virtue in the special acetate and celluloid of comic books shone, as needed to create and manufacture artists depicted things 3-D comics, since he planned to conthat couldn’t have been vert more of his line to 3-D. He was portrayed in movies. hurt worse than other publishers In all, Otto went on to when the fad came to a screeching write eighty-seven stohalt, but he had also reaped enormous ries for Schwartz over profits when 3-D comics launched. St. the next six years, such John continued a full line of comic as his popular Space books until the end of 1955, averagCabby series in Mystery ing about ten a month. In early 1953, in Space. He returned to he started Manhunt Detective Story the Tommy Tomorrow Monthly, a successful publication feature that he had writthat sold very well all through 1953, ten in the late 1940s, 1954, and 1955, and continued for a and scripted all the rest number of years after that. On Auof the character’s stories gust 13, 1955, on the eve of launching in Action Comics, occaNugget (a men’s magazine), Archer St. sionally recycling ideas John died from an overdose of pills, from his Jon Jarl text probably accidental. stories in Captain Marvel Adventures. The end of 3-D comic books also spelled the end of the Kubert-Maurer Mort Weisinger had partnership. Norman Maurer moved bigger plans for Otto back to the West Coast, and Joe KuBinder. With the popubert found work for other publishers. larity of The Adventures of Superman TV show, Otto Binder Moves to National Weisinger’s stock at National was on the rise. With Fawcett’s exit from the comics He began contemplat- Three-Dimension EC Classics #2 (Spring 1954). TM and © William M. Gaines, Agent, business (though the company would ing an expansion of the Inc. subsequently take over publishing 91
As wonderful as Wally Wood’s artwork was on the first version of “V-Vampires!” in Mad, his second, expanded version done for Three-Dimension EC Classics #1 was even more inspired. TM and © William M. Gaines, Agent, Inc.
Jack Kirby’s Captain America had been an authentic superstar of the Golden Age, garnering sales that approached those of Superman and Captain Marvel. The Torch and Sub-Mariner had also been top sellers. Martin Goodman ordered the revival of Timely’s top triumvirate, presumably to see if they would sell to the millions of viewers of The Adventures of Superman TV show. It was typical of Goodman to test those waters in late 1953 and into 1954, publishing the first of a boomlet of costumed hero books that appeared this year and into 1955. Goodman’s secondary motive was to see if he could generate interest in a TV series starring one or all of his heroes. That required the characters to be currently in print. Young Men #24 bore a December 1953 cover date and hit the stands on August 19th, just six months after George Reeves began bending steel with his bare hands on national television. Stan Lee selected the artists who handled the revivals of the three heroes. The character with the lead feature, who received most of the space on the cover, was the super-powered Human Torch. (Indeed, the cover had a banner above the title that read “The Human Torch Returns.”) He was drawn by his creator Carl Burgos; inside, the Torch was handled by Russ Heath. Captain America appeared next, drawn by John Romita. The Sub-Mariner, in the third position, was penciled and inked by his creator Bill Everett. The writers of the issue are unknown, but John Romita recalled that at least some of the Captain America revival scripts bore Stan Lee’s name. (Lee doesn’t remember.) Undoubtedly, it was Lee who decided that each of these stories would explain where the hero had been while out of the public eye. Villains had sprayed the Torch with X-R solution and buried him underground near Yucca Flat, Nevada. His junior partner Toro had been captured and brainwashed by the Communists. Captain America, feeling his work as a costumed hero
Human Torch #36, Sub-Mariner #33, Men’s Adventures #27 and Captain America #78. © Marvel Characters Inc.
was done, had retired from crimefighting to become Professor Steve Rogers at the Lee School. Namor had returned to his home under the South Pole to try to rebuild his lost empire. Each was coaxed out of retirement by new threats, either from Commies or Venusian visitors. In the upcoming tales, the Red Menace would serve a similar function as the Axis had during World War II, providing an endless fount of villainy. The three heroes appeared in Young Men #24–28, and were each given a self-titled bi-monthly book, picking up the numbering of their former series. Human Torch #36 and SubMariner #33 were cover-dated April 1954, and Captain America #76 followed with a May issue. The heroes also jumped into Men’s Adventures #27 and #28 at the same time, in the same 1-2-3 format as Young Men. This expansion from one to (at least briefly) five costumed hero titles was true-to-form for Goodman. When he tried out a new trend, he apparently believed one couldn’t properly judge its acceptance unless there were enough similar titles out there to get browsers’ attention. After the first story by Russ Heath,
Top: Sub-Mariner story in Human Torch #38. Below: These three panels from Young Men #26 (March 1954) are from the only story in the Atlas hero revival to include (briefly) all three of their stars. TM and © Marvel Characters Inc.
In the early 1950s, Farrell Publications (known as AjaxFarrell and by other imprints) was perhaps best known as the publisher of the horror titles Fantastic Fears, Haunted Thrills, Strange Fantasy, and Voodoo. Robert Farrell contracted with the Iger Studio to supply the art and stories. In ’54, he bought the rights to the defunct Fox character Phantom Lady and published four issues of the title. He also revived the Black Cobra who had fought crime in Captain Flight Comics in the 1940s, using a mix of reprints and new stories. Black Cobra #1 (October-November 1954) brought back “America’s Champion of Justice,” then followed with Black Cobra #6, and after that, issue #3. The Cobra’s numerically-confusing return was short-lived, but Farrell tried more costumed heroes in 1955. Sterling’s Captain Flash was more exciting comic-book making. Sterling, whose slogan was “Sterling Comics Packs a Punch,” entered the business in 1954 with a crime book called The Informer. Next was added a horror title, The Tormented. Then came Captain Flash, about a new super hero with an origin suited to his time, and with art by an experienced comic book pro. Captain Flash #1 (November 1954) revealed that the title character was really Professor Keith Spencer, a scientist working in the Atom City radiation laboratory. When he was exposed to cobalt rays, he was given a “power charge” that changed him into Captain Flash. Henceforth, by merely clapping his hands, Spencer
appear until later reprint collections. (Toward the end of the run, S & K relied on assistants both partly and fully.) In 1954, some smaller publishers were getting out of comics or ceasing operations entirely, in the wake of the crescendo of bad press that came during and after the Senate Subcommittee hearings in April. As a result, printers found their presses idle and were willing to print on credit. Simon and Kirby decided to take advantage of the situation, and while continuing to work for Prize, they launched their own line of four titles under the Mainline comics banner: Bulls Eye (a Western), Police Trap (crime from the point of view of the police), In Love (a complete “novel” in the first issue), and Foxhole (a war book). All the first issues bore cover dates in the second half of the year and sported colorful, eye-catching Kirby covers.
Other Costumed Heroes in 1954 Harvey Comics was winding down its horror offerings this year, changing the title of Tomb of Terror to Thrills of Tomorrow. Could costumed heroes be the way to go? Editor Sid Jacobson decided to see what happened if he reprinted Simon and Kirby’s Stuntman from 1946. Thrills of Tomorrow #19 (October 1954) brought back stories from Stuntman #1, and the following issue, dated April 1955, reprinted those that appeared in Stuntman #2. S & K would have probably done more Stuntman stories had these reprints generated sufficient interest. Apparently, they didn’t.
Captain Flash #1 (November 1954).
TM and © copyright holder.
stands. Murphy proudly wrote of this campaign in “For the Kiddies to Read,” a four-page article that appeared in Readers Digest. Some of the book reviewers fully accepted Wertham’s contentions. On April 25, 1954, The New York Times published a review titled “Nothing To Laugh At” by C. Wright Mills, Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Mills wrote, “Dr. Wertham’s ... careful observations and his sober reflections about the American child in a world of comic violence and unfunny filth testify to a most commendable use of the professional mind in the service of the public” (Mills, BR 20). Many of the reviews reprinted inflammatory images from the book.
Dr. Fredric Wertham, leader of the anti-comic book crusade.
But at the time of its publication, Seduction of the Innocent had its fair share of detractors too. Some criticized the book for the way it presented its arguments, for its lack of documentation, et al. Some accused Wertham of outright distortion. It wasn’t as if there was unanimity of support for the idea that violent comic books caused juvenile delinquency and juvenile violence.
© copyright holder.
Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain. I argue that Wertham privileged his interests in the cultural elements of social psychiatry and mental hygiene at the expense of systematic and verifiable science, an action that ultimately serves to discredit him and the claims he made about comics. (Tilley 386)
One of the most articulate dissenters was Robert S. Warshow, a writer for Commentary magazine. His 11-year-old son Paul was a member of the EC Fan-Addict Club, and Warshow found himself on the horns of a dilemma. Should he allow his son to read those comic books? He disliked them mainly because he felt they were junk literature, and thought children should be reading more high-toned matter. But Warshow looked into the issue, and SOTI, with a depth that few others accorded the subject. In his article “The Study of Man: Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham,” Robert Warshow finally concluded that his son wasn’t being damaged in any detectable way by reading EC comics. While Warshow felt comic books presented a slanted, simplistic view of the world to children, he also saw a similarly simplistic quality to Wertham’s book. Warshow wrote:
At the end of her lengthy, scholarly article published in Information & Culture: A Journal of History from the University of Texas Press, Tilley quoted Wertham himself giving “a clear indication that rhetoric must trump evidence” in the pages of SOTI itself (Tilley 407). When a colleague told him that she wished to remain neutral on whether comics were good or bad, Wertham wrote, “Neutrality— especially when hidden under the cloak of scientific objectivity—that is the devil’s ally” (Wertham 351). The publication date of SOTI (April 19, 1954) was set to benefit from the negative publicity about comic books that would accompany the nationally-televised hearings of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency that would begin two days later. Other quasi-acolytes of Dr. Wertham got on the bandwagon, such as T. E. Murphy, columnist and editorial writer for the Hartford, Connecticut, Courant, whose paper conducted a campaign in Hartford to get comic book “filth” off its news-
A comic rack shown in Seduction of the Innocent, clearly stacked with the right titles to prove Wertham’s point. © copyright holder.
Dr. Wertham’s world, like the world of the comic books, is one where the logic of personal interest is inexorable, and Seduction of the Innocent is a kind of crime comic book for parents, as its lurid title alone would lead one to expect. There is the same simple conception of motives, the same sense of overhanging doom, the same melodramatic emphasis on pathology, the same direct and immediate relation between cause and effect. If a juvenile criminal is found in possession of comic books, the comic books produced the crime. If a publisher of comic books, alarmed by at-
Judge Charles Murphy moved quickly to get the Comics Code approval process up and running. Time was of the essence. The publishers, who were paying for the service, wanted speedy action. The sooner Code-approved books appeared on newsstands, the better. Murphy hired a staff (a librarian, a college professor, a Voice of America publicist, a social worker, and an MGM story department editor), all women because he felt that female reviewers wouldn’t be steeped in the habits and traditions of comic book stories, and would bring a fresh eye to the material. They would review the entire contents of every issue, including advertisements and prose matter. Sol Harrison of National Comics designed the Code’s seal of approval (or so he claimed in later years, though it’s never been confirmed). The seal was made to look like a “stamp” to give the appearance of official approval. The word “authority” in its verbiage—“Approved by the Comics Code Authority”— conveyed the idea that this code would have teeth. Murphy insisted that it should always appear in black and white, not colored over, because its visibility was an essential part of the CMAA’s public relations campaign. Then the pre-publication review process began. While signing up publishers, Judge Murphy had given some of them the impression that he was “on their side” and would exercise his authority to reject only the most egregious material. However, it soon became apparent that the administrator was applying the Code strictly and aggressively. In December 1954, Murphy held a press conference as a sort of progress report. He told reporters that his staff had rejected 5,656 panels and 126 complete stories in the several weeks the Code had been in effect. More than a quarter of these changes involved making “feminine curves” more “natural” and women’s clothing more modest. (If a woman had any sort of décolletage, a line indicating the shape of the upper breasts in the exposed area was verboten.) Both Charles Murphy and John Goldwater (CMAA President) launched a public relations blitz, traveling the country to address dozens of civic, church, and parents groups to demonstrate how the Code was working. One reason for Murphy’s strict policy was his awareness that the critics of comic books were taking a “wait and see” attitude. Senator Kefauver told the administrator that the Code was a step in the right direction, but he wanted to convene another round of hearings to look into the matter more fully. Other government entities were also watching. In early 1955, the State of New York Legislature—one of the most zealous public bodies on this issue—conducted another hearing to take more testimony. Judge Murphy appeared before this Joint Legislative Committee on February 4 to give a presentation and answer questions. He showed them changes the Code had required: weapons had been eliminated, faces made less grotesque, clothing made more
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modest. When some legislators pointed out that comics continued to tell stories replete with violent situations and themes, Murphy responded, I think we are both agreed, and were at the time, that you just could not go in like Carrie Nation and destroy an industry and a business which employs thousands and thousands of people—destroy it overnight—that it was a question of education. You had to re-educate the writers and editors and artists with respect to what I thought the Code meant. (New York Legislature 72) The New York legislators also heard from Dell owner George Delacorte on the reasons why his firm refused to join the CMAA. This was a matter of consequence; in the coming year, Dell would publish about one-seventh of the 2300 comics released to the newsstands, with sales representing about a third of comics’ overall circulation.
Judge Charles Murphy presents a display showing how the Comics Code eliminated “objectionable” artwork. © copyright holder.
Delacorte explained, “I could not allow the Dell Comics name to be used as an umbrella for some of the inferior products we deemed then, and deem now, unsuitable and unpublishable for our children” (New York Legislature 90). Helen Meyer, at the publisher’s side, explained Dell’s plan to run the “Dell Pledge to Parents” in all its comics starting with the April issues. (It first appeared in the April issue of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories.) Behind the scenes, John Goldwater continued to try to persuade Dell to join the organization. Yes, Dell published many innocuous funny animal and humor titles, but it also published plenty of Westerns, which Goldwater felt warranted review. As history shows, however, Dell never wavered in its refusal to join the CMAA.
The coming of the Code drove the relatively few small exploitation-driven publishers out of business. Reducing the number of titles on newsstands was a priority of the top publishers, but the main motive behind the CMAA and the Code was to eliminate the kind of comics that were bringing the public’s wrath down onto the comics industry. To some, it was principally a matter of morality; to others, comics’ image had to be improved.
Effects of Censorship The Comics Code Authority seal of approval began appearing on a few comic books cover-dated February 1955. Most bore the seal beginning with their March issues. Either way, the publishers’ flow of revenue was uninterrupted.
Would the American comic book have disappeared without adopting the Comics Code? No one knows for sure. Some fans in future years would criticize the industry for “caving in” to pressure. The problem was that by 1955 comics had suffered years of criticism. Many parents wouldn’t let their children read comics at all, or at least nothing but Dell comics, and this attitude had to be turned around. Also, comics publishers were beholden to wholesalers to put their product on the stands, and many wholesalers were souring on carrying comic books due to the flak they were getting from retailers. Comic book burnings and boycotts were in the news. A number of communities around the country were considering—and sometimes passing—ordinances that exacted penalties on retailers who sold comic books that were deemed offensive. (Some, like the State of Washington and Los Angeles County, passed such ordinances even after the Code arrived.) Many comic book publishers recognized the necessity of a regulation Code. After all, films had to pass the Motion Picture Production Code in order to obtain distribution. The problem, they were soon to discover, was that the Comics Code was much more restrictive than the movie code.
As expected, marginal and small publishers felt the effect of the Code most keenly. A number of them ceased publication late in 1954 and in 1955. Stanhall, Star Publications, Sterling Comics, Toby Press, Trojan, United Features, and Eastern Color (the first publisher of mass-market comic books) left the comics business. It wasn’t always just due to the Code strictures. Some publishers were simply finding a comic book line both troublesome and unprofitable. Licensed properties, such as United Features’ Nancy and Sluggo, continued with other publishers. Six companies published more than 100 issues in 1955. Some eighteen companies produced between 13 and 90 issues. Another ten firms published fewer than a dozen issues, and they were soon gone. From an industry high of slightly more than 3,150 issues published with 1952 dates, only about 2,300 were produced with 1955 dates. The downward trend was just beginning. Within two more years, so many companies gave up comics that only fifteen companies produced as many as a dozen issues in 1957. 117
10 Great Batman Stories drawn by Dick Sprang Just as Carl Barks was known as “the good duck artist” by readers who recognized his work but didn’t know his name, Dick Sprang was known as “the good Bob Kane.” He had been penciling the adventures of Batman and Robin for a decade, but Sprang’s work reached a higher plateau in the 1950s. His style was characterized by superior composition, energetic figure dynamics and a semi-whimsical quality that was perfect for comic books. When he depicted the Dynamic Duo swinging on their ropes, they sometimes appeared to defy gravity. Sprang’s Batman was more akin to the darker crimefighter of the early 1940s than the lighter “boy scout leader” that ran parallel to his fine ’50s work. Throughout the decade, Sprang and regular Batman inker Charles Paris turned out dozens of stories, a body of work of the highest artistic caliber.
Jack Schiff gave Dick Sprang the assignment of updating the Gotham Guardians’ vehicles in two classic stories: “The Batmobile of 1950” in Detective #156 (February 1950) and “The Birth of Batplane II!” in Batman #61 (October-November 1950). In 1953, Sprang received a script by science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton (creator of Captain Future in the pulps) for a story titled “The Lord of Batmanor!” The tale took Batman and Robin to Scotland where one of their better mysteries awaited. Of these ten superlative stories illustrated by the Sprang-Paris team, eight are known to have been penned by Edmond Hamilton. Hamilton’s stories were always intelligent and carefully constructed. Each was a gem, and all were reprinted in the future Batman Annuals from 1961 to 1963, and elsewhere, due to their overall excellence.
“The Lord of Batmanor!” Detective #198, August 1953. (Reprinted in Batman Annual #2, Winter 1961.) The Dynamic Duo travel to “far away Scotland” to solve the mystery of McLaughlie Castle, which is known to the locals as “Batmanor.” Clad in kilts, Batman and Robin search the castle’s spooky, atmospheric corridors, and clash with a sea serpent (a la the Loch Ness monster) in their quest to find the missing gold treasure.
“The Voyage of the First Batmarine!” Batman #86, September 1954. (Reprinted in Batman Annual #2, Winter 1961, as “The Underseas Batman.”) When the duo stayed in deep water too long while clearing dangerous debris from Gotham City River, they had to fight crime underwater while gradually decompressing. Batman and Robin TM and © DC Comics.
the entire Atlas lineup. Because some titles were released bi-monthly, Atlas produced many more books in total.
American Comics Group In 1948 ACG had published the first ongoing horror comic book with Adventures into the Unknown #1. Seven years later, ACG’s horror books weren’t among the bloodiest on the stands, but the question remained if they would still sell after being toned down to fit the Comics Code. Editor Richard Hughes cancelled Out of the Night with issue #17 (November 1954), never bothering to submit it to the CCA, and re-started The Hooded Horseman (a Western) with issue #18. Adventures into the Unknown made a smooth transition, sporting the Code seal for the first time on issue #62 (March-April 1955). In the case of Forbidden Worlds, #34 (October-November 1954) was the last pre-Code issue. It didn’t return with a Code seal until the August 1955 issue. Hughes succeeded in making the sto-
ries interesting despite the imposed limitations. He was a clever enough writer to keep them selling until ACG went out of business in 1967. In 1955, ACG introduced the commercial tie-in Wrangler Great Moments in Rodeo (which lasted for six issues), Teepee Tim and Spencer Spook. Young Heroes starred boy heroes Prince Athel, Jeremy Jones of the Queen’s Navy, Frontier Scout and Roger of Sherwood Forest. None of these books lasted, and as the decade progressed, Hughes focused mainly on his niche as a publisher of quirky, offbeat stories in a Twilight Zone vein.
Archie Comics In the world of American popular culture, 1955 has been dubbed the “year of the teenager” largely because of two important movies. The first was Blackboard Jungle, a film about a teacher (played by Glenn Ford) who had to deal with tough, inner city youths, based on the novel by Evan Hunter. It was released on March 25,
Archie characters TM and © Archie Publications Inc.
1955. “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets played over the opening credits, which helped make it a hit recording. So sensational was the impact of “Rock Around the Clock” that it’s generally considered
Shock SuspenStories), Valor (stories of knights in armor), Aces High (a book about World War I air battles), Extra! (tales of globe-trotting reporters), Psychoanalysis (“people searching for peace of mind”) and MD (doctor and hospital stories). Virtually all of EC’s star artists drew these books: Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Johnny Craig, Bernard Krigstein, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, George Evans, Jack Kamen and John Severin.
money. Unable to match the monetary offer, Gaines cannily told Kurtzman he would convert Mad into a magazine, which Kurtzman had suggested in the past, hoping this would keep the talented writer-artist in the fold. It did, for a little over a year. Mad magazine was a spectacular success both sales-wise and creatively. Kurtzman designed its distinctive logo and format, which were retained after he left in the spring of 1956 to start a slick magazine called Trump (bankrolled by Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner). However, in late 1954, converting Mad to a magazine was a risk, adding further to Gaines’ anxiety as he prepared to launch his new comics without joining the Code.
The scripts were mostly by the writers who became regulars in the last year of the “New Trend”: Jack Oleck, Carl Wessler and Otto Binder. Daniel Keyes and Robert Bernstein wrote Psychoanalysis. All were solid professionals, though probably not as inspired as Feldstein at his best. At this stage, all Feldstein wanted to do was edit the “New Direction” titles (and the remaining “New Trend” books) and design Panic covers. (Johnny Craig edited Extra!.)
EC’s “New Direction” Gaines could have played it safe. He could have put out new titles in the popular genres of 1955: Western, romance, war and teen humor. This would have been a return to his policy before the “New Trend”, when he was just getting his bearings in the comics business. It wasn’t until Gaines and Feldstein decided to create the kind of comics they would personally enjoy that EC found success. Now Gaines and Feldstein tried to do the same thing again: invent comic books that interested them, written and drawn by the best in the business. Just as EC’s covers in 1950 announced its “New Trend,” the covers of EC’s new 1955 titles trumpeted its “New Direction” in magazines ... An entirely novel and unique kind of reading experience!”
The first issues of Impact, Valor, Aces High, Extra! and Psychoanalysis bore cover dates of March 1955, and the first issue of MD was dated April. The first five “New Direction” titles didn’t hit the stands simultaneously, but launching them in concert was an impressive achievement for Gaines and his staff. It was also a statement of Gaines’ defiance, for none of them carried the Comics Code Seal of Approval. The editorial on the inside front cover of Impact #1 titled “The Punch Bowl” began: “This magazine, ‘IMPACT,’ is the first of five E.C. “New Direction” publications. And to it, your Editors have entrusted a cherished tradition here at E.C. … THE SURPRISE ENDING! Yes, ‘IMPACT’ will be a magazine devoted to the unexpected outcome, the twist, the snap wind-up.”
The “New Direction” titles were Impact (a mild version of
When one describes Impact as a “mild version of ShockSuspenStories,” one story in its first issue must be excepted, because there was nothing mild about it. “Master Race!” was plotted by Gaines and Feldstein, scripted by Feldstein, and drawn by Bernard Krigstein. It told the story of an encounter on a New York subway between a Jewish survivor of a Nazi death camp and its commandant who was living anonymously in the city. The script called for a six-page
No one was sure whether Mad in magazine form would sell. Cover design and Page 1 cartoon by Harvey Kurtzman. TM and © Estate of William M. Gaines.
Impact #1 and panel from page 1 of “Master Race!” Opposite and next page: Pages 7 and 8 of “Master Race!.” Bernard Krigstein’s page and panel designs were like nothing seen before in comic books. TM and © Estate of William M. Gaines.
Lackluster work was the least of Bill Gaines’ problems. As he would soon learn, the newsstand dealers and distributors were out to make Gaines pay for the turmoil they felt his comics brought onto the industry. “I put out the six first issues, six bimonthlies, and they sold ten, 15 percent,” Gaines stated. “You can’t believe how horrendous the sales were. And I later found out that it was because the word was passed by the wholesalers, ‘Get ’em!’ So they got me” (Decker 78). Lacking the Code seal, and with the EC logo featured prominently on the covers, many of these books never made it onto newsstands. In fact, many bundles of EC comics never even left the distributor’s warehouse.
story, but Krigstein saw such potential in it that he expanded it (over Gaines’ objections) to eight pages, and he introduced innovative panel sequences and designs unlike any comic book story drawn before. The use of multiple panels to create the impression of figures in slow motion was just one of the artist’s techniques to make the narrative more vivid. “Master Race!” was the best story produced in all of EC’s “New Direction” books. In fact, it’s a masterwork of comic art that ranks among the greatest comics stories of all time. This may be partly due to the power of the subject matter itself, so loaded with emotion, tragedy and revulsion, as it unflinchingly portrayed Nazi atrocities. Still, Krigstein was obviously on fire creatively and showed himself a true visionary of the field. Probably more words have been written about “Master Race!” than any other single EC story. Even those who generally dislike Krigstein’s artwork fall under its spell. From a historical perspective, it influenced many future practitioners of comic art.
Gaines had no choice but to swallow his pride and sign on to the Comics Code. Unfortunately, that move didn’t reverse his fortunes. As Gaines recounted in a 1983 Comics Journal interview, once EC comics carried the Comics Code seal, sales figures doubled, from 10 percent to 20 percent. A twenty percent sell-through rate was still, in Gaines’ own words, “disastrous” (Decker 78). Not only did joining the Association not improve EC’s sales much, it also meant Gaines now had to contend with Judge Murphy’s (sometimes baffling, sometimes maddening) revision stipulations. As expected, Gaines and Murphy didn’t see eye-to-eye on matters. Their attitudes about censorship were incompatible, to say the very least. Inevitably, Gaines battled Murphy over revisions the latter’s office was requiring.
Because EC’s “New Direction” titles contained a great deal of beautiful artwork, they retain a certain popularity among comics fans of later generations. Valor was colorful and boasted wonderful visuals by Williamson, Ingels, Davis, Orlando, Wood and Crandall. Extra! had lots of Johnny Craig work and continuing characters for added appeal. On the other hand, MD and Psychoanalysis were rather dull, as was much of Impact.
Gaines’ last battle with the CMAA was over the contents of the final comic book EC published: Incredible Science Fic134
Birth of the
Reverberations from the anti-comics crusades and the adoption of the Comics Code continued to be felt in the industry in 1956. Stanley P. Morse, a publisher who had depended heavily on horror comics, shut down all four of his publishing companies: Aragon, Gilmor, Key Publications and Stanmor Publications. Other publishers who succumbed or dropped their comics lines this year were Ace Publications, Avon Publications, Lev Gleason, Premier Magazines and Superior Comics (a Canadian firm). At the year’s end, Comic Magazines, Inc.—better known as Quality Comics—ceased operations. Perhaps the most telling fact of 1956 was that no new publisher entered the comics field. National’s Next Moves Of course, that didn’t mean that no new comics titles were published. National debuted several of them in the early months of the year, and all of them were successful. House of Mystery, National’s lone “weird” anthology book, was selling well. As that title approached its 50th issue, a companion title called Tales of the Unexpected was added (sporting a February 1956 cover date). Editor Jack Schiff had access to some superb artists, including John Prentice and Leonard Starr (both of whom would go on to careers as syndicated comic strip cartoonists). Sales of Tales were sufficient to spur the launch of a third title in the genre. House of Secrets (#1, October 1956) completed National’s trilogy of comic books with the same type of material. Just after the publication of the first issue of Tales of the Unexpected, National released Showcase #1 (March-April 1956), a vehicle for the company to try out new ideas and see if they generated sufficient sales to earn their own titles. According to Irwin Donenfeld, who originated Showcase’s format, the book’s name was inspired by the Producer’s Showcase TV show (1954-1957) that aired a variety of 90 minute special programs every four weeks. (Peter Pan was one of its offerings; another was a new version of the film The Petrified Forest with Humphrey Bogart reprising the role that made him a star.) Showcase was one of the last titles launched before Whitney Ellsworth relinquished his remaining editorial duties. National had found its greatest success with super heroes, and sales of its Superman family of books were still good. The editors knew that young readers would always be attracted to heroes, which is why knights, Vikings and gladiators were being featured in The Brave and the Bold. The expressed purpose of Showcase was to test other ideas.
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the story together. Kanigher, however, mentioned nothing about input from Schwartz. Instead, Kanigher gave the impression that he was essentially working from scratch. In Robin Snyder’s History of the Comics, Kanigher wrote, “Come 1956 and all I needed to know about the new assignment was that he was the fastest man alive. I left the rest to my inner self. What name to give the new Flash? I was too impatient to waste time to think up one. You really can get hung up on the simplest things. My task was to bring him alive. What could be more natural than to call him Flash, and pretend that he was inspired by an old comic? And Jay Garrick was changed into Barry Allen, who was the new Flash” (Kanigher 59-60). Schwartz maintained that the two decided to tie in the origin with lightning, which caused the chemical lab accident, and the fact that Allen would be a police scientist. Kanigher didn’t directly dispute this, but essentially asserted that everything in the story originated with him—except for one thing: Flash’s ring. Kanigher admitted that “the Flash’s ring was sheer plagiarism [based on the pulp character] the Crimson Clown.... When he wanted to switch from his civvies, he pressed a spring on a ring on his finger. The clown costume erupted out and expanded to life-size. Many years later, I stole that gimmick” (Kanigher, 59-60).
Showcase #4, one of the most significant comic books of all time.
Then it was time to select the artist. In an interview with Will Murray in Alter Ego, Julie Schwartz recalled, “I liked Carmine Infantino’s work, and he said he would do a quick job” (Murray 11). The choice had a nice symmetry since Kanigher and Infantino had worked together on the Jay Garrick-Flash solo story in the last issue of Flash Comics,
Flash TM and © DC Comics.
back in 1949.
was in the final Justice Society of America story in All-Star Comics #57 (February-March 1951). Schwartz recalled, “I had been the last editor of the original Flash, so everybody looked at me” (Kupperberg 5). Donenfeld selected the idea and gave the job to Schwartz, who then had to both develop the concept as well as pick the writers and artists who would work on it.
In History of the Comics, Infantino remembered it this way: “On one day [when] I was delivering my work, Julie told me we were going to try the Flash. He said it was decided at an editorial meeting. He gave me a script by Kanigher. (I know Kanigher had a lot of input. It was in his style.) I was told to design a costume. I chose a stark bland one with a lightning bolt across. I always kept him slim, like a runner; wiry, too. The cover idea for the first issue was Kanigher’s – this I do remember” (Infantino 101).
Schwartz decided the character should be a new Flash, with just the name and the super-speed carried forward. Julie said the new Flash’s secret identity of Barry Allen was a combination of two show business personalities he was fond of in those days, radio talk-show host Barry Gray and humorist Steve Allen. From this point, accounts about what happened next differ slightly. Schwartz stated that he asked Bob Kanigher to write the first script for a new Flash because they shared an office and he knew Kanigher could write the script quickly. Julie claimed they plotted
When Infantino finished penciling the story’s pages, Schwartz then needed to find an inker. He recalled, “It so happened Joe Kubert was in the office and I said, ‘Joe, how would you like to 146
Defying Gravity Bob Kanigher worked quickly, wrote from his gut, and had great instincts. For proof, one need only read the first Barry Allen story that he wrote for Showcase #4. For starters, Kanigher brilliantly decided to frame the story as a mystery, which not only incited reader curiosity but led to setting the first part of the story at night, adding drama and gravitas. Kanigher’s second key concept was establishing that the new Flash was inspired by the old Flash. This idea was suggested by the full-page splash panel showing the new Flash bursting out of the pages of an open comic book. Kanigher began the narrative at a radar station where a mysterious object was
detected moving on the ground so fast that it broke the sound barrier. With the next caption the reader was taken back in time to a stormy Central City night. Lightning bolts streaked against dark storm clouds over the cityscape. The rough crayon technique used by Kubert made the scene especially evocative. This was where the choice of Kubert as inker paid dividends; his work had a noir quality that emphasized the air of mystery and something more disquieting, a certain “meeting with fate” quality, to the narrative. The switch to a police laboratory was an abrupt jump from dark to light, from chaos to order. The scene introducing police scientist Barry Allen has often been commented on for its irony; that is, 147
hunter from Mars in his backup status; there’s a reason why the character has survived to the present day.) Showcase #4 was the perfect barometer of interest in the marketplace for costumed heroes, and its sales provided concrete evidence that National was on the right track. Overlooked by many, however, is another costumed hero that was introduced before the new Flash: Batwoman. Scripted by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, the debut of the female Batman in Detective #233 hit newsstands at the end of May, two months before Showcase #4.
Batwoman’s debut in Detective Comics #233.
Batman and Batwoman TM and © DC Comics.
ing momentum as it goes. The chain of cause and effect began there, because the idea (and the decision to pursue it) wasn’t inspired by or based on anything happening in comics at the time. It came out of the comic book ethers, a gut-level decision by editors who were willing to take a chance in the pages of a comic book especially designed for that purpose. Schwartz and company cast their lure. Now the wait began. It would take several months before they knew if readers took the bait.
ans have advanced the view that the introduction of John Jones, the Manhunter from Mars, in Detective #225 should be considered the beginning of the Silver Age. This hasn’t been widely accepted, mainly because the Manhunter was a backup strip (not cover-featured) and appeared essentially unheralded. Detective’s sales didn’t rely on the success of its John Jones feature, and as far as is known, Detective’s sales weren’t affected one way or another by the character’s introduction. (This isn’t to say that readers didn’t enjoy the Man-
As previously noted, National introduced another costumed hero prior to its re-tooling of the Flash. For this reason, some comics histori-
Batwoman, secretly socialite Kathy Kane, was a sort of substitute for Catwoman as a quasi-romantic interest for the Caped Crusader in the postCode era. Her introduction is seen by some as the first of several changes in the Batman line to make it more kidfriendly. The Dark Avenger was now the head of a sort of “Batman family,” with its last member coming early in the next decade. Bat-Girl, introduced in Batman #139 (April 1961), completed the family concept, designed to play on the types of relationships familiar to readers from eight to 10 years old, as well as provide springboards for story ideas. It has been argued that the writer and artist of a new character’s introductory story should be credited as the creators of that character. By that standard, Sheldon Moldoff must be considered co-creator of Bat-Hound, Batwoman and Bat-Girl, along with writers Bill Finger and Edmond Hamilton. Creation is not a clear-cut matter, though, since the over-arching “bat” concept originally came from Bob Kane. Still, it was Moldoff who designed the costumes for the distaff additions to the Batmythos, and credit should be given where it’s due.
man wondered how different his life would have been had he stuck with Mad, even for just a few more years. (Gaines sold the magazine for $5,000,000 in the early 1960s. Had Kurtzman accepted Gaines’ 10 percent offer, he would have gotten $500,000.)
... and the delighted roar of our laughter rivaled the roar of the presses. (Hefner 5) Hefner was sympathetic to Kurtzman’s complaints about EC and working for Gaines, and at some point the idea of a new magazine was discussed. Kurtzman recalled in a later interview:
Simon and Kirby Break Up
In the 1940s, the team of Joe I felt I had developed someSimon and Jack Kirby seemed thing really hot with Mad... unstoppable. Having created I felt that there was a great Captain America at Timely, the future in the idea. I felt I Boy Commandos and Newshad built it, but I had built boy Legion at National, and it for somebody else. ProfesYoung Romance at Prize, they sionally, I was completely had a reputation for producing unhappy. I was feeling trend-setting, top-selling comic pretty low. Hefner was in books. Joe Simon was the canny town—this was early in his businessman while Jack Kirby own career, too—and we was the master storyteller. went out to lunch together. I was impressed with him. Jack Kirby, Joe Simon and Jack Oleck in what appears to be Kirby’s attic studio. In the 1950s, Simon and Kirby From The Comic Book Makers by Joe and Jim Simon, copyrighted and used with permission. were no longer invincible. Black He came on with all that Magic—which the pair had cregusto and optimism he was ated for Prize—was a solid seller, and many of their other putting into his own book, and we just talked back crime and romance titles did well, but there were no more and forth. His high opinion of my work did much breakout, nova-like, trend-setting hits. It wasn’t a lack of for my ego at that lunch, and put me into just the inspiration that caused the team’s breakup, though. After right mood to go ask my publisher for a substantial the introduction of the Comics Code, a time of great turbupiece of the magazine as an alternative to my leavlence in the comics industry, Simon and Kirby had started ing. (James 46) their own publishing company. Before long, they were cut Sometime in April, Kurtzman demanded an ownership pooff at the knees by a distribution disaster. sition in Mad magazine. Gaines offered 10 percent. KurtzIn late 1955, payments slowed from man came back asking for 51 pertheir distributor Leader News, just cent. This, he claimed, was so that he as they had for EC. In The Comiccould authorize higher payments for Book Makers, Joe Simon explained, outside writers, but in all likelihood, “Our Mainline comics … had been Kurtzman’s outrageous demand was showing fairly good sales with probably just a way to get fired. And clean, wholesome material, but paythat’s what happened. Gaines rements from Leader News Company, sponded, “Goodbye, Harvey.” Kurtzour distributor, were slowing down man’s last issue of Mad was issue alarmingly. The sudden demise of #28 (July 1956). EC comics had put Leader News in a Harvey Kurtzman accepted Hugh financial crisis and they soon folded Hefner’s offer to create a slick, sotheir tents, leaving us holding an phisticated humor magazine, which empty sack. Mainline Publications was eventually named Trump. Some became insolvent, an innocent casuof Mad’s contributors—Jack Davis, alty in the final victory by ‘The PeoWilly Elder—left Gaines to appear ple’ against the vile forces of Horror in Kurtzman’s new magazine. Trump Comics” (Simon 162). In sum, Main#1 bore a January 1957 cover date. It line published five issues of Bulls Eye sold well, but because of a complex and four of the other three titles. The mix of reasons (partially because remaining two issues of each (FoxHefner had expanded too quickly), hole had three), already prepared, Hefner pulled the plug with its secwere sold to Charlton to recoup ond issue. Suddenly Kurtzman was something for the effort. With that, out in the cold. Feldstein was editing the Simon and Kirby studio came to Mad and its sales continued to climb. a sad ending in 1956. For the rest of his life, Harvey Kurtz157
When National Comics
offered Jack Kirby freelance work, Joe Simon encouraged Jack to take it. Kirby didn’t want to break with Simon, but his bills were piling up and National paid well. The two men, who were neighbors, remained friends and worked together again before the decade’s end. Now Jack Kirby embarked on a new stage in his career, one where he would have to steer his own course. There was a problem: in 1957, Jack Kirby was no longer a good fit for National. Without Joe Simon to handle the business side and company relations, Kirby was unable to manage National’s conservative “suits” who considered his artwork crude and his figure drawing too exaggerated. As Kirby later explained, “They kept showing me their other books—books that weren’t selling—and saying, ‘This is what a comic book ought to be.’ I couldn’t communicate with those people” (Evanier 101). Kirby began work on a new feature that came to be called Challengers of the Unknown. It was one of the last concepts he and Joe Simon thought up together: a team of daredevils who survived an airplane crash, then decided to take further risks because they were “living on borrowed time.” With Jack Schiff acting as his editor, Kirby provided the plots and writer Dave Wood wrote the finished scripts. It was yet another S & K team book, but in keeping with the times and the still widely held perception that costumed characters were out, these heroes wore uniforms that resembled “normal” clothes: identical purple shirts and slacks that weren’t skin tight. (Kirby brought the idea of a team of heroes clad in non-descript, identical costumes to the Fantastic Four, almost five years later.) Showcase #6 (January-February 1957) presented the origin story “The Secret of the Sorcerer’s Box!,” a book-length tale divided into four chapters. The book-length story, little-used at National at this time, was perhaps made more acceptable because the chapter divisions looked like separate stories to the casual browser. Before Max Gaines sold All-American Comics to National in 1945, there were book-length stories in the likes of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and All-Flash. All-American editor Sheldon Mayer also had several such humorous tales in his short-lived original run of Scribbly in 1948-1950. Similarly, in the 1950s National ran book-length stories in certain humor books (The Adventures of Bob Hope and The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis), but when it came to their “serious” titles, National preferred multiple stories until the Challengers broke the mold.
After their debut in “Sorcerer’s Box,” the Challengers returned in the next issue of Showcase (#7, March-April 1957) 164
Showcase #6 and #7 featured Challengers of the Unknown, a team of heroes who became modestly successful, starring in their own self-titled book from 1958 to 1971. Challengers TM and © DC Comics.
with “Ultivac is Loose!” The issue included an excellent onepage summarization of the talents of Ace Morgan (pilot), Prof. Haley (skin diver), Red Ryan (daredevil, mountain climber) and Rocky Davis (wrestler, strong man), a page that was repeated when the Challengers returned in Showcase #11 (NovemberDecember 1957). Book-length stories were eschewed for their third and fourth Showcase issues (#11 and #12). In all, there were four try-out issues before the Challengers were judged capable of supporting their own ongoing title.
Simon at Harvey Comics Meanwhile, Joe Simon returned to Harvey Comics in 1957. “The industry was once again engaging in a frenzy of new titles set off by some wild tip or distributor’s perception that the time 165
strength and courage, to aid the cause of justice, to keep absolutely secret the Superman Code, and to follow the announcements of the Supermen of America in each issue of Action Comics and Superman. For those truly seeking physical strength, the ad pages often included full-page offers for bodybuilding courses. The most famous were Charles Atlas’ “Hey Skinny!” ads. Another frequent advertiser was the “Jowett Institute of Physical Training,” which offered George Jowett’s Photo Book of Strong Men and his How to become a Mighty HE-MAN booklet, available for a mere 10 cents. In a balloon next to a grainy photo of Jowett (“Champion of Champions”), he exhorted, “Let’s go, young fellow! Now YOU give me 10 pleasant minutes a day in your home ... I don’t care how skinny or flabby you are. I’ll make you over by the same method I turned myself from a wreck to the strongest of the strong.” Maybe a kid couldn’t be super-powered like the Man of Steel, but he could have muscles to help him approximate the look of his hero. The ads played on the power fantasies of many a pimple-faced youth. Also, for readers’ consideration, were promotions for the Palisades Amusement Park in Bergen County, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City. Founded in This is where the caption would go. This is where the caption would go. This is where the caption would go. This is where the caption would go. Characters TM and © Company.
Public service pages such as the one above (from Adventure #240, September 1957) were the special project of editor Jack Schiff. Art by Ruben Moreira. Right: Thanks to Gary Brown for providing his Supermen of America certificate, as shown. Superman TM and © DC Comics.
Peanuts in Comic Books by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts was the most successful comic strip in American history. Debuting in seven newspapers on October 2, 1950, it lit up the American landscape for a half century, providing characters that have permeated American popular culture and are beloved worldwide. An introspective strip on the surface, readers warmly embraced the underlying pathos of the strip’s main character Charlie Brown and his daily interaction with his pet dog Snoopy and childhood friends in a world where adults were never seen. Within a year of Peanuts’ launch, United Features Syndicate decided to add the feature to several titles of its concurrent comic book line, using strip reprints in books featuring well-known strips like Tarzan, Li’l Abner, Abbie & Slats and Ernie Bushmiller’s long-legged beauty, Fritzi Ritz. Peanuts quietly debuted in two comic books simultaneously: the March-April, 1952 issues of Tip Top Comics #173 and United Comics #21. Panels from the Peanuts story drawn by Charles Schulz in Nancy #146, one of just two that Over the next two years Peanuts would also appear weren’t handled by assistants. Below: Dell Four Color #878. Peanuts TM and © Peanuts Worldwide LLC. sue #211 (November 1957) and appeared as an eight-page in Fritzi Ritz, Sparkler Comics, Sparkle Comics, and an story in the middle of the book for the entire 15-issue run all-Peanuts one-shot comic book simply titled Peanuts, feathrough #225 (May-July/61), even sharing cover space turing reprints from the first year of the strip. Highlights with Nancy, Sluggo and The Captain and the Kids. By midof this United Features Syndicate period also include four 1958 and into 1959, Dell introduced Peanuts as a solo title consecutive, unsigned, but Schulz-drawn Peanuts covers in three issues of its long-running Four Color series, issues on Tip Top Comics #185-188 as well as four full interior #878, #969 and #1015. Finally, Dell revived Fritzi Ritz and pages of daily and Sunday strip reprints. In 1955 St. John published four final issues with Peanuts appearing as a Publishing took over the titles after a seven-month hiatus single four-page story in the last three issues, #57-59 in and continued publishing Peanuts reprints in Tip Top Com1958. ics, Fritzi Ritz and even cameos in Nancy and Sluggo into early 1957. While Charles Schulz wrote, drew and supervised all aspects of his Peanuts comic strip, except for the aforemenIn late 1957 Western, under its Dell imprint, took over pubtioned Nancy #146 and #148, the entire rest of the Dell lishing Nancy Comics from St. John after another hiatus published comic books containing Peanuts material was and Peanuts once again appeared. This time the mateproduced by a crew of artists who did advertising work rial was “all new” Peanuts stories created exclusively for for him. The first artist was Art Instruction School friend comic book publication. Charles Schulz got the series off and colleague Jim Sasseville with Nancy #149, who would the ground drawgo on to draw Peanuts in 20 issues of Nancy, three issues ing the first issue of Fritzi Ritz, five issues of Tip Top Comics, and Peanuts’ solo himself, #146 (Sepdebut in Four Color #878. Sasseville would shortly go on to tember 1957) and assist Schulz with the syndicated strip “It’s Only a Game.” then returned for Dale Hale would follow in the latter 1950s issues and take issue #148 (Novemthe feature into the 1960s. Tony Pocrnick possibly also ber 1957). All issues drew a handful of the late Dell issues. consisted of fourpage self-contained Peanuts as a comic book feature continued into the 1960s. stories. Peanuts apThe Four Color series issues were followed through 1962 peared in the entire as Peanuts #4-13. Tip Top Comics’ final issue was #225 in run into the 1960s, 1961. Western continued Peanuts under its Gold Key imthe last five issues print in late 1962, releasing five final issues of Nancy and being published by Sluggo and restarting the solo Peanuts title for four isWestern’s Gold Key sues until February 1964. These were nothing more than imprint in 1962-63. reprints of the first four solo Dell issues, Four Color #878, #969, #1015 and Peanuts #4. From here Peanuts left the Peanuts also joined comic book stage but would shortly bloom in the venue of Dell’s Tip Top Comtelevision by the Christmas season of 1965. ics starting with isPeanuts TM and © Peanuts Worldwide LLC.
Superman TM and © DC Comics. Others © respective copyright holders.
1898, the park was immensely popular. The owners, Jack and Irving Rosenthal, used saturation advertising to publicize the venue, including ads in comic books which were considered a good way to get New York City kids to “come on over.” Kids in other parts of the country could only wistfully survey Superman’s invitation to “Be my guest” and wish they too could go to a place as wonderful as Palisades Park.
John Stanley, the writer and layout man of Little Lulu and Tubby, was assigned to work on Bushmiller’s characters for Dell. The title was continued as simply Nancy with issue #146 (September 1957), and wouldn’t become Nancy and Sluggo again until #174, the first issue with a 1960 cover date. Stanley’s Nancy stories were similar to his Lulu stories. Characteristically, he introduced a substantial supporting cast, which may have been one of the reasons he was assigned to the feature. One of them was Nancy’s spooky friend Oona Goosepimple, who lived in a haunted house inhabited by weird relatives and mysterious little people known as Yoyos who hid behind the fireplace. Stanley also created Mr. McOnion, Sluggo’s crabby neighbor, and many other characters. In addition, he very likely did the Nancy and Sluggo stories in Dell’s Tip Top Comics (from issue #211 to #225).
National Comics’ only new title in 1957 (other than the pickups from Quality) was Sergeant Bilko, licensed from Phil Silvers’ hit TV show.
Nancy and Peanuts go to Dell In 1957, St. John—managed by the late publisher’s son Michael—was winding down its comics operation. Three comics featuring Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy ended with July issues: Nancy and Sluggo (#145), Fritzi Ritz (#55) and Tip Top Comics (#210). Western Printing picked up the licenses to all three.
However, it has never been firmly documented that John 171
By 1958, the dust had settled from the war on comic books. Senator Estes Kefauver’s political ambitions ended when Adlai Stevenson won the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 1956. Dr. Fredric Wertham moved on to focus on violence in television. The ladies clubs and other civic watchdog groups were, for the most part, sufficiently mollified by the effect of the industry’s self-censorship. Adults passed by the comics racks to examine the latest crop of paperback offerings. Publishers had adapted to the new reality. Comic book companies either picked up the pieces or gave up. St. John and Magazine Enterprises (ME), both of whom had been important players, would issue their last comics this year, leaving just six major comic book publishers standing: Dell, National, Harvey, Charlton, Goodman and Archie. All had their roots in the Golden Age of comics, but then, so did the small firms that were still hanging on. American Comics Group (ACG) continued with Adventures into the Unknown and a few other titles (including their lucrative commercial comics). Prize was still around with Black Magic and others. (Its Young Romance and Young Love would be purchased by National in 1963.) Gilberton rolled along with its educational titles, and Catechetical Guild kept producing Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact. But that was it. No publishers who started comic book lines in the 1950s stayed with them through the decade’s end.
National’s “Full Court Press” After the winnowing out of publishers, National found its dominance of the field greater than ever. Though Dell sold more comic books, the publisher with the DC insignia on its covers had crushed Fawcett, decimated Goodman’s line and purchased the properties of Quality. With dominance came the realization that National held the future of the comic book industry in its hands. Or, as a certain wallcrawler from another company later learned, “With great power comes great responsibility.” National had to find a way to inject new vitality into massmarket comic books if the medium was to have a real resurgence and compete with television. The publisher began seriously marshalling its forces for a major push. The re-tooled Flash was promising as were the Challengers of the Unknown, but those were only a beginning. The Silver Age would not come to pass with the revival of a solitary Golden Age hero, or with a new Jack Kirby-created hero team. In 1958, National’s leadership, editors, and creative staff began a “full court press” to improve their product and find new things to appeal to readers, and in so doing, shepherd the industry to a full recovery.
CHAPTER NINE 180
Quintessential shot of Lois Lane and Superman by Kurt Schaffenberger (from the cover of the Lois Lane Annual #2, 1963). Characters TM and © DC Comics.
Irwin Donenfeld chaired regular editorial meetings that acted as brainstorming sessions. All the editors were expected to come up with ways to upgrade their titles. Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz took an especially proactive role in shaping the comics on their slates. So did Bob Kanigher on the war books. Ideas flowed from the minds and typewriters of John Broome, Gardner Fox, Otto Binder, Bob Kanigher, Jerry Coleman, Edmond Hamilton and others. Something positive was in the air. It seemed like all the players were determined to make their comics more appealing to the surging numbers of baby boomers, many with more money to spend than their parents had in earlier times. In so doing, the firm returned to being the kind of industry leader it was when the medium was in its infancy. Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane began publication with its first issue bearing a March-April cover date, the first Showcase feature to graduate to its own book. Yet, despite sales
of Showcase #9 that were described later by Irwin Donenfeld as “incredible,” Weisinger wasn’t satisfied that he had the right artist for a Lois Lane book. Al Plastino and Ruben Moreira penciled that first try-out issue. Weisinger tried Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye on Showcase #10 (September-October). While Boring could draw exquisitely beautiful women, somehow Weisinger wasn’t entirely pleased with his interpretation either. Otto Binder, who wrote four of the six Lois Lane solo stories in Showcase, provided the solution: he recommended Kurt Schaffenberger for the job. Schaffenberger had done excellent work on Fawcett’s Marvel Family in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but had been struggling after those comics’ demise. He was forced to accept lower rates working for anybody who would have him: Lev Gleason, Atlas, Gilberton and Premier. In 1955 he found work with Richard Hughes at ACG, becoming its top cover artist on Forbidden Worlds and Adventures into the Unknown, and doing art for its Custom Comics division. Then his close friend Otto got him a berth at National, with the best pay in the industry. Kurt Schaffenberger possessed a slick, precise style, and was especially adept at drawing women— not just their faces, but their gestures, the way their bodies moved, and the way they dressed. “Kurt S c h a f f e n b e r g e r ’s artwork was simply excellent!” Otto enthused. “I think he ‘made’ Lois Lane by his artwork. More importantly, he tells the story with his art. Many artists kill a story by failing to make good transitions from panel to panel to keep the continuity intact. Choosing how to show each scene is vital and Kurt always 181
chooses right” (Lage 63). Schaffenberger drew all three stories in the first issue of the new book. Weisinger was delighted and made “Schaffy” the primary artist in Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane for many years. (Wayne Boring, then John Forte or Curt Swan, drew the stories Schaffenberger couldn’t handle.) Reruns of the Lois-centric Superman TV series bolstered the success of her title. Challengers of the Unknown #1 arrived with an April-May 1958 cover date. The book proved successful, even after Kirby left with issue #8 (June-July 1959), lasting for 77 issues. Its 13-year run was proof, if anyone needed it, that Kirby could have done a lot for National if he had been properly appreciated and utilized. Whatever reservations the National editors had about Jack Kirby’s “unorthodox” style, he was given a substantial amount of work in the coming months, though nothing high profile. As already noted, Jack Kirby was one of the fastest pencilers in the
Challengers of the Unknown #1. Art by Jack Kirby.
Challengers TM and © DC Comics.
wishes. One was to create a companion for Superman. This magically-created Super-Girl (who appeared on the book’s cover) didn’t survive the end of the story, except insofar as Weisinger found that there was a bump in sales and presumed it was because browsers were attracted by the depiction of a Girl of Steel. Even though Otto and Mort had been friends for over 20 years, Binder found dealing with Weisinger difficult, and it took a toll on the genial writer. Weisinger was one of the toughest editors in comics to work for, and became more so as time went on. Freed from the supervisory eye of Whitney Ellsworth, close with Jack Liebowitz, and editor of National’s top-selling books, Mort felt more at liberty to launch into angry tirades at the drop of a hat, play writers against each other, and lord it over his colleagues at National. Otto recalled: One day [Mort] went up to Julie [Schwartz] and said, “You can’t have Otto anymore.” He didn’t ask me whether I wanted to write for Julie, and of course, I wanted to because Julie was easier to work for. He could be finicky, but there was a good back-and-forth exchange with him. But no, Mort had to have his way. It was a quarrel. Julie said, “For Christ’s sake, Mort, how can you just take him away? That isn’t right. You can’t do that!” So when I went to Julie the following week, he said, “You can’t write for me. Mort will make trouble.” Mort was that kind of a guy. Crazy, crazy. He was a madman. It’s a wonder I didn’t go mad!” (Schelly 143) In his notes, Binder wrote, “My last science-fiction scripts for DC were in January 1959, at which time Mort Weisinger ‘commandeered’ me wholly for his Superman group of comics, paying me higher rates.” Despite the unpleasantness of writing for Weisinger, Binder’s work was better than ever. He wrote the first story in comic books featuring Bizarro, the imperfect artificial copy of Superboy created by a scientific experiment gone awry. While writer Alvin Schwartz created
Brainiac, the Legion of Super-Heroes and the bottled city Kandor were additions to the Superman mythos introduced in stories written by Otto Binder. Characters TM and © DC Comics.
Art by Wayne Boring
elaborate birthday gift from Batman, though Superman figured it out and turned the tables on the Caped Crusader in the final pages. The harmless joke nevertheless revealed a great deal and opened up that kind of psychological territory for the future, though it was seldom explored as effectively. Wayne Boring’s visual treatment greatly enhanced “The Super-Key to Fort Superman.” It would have been so different, and so much less intriguing, had it been drawn by a different artist such as the otherwise able Al Plastino. Yet the book’s cover was by Curt Swan, whose interpretation of the Man of Steel was gaining favor with Weisinger as it became more assured and confident.
Character was at the heart of the year’s improvements and new ideas in the Superman books. Even the frequent stories involving betrayal among Superman, Lois and Jimmy—inevitably hoaxes—served to emphasize the bonds between them. Their search for personal happiness, their satisfaction at their jobs, the way they looked to each other for support — all made the center of the stories more human. The Superman-Lois-Lana triangle exposed readers to romance comic book tropes. Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane was a unique hybrid of romance and super hero adventure. Boys who would never be caught buying a romance comic book bought Lois Lane’s book because, well, it was also a Superman comic book. There was a kind of family feeling among the Daily Planet crew, something that made the stories relatable to younger readers whose lives weren’t yet reaching far beyond their own family milieu.
hero, SUPERMAN.” To protect the presumably young letterwriters, their full addresses weren’t printed. Everyone who wrote received a postcard with a boiler-plate “thank you” for writing. With Lois Lane in her own title, the development of the Silver Age Fortress of Solitude, the creation of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the addition of Brainiac, Kandor and Bizarro—as well as a stronger emphasis on characterization—editor Mort Weisinger and his staff made major strides in 1958 in laying the groundwork for a more interesting and coherent “Superman Universe.” The appeal of that universe, which continued to develop in the ensuing years, contributed a great deal to the growing momentum of the Silver Age alongside the developments overseen by Julie Schwartz, and produced many highly entertaining comic books.
Another important development occurred in Superman #124 (September 1958): the first letter column as a regular feature in National’s comics of this era (aside from Sugar & Spike which had been running one since its third issue in 1956). “Metropolis Mailbag” was a way for editor Weisinger to judge reader reaction to the changes and new ideas, as well as make the readers part of Superman’s world. In that first column, Weisinger wrote, “We welcome your suggestions and comments regarding America’s favorite action
National’s new Science Fiction Heroes The U.S.S.R.’s launch of its Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957 was a wake-up call to the American space program. Suddenly, a “space race” was underway between the United States and the Soviet Union. It became a topic of national concern, consequently impacting various aspects of American life. For instance, public education nationwide
The letter column “Metropolis Mailbag” gave readers a sense of participation. Gradually, such columns were introduced in other titles, eventually becoming an expected adjunct to most Silver Age books from National/DC (and many of their rivals).
According to the 1960 N. W. Ayer & Sons Directory (an annual publication that provided data for advertisers), the monthly circulation totals of the major surviving comic book publishers in 1959 were: Dell – 9,686,424 (37%) National – 6,653,485 (25%) Harvey – 2,514,879 (9.5%) Charlton – 2,500,000 est. (9.5%) Goodman – 2,253,112 (9%) Archie – 1,608,489 (6%) ACG – 975,000 (4%)
The top two publishers accounted for an incredible 62% of the comics sold in 1959, with Dell decidedly outselling National (Miller). This list makes clear how disastrous the “Atlas implosion” was for Martin Goodman’s comic book line. In 1950, National Comics’ monthly sales were 7,791,402, but Goodman was right up there with 5,783,231 (Tolworthy). By decade’s end, National’s monthly sales were 85% of what they had been 10 years earlier, not bad considering that television had become all-pervasive by 1959, and that children watched much more TV than adults. Sales of Martin Goodman’s line, however, were just 39% of what they had been in 1950. When comparing sales figures, one must take into account the number of issues each company published. Archie published 100 issues in 1959 while National published 382. Therefore, Archie comics were selling about as well as National’s on an issue-by-issue basis. On the other hand, Charlton released 289 issues, nearly triple Archie’s production, yet only represented 9.5 percent of the industry’s revenues. The number of issues published provides a picture of how crowded newsstands were, and the number of choices readers had. The decade’s peak year was 1952, when 3,150 issues were published. According to historians Michelle Nolan and Dan Stevenson, those numbers (not including giveaways or religious comics, rounded off to the nearest 50) in the middle and later years of the decade were: 1954 – Slightly more than 2,700 1955 – Slightly less than 2,350 1956 – Slightly more than 2,000 1957 – Slightly more than 1,900 1958 – Slightly more than 1,850 1959 – Slightly more than 1,500
CHAPTER TEN 198
would drastically alter his artistic style: he re-enrolled in art school. “There came a point where I felt I had to get back to school,” Infantino recalled in his book The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino. “I just felt there was something missing” (42). Infantino took classes at the Art Students’ League, and then at the School of Visual Arts with teacher Jack Potter. “What Jack taught me about design was monumental, and I went through a metamorphosis working with him. My work started to grow by leaps and bounds. I was achieving individuality in my work that wasn’t there before. I threw all the basics of cartooning out the window and focused on pure design” (Infantino 54). Infantino’s work took on a dynamic quality that directed the readers’ eye to each panel’s foreground elements (rather than to the background details). It was an abstract, spare, modern-looking approach that fit perfectly with the times and was startlingly different than anything else in comics. He continued to refine his style over the next few years. Since his teenage years, Infantino had always been a very good penciler, but the artistic metamorphosis he underwent in his mid-30s made him one of the greatest artists in comic book history. Infantino’s early Adam Strange artwork was inked variously by Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella and Murphy Anderson. The scripts, however, had certain weaknesses: lack of character, emotion and humor. Though writer Gardner Fox had scripted comic books for nearly 20 years, he had the sensibility of a writer of pulp magazines, a medium where character was sublimated almost entirely to plot and atmosphere. Yes, Adam and Alanna were in love, but their relationship acted more as a device to explain Adam’s continual desire to defend Rann than anything resembling a real life relationship, even the jokey relationship Barry Allen had with Iris West. While it’s true the Adam Strange feature only ran nine pages for its first two years, its weaknesses were just as apparent when the stories became longer. As with pulp readers, many comic book readers overlooked these flaws, but some did not, limiting the appeal of Adam Strange’s adventures in Mystery in Space.
Green Lantern as he appeared in the 1940s, and the new version introduced in Showcase #22. Art by Gil Kane. Green Lantern TM and © DC Comics.
Showcase #22 came nineteen years after the debut of the original Green Lantern in All-American Comics #16 (July 1940), ten years after the cancellation of that character’s eponymous series (with Green Lantern #38, May-June 1949), and eight and a half years after his last appearance in All-Star Comics #57 (February-March 1951). Schwartz selected his Flash writer, John Broome, to script the adventures of the new Emerald Gladiator. Finding an artist, however, wasn’t a repeat of the process with the Flash, when the artist who drew the Golden Age feature was given the nod. Most of the Green Lantern stories of the late 1940s were drawn by Alex Toth and Irwin Hasen, but neither of those artists was available for Schwartz’s use. Even if Toth hadn’t been working in California at this time, his estrangement from Schwartz would most likely have ruled him out as penciler. Hasen, on the other hand, was busy drawing his newspaper strip Dondi. In any case, Schwartz wanted an artist who could bring a fresh, modern approach to the visuals. He chose Gil Kane, one of the regular artists in his stable, to design and illustrate the new Green Lantern.
The Space Age Green Lantern In 1959, Julie Schwartz got the opportunity to reinvent another one of National’s Golden Age costumed heroes. One month after Mystery in Space #53 appeared on newsstands, Showcase #22 (September-October 1959) featured a new version of the Green Lantern. National clearly had high hopes for the revival as Showcase #23 and #24 also featured the character. All three Showcase covers displayed a large, eye-catching Green Lantern logo (created by Ira Schnapp) that was big enough to read from across a room. 203
The Birth of Sgt. Rock In his Big Five Information Guide (1995), war comics authority Chris Pedrin asserts Sgt. Rock was “the most important original Silver Age character in the DC Universe.” If one doesn’t consider the re-tooled versions of the Flash and Green Lantern to be new characters, then Pedrin may well be right. According to Joe Kubert, signature artist on the feature, Sgt. Rock outsold every comic book in National’s line-up at one time or another during the character’s phenomenal three-decade run. Ironic then that Sgt. Frank Rock’s genesis differs from most comic book characters. Normally a new character makes his first appearance in grand fashion, heralded on covers or house ads. Sgt. Rock’s emergence, however, was more than a little convoluted. There has even been controversy over what comic book contains the first “true” Sgt. Rock story. He evolved in the pages of the anthology war comics edited by Bob Kanigher, born out of a story idea. In “The Rock!” in G. I. Combat #68 (January 1959), Kanigher used the “rock” metaphor as a way of describing a tough World War II sergeant’s indomitability. Over the next six months, Kanigher’s ideas gradually coalesced in the pages of Our Army at War until Sgt. Rock of Easy Company
(“where nothing’s easy”) was fully formed. That key story was “The Rock and the Wall!” in OAAW #83 (June 1959). Both “The Rock!” and “The Rock and the Wall!” were written by Kanigher and drawn by Kubert. In between those two issues, Rock prototypes were drawn by the team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, as well as Jerry Grandenetti and Mort Drucker. Also, Bob Haney stood in for Bob Kanigher as the writer of “The Rock of Easy Co.!” in OAAW #81 (April 1959). Certainly “Sgt. Rocky” in Haney’s script is close to the Sgt. Rock readers came to know and love, but, due to the name difference if nothing else, many consider Haney’s tough-as-nails sergeant a prototype, or precursor, to the real thing. Indeed, Robert Overstreet’s Comic Book Price Guide deems “The Rock and the Wall!” the “first true Sgt. Rock appearance,” a good barometer of the most widely-held view (Overstreet 779). However, a sizable number of professionals, fans and col-
lectors insist that the first true Rock story was “The Rock of Easy Co.!,” with some going so far as to give Bob Haney, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito credit as co-creators of the character. Actually, the sergeant in the Kanigher-written “The Rock!” was Frank Rock in all but name: his background
Due to the vagaries of the printing process, the coloring of the cover came out either deep blue or green. Either way, the washtones coupled with the use of one color effectively captured the fear and loneliness of a night vigil. Joe Kubert was also skilled at using washtones. He Wonder Girl was introduced in a story drawn by Andru-Esposito in Wonder didn’t do as many Woman #105 (April 1959). Cover of isas Grandenetti, sue #107 by Irv Novick. Wonder Woman TM and © DC Comics. but Kubert’s were equally memorable. In 1959, his cover on The Brave and the Bold #23 (April-May 1959), the last issue featuring the Viking Prince, demonstrated how the grittiness of the washtones perfectly complimented his style. Gil Kane was another able user, demonstrating the ability with his Adam Strange cover on Mystery in Space #55 (November 1959). Even Dick Dillin, not known as the most adventurous artist, produced striking results on House of Mystery #92 (November 1959) based on the story “The Sleepers from the Past!” That the Adler washtone technique helped sales is proven by National’s use of them throughout the 1960s. They would probably have appeared more often except the artists had to be paid a little more due to the increased effort involved.
Superman Gains a Cousin The most important single character introduced by Otto Binder at National in the 1950s was Superman’s cousin, Supergirl. Since Binder wrote so many tales of Mary Marvel, the female member of Fawcett’s erstwhile Marvel Family, it’s fitting that he produced the story that brought Supergirl into the developing Superman universe. This occurred in “The Supergirl from Krypton!” in Action Comics #252 (May 1959).
In 1959, Robert Kanigher added a character to Wonder Woman that would lead to future developments. Wonder Girl first appeared in “The Secret Origin of Wonder Woman” in WW #105 (April 1959). In this revised Silver Age origin, Kanigher established that Diana had in fact not been created from clay but had been born before the Amazons settled on Paradise Island. Several stories with Diana as Wonder Girl followed, including the cover-featured “Amazon Teen-Ager!” in issue #107. This Wonder Girl, in turn, inspired an eventual revision that resulted in her being a separate character who could appear alongside her namesake or as a member of the Teen Titans. That character came along in Showcase #59 (December 1965).
In just eight pages, Superman discovered a rocket landing near Metropolis that contained a teenage girl who not only wore a costume based on his own, but—he was soon to discover—had all his super powers. “Don’t worry, Superman,” she said, smiling. “I’m alive without a scratch!” Equally amazing was the tale she told to explain how she too could be from the planet Krypton: a chunk of the planet with “a large bubble of air” remained intact after it exploded, allowing its denizens to survive for years. When, like other pieces of Krypton, the large fragment turned into Kryptonite, the survivors covered its surface with lead plates to protect them from the deadly rays. It was only when a meteor shower ruptured the lead shielding that Argo City was doomed, and a teenage Supergirl was sent in a rocket ship to Earth by her father, Zor-El.
More Washtone Covers Robert Kanigher was an exponent of the washtone covers developed by Jack Adler in 1956. He frequently used them on his war titles. It helped that he had artist Jerry Grandenetti doing many of them, because Grandenetti was one of the most enthusiastic and deft users of the process. One of Grandenetti’s best appeared on G. I. Combat #69 (February 1959), a shot of a young, nervous soldier alone in a forest. 208
or other context without reference to an inside story. In the post-war era, especially from 1950 forward, the covers began representing an interior story, but still in a general way that wasn’t often like an exact scene from the comics’ innards. When Irwin Donenfeld became editorial director, he began putting more emphasis on “hooking” browsers with an arresting cover. This idea, which led to the gorilla covers, converged with the thought that covers should tantalize potential readers with the premise of a story inside, resulting in the promotion-oriented, highly situational covers that dominated the line by 1959.
in 1954. Then, improbable as it seems, someone (perhaps Weisinger himself) suggested giving him the power to turn into a gorilla at will. Thus, in Action Comics #248 (January 1959), he became Congorilla (by writer Robert Bernstein and artist Howard Sherman), and continued as such until 1961, after a switch to Adventure Comics. Still, Congo Bill— in one form or another—lasted more than 20 years, one of the longest-lived of National’s backup features.
Other Developments at National in 1959 Blackhawk, much like Batman, succumbed to an invasion of weird and alien menaces as the issues progressed through the end of the decade. A bright spot for teen male readers was the introduction of Lady Blackhawk, perhaps harkening back to a much earlier adventure. Military Comics #20 (July 1943) presented a story about an unnamed woman who attempted to become the first female Blackhawk. In “The Lady Blackhawk” (Blackhawk #133, February 1959), Zinda Blake trained to qualify for induction to the team, but discovered that the Blackhawk code restricted membership to men. Lady Blackhawk returned occasionally as an honorary member, looking fetching in her short skirt and bare legs.
Gorilla-mania spread to titles beyond Schwartz’s slate. Batman #75 (February-March 1953) cover-featured “The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City,” a story about a crime boss’s brain being transplanted into the body of a giant gorilla. In 1959, Flash encountered Gorilla Grodd in three consecutive issues (The Flash #106-108), though the character didn’t appear on any of the covers. Beppo the Super-Monkey debuted in Superboy #76 (October 1959), yet another survivor from Krypton. (Beppo ultimately made 16 Silver Age appearances.) Superman #127 (February 1959) sported a cover with a giant purple ape for the Binder-written story “Titano the Super-Ape!” In that tale, a normal chimpanzee was sent into space in a rocket and was mutated into a giant, super-powered simian by exposure to radiation in outer space. One National character literally became a gorilla. Congo Bill, co-created by Whitney Ellsworth and George Papp in More Fun #56 (June 1940), was always a second or thirdstring character whose adventures moved to Action Comics and stayed in its back pages through the 1940s and early 1950s. He was an intrepid adventurer operating from his base in Africa. Congo Bill got his own short-lived solo title
Two more spin-off characters appeared in 1959: Kid Flash and Lady Blackhawk. Zinda Blake art by Dick Dillin and Charles Cuidera. Characters TM and © DC Comics.
fine (if not too inspired) work by Ogden Whitney, and interior art was handled by John Rosenberger, John Forte, Paul Reinman, John Buscema and others. At the end of 1958, Hughes exercised his droll sense of humor (under his pseudonym Shane O’Shea) with the introduction of Herbie Popnecker, the short, bespectacled, rotund boy with a fondness for lollipops. Herbie, called a “little fat nothing” by his father, had powers (some genetic and some derived from magical lollipops) such as being able to talk to animals and fly. “Herbie’s Quiet Saturday Afternoon!” in Forbidden Worlds #73 (December 1958) was a one-off story; the character didn’t return until #94 (MarchApril 1961). Eventually, he got his own series.
© Archie Publications, Inc.
“like the DC artists” (Simon 196). When Kirby heard this, he was gone. Like The Double Life of Private Strong #2, The Fly #2 was finished by other artists over Kirby layouts. Simon stayed for a couple more issues of The Fly, then went back to giving Sick his full attention.
One of the most interesting developments at ACG was its use of painted covers. They appeared on AITU #109 through #113, as well as #118, and were painted by Ogden Whitney. The cover on #112, the last issue in 1959, was a spectacular depiction of a hand of fire about to grip an airplane above an erupting volcano. Even ACG’s long-running Confessions of the Lovelorn ran painted covers on its last issues in the decade. It didn’t have long to live beyond that point, ending in 1960, but its companion My Romantic Adventure proved hardier, surviving into issues with 1964 cover dates. The fortunes of this
Archie Comics continued to publish The Fly using artists John Giunta and John Rosenberger. Such was the dawning interest in costumed heroes that The Fly, mediocre at best without Kirby, sold sufficiently to warrant continuation for several years. One wonders about the fate of the character had Richard Goldwater not made his ill-advised remarks. It was a regrettable coda to the illustrious career of the Simon and Kirby team. (They would work together briefly on projects for Harvey and National in the coming years.) The Archie Comics lineup at the end of 1959 consisted of Adventures of Little Archie, Adventures of Pipsqueak, Archie Comics, Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica, Archie’s Joke Book Magazine, Archie’s Madhouse (a new title in 1959), Archie’s Pal Jughead, Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals, Cosmo the Merry Martian, The Fly (changed to The Adventures of the Fly with issue #7), Katy Keene, Katy Keene Pinup Parade, Laugh, Life with Archie, Pep Comics, Super Duck and Wilbur. Although Archie Comics still had seven non-Archie titles at this point, the 1950s made clearer than ever that the firm’s fortunes relied on the red-headed teenager from Riverdale.
American Comics Group Under Richard E. Hughes’ indefatigable editorship, ACG was holding on with four titles at the end of the 1950s. Two were weird/mystery books and two were romance comics. The firm’s longest running title was Adventures into the Unknown, the pioneer of the horror genre. The Comics Code had affected it and its companion book Forbidden Worlds, but Hughes (using a number of pseudonyms) was able to write appealing stories that emphasized human elements and charm rather than scares. The covers featured
American Comics Group featured covers painted by Ogden Whitney on some issues in 1959, such as Adventures into the Unknown #112. TM and © copyright holder.
Appendix A Farewell to EC from its “Number One fan” From Ron Parker’s Hoohah! #6 (September 1956) Introduction Imagine if an adult fan had visited the offices of National Comics in 1939 and wrote about talking with the editors, staff, writers and artists, from a first person point of view. That didn’t happen ... but we do have such an essay by one who visited the EC offices in New York City at the height of the “New Trend”. Larry Stark was known as “EC’s Number One Fan” due to the many letters he sent to the publisher, commenting on virtually every issue. As this essay describes, Bill Gaines did indeed have a sign in his office reading “God help us to write stories that will please Larry Stark.” If there is a downside to such a contemporary account, it’s that Larry didn’t quite have all his facts straight, not having had access to all the research into EC that was subsequently done by fans and comics historians. “Elegy” gives us a look inside the mind of an EC fan as of mid-1956. Note: The text appears exactly as it originally appeared, except for spelling corrections and a few punctuation changes. Comic book titles that originally appeared in all capitals have been italicized. It’s being reprinted with the permission of both Larry Stark and Ron Parker.
Archie Goodwin’s cover to the mimeographed issue of Hoohah with Larry Stark’s article.
by Larry Stark “Let us sit upon the ground, And tell sad stories Of the death of kings.” – W. Shaxpy
EC is gone. Nothing remains but a memory, and the tattered copies yellowing in the closets of collectors. For EC death was long and cruel in coming, and almost as undeserved as it was inevitable. The meteor of its genius was hot and brief, yet flashed with such a brilliance as to make forgetting difficult.
a second time; they were the only comics I could read straight through, without my mind clogging with clichés and rebelling somewhere in the middle. That is, they were written well. Compared to competitors, EC’s were Pulitzer Prize material, and compared with similar material in contemporary pulps ... or even by the masters of writing ... they displayed a care and craftsmanship that the field did not seem to deserve.
I suppose I was a normal introvert throughout adolescence, delaying maturity with an over-attention toward books, reading almost anything and deciding later of its worth. Rather soon after beginning high school I found comic books had become slightly amusing diversions though a little below the dignity of any honest interest. They merited an occasional orgy, but piles of perused magazines rated little but contempt. Then, about the middle of my senior year (early 1950), Entertaining Comics first began to appear on the newsstands in their “New Trend” format, and my careful intellectualism had to undergo a modification.
I had been writing almost constantly for two or three years, more amateurish fiction than anything else, and had always managed to finish stories with one grand spark of inspiration. During that senior year, and the next summer, I seemed to run out of flint. Happily, however, I’d absorbed half a dozen collections of radio plays by Arch Oboler and Norman Corwin, and spent some time with the Speech and Drama department, and met some enthusiastic friends. During that summer, when ideas refused to freely flow, I spent my time fooling with a recording-machine and grinding out an occasional adaptation of an EC story in a radioscript form. The bare minimum of facilities, plus the grand style of the men I’d taken as models, and an appreciatory belief in the sacredness of the words which I
So far as I could see EC began the uses of both fantasy and science-fiction in the comic field, though everyone jumped on both bandwagons immediately. EC magazines, though, were the only comics of any variety that I wanted to read 226
American Comic Book Chronicles The 1950s Works Cited
Chapter One: 1950 Variety on the Newsstand
Tolworthy, Chris. “Marvel and DC Sales Figures.” Enter The Story. 10 Feb. 2009. <http://zak-site.com/Great-AmericanNovel/comic_sales.html>.
Arnold, Mark. Letter to the author. 11 Nov. 2010.
U. S. Senate. “Reports on Comic Book Circulation Figures.” U. S. Senate Report: Juvenile Delinquency. 1950.
Benson, John. “1972 EC Convention, The Horror Panel.” Squa Tront (No. 8). 1978.
Vassallo, Dr. Michael J. “Joe Maneely: Adventure Comics.” Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Black Knight/Yellow Claw, (Vol., No. 1). New York, New York: Marvel Publishing, Inc., 2009.
Benton, Mike. The Comic Book in America: An Illustrated History. Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing, 1989. Brown, Gary. The Four-Color Four Color Index (Vol. 2). January, 2011.
Chapter Two: 1951 Before the Storm
Decker, Dwight, and Gary Groth. “An Interview with William M. Gaines.” The Comics Journal (No. 81). May, 1983.
Amash, Jim. “Ghost Writers in the Sky.” Alter Ego (Vol. 3, No. 30). November, 2003.
Geissman, Grant. “Interview with Al Feldstein.” Tales of Terror! Seattle, Washington and Timonium, Maryland: Fantagraphics Books and Gemstone Publishing, 2000.
Benson, John. “A Conversation with Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Gaines.” Squa Tront (No. 9). 1983. Benson, John. “Notes on TwoFisted Tales #21.” Complete EC Library: Two-Fisted Tales (Vol. 1). West Plains, Missouri: Russ Cochran Publishing, 1980.
Hutchinson, Alan, and Gary Brown. Giant Dell Giant Index: The Followup. October, 2010.
Benton, Michael. Science Fiction Comics: The Illustrated History. Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing, 1992.
Jones, William, Jr. Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, Second Edition. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2011.
Cooke, Jon B. “Donenfeld’s Comics.” Comic Book Artist Collection (Vol. 2). Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2002.
O’Brien, Elizabeth A. and Johanna B. Cooke. “Reading Comics in Dayton, Ohio—A Continuing Study.” U. S. Senate Report: Juvenile Delinquency. 1950. Phelps, Don. “Interview with John Stanley.” 1976 New Con Program Book. 1976.
Vic Torry and His Flying Saucer (1950) from Fawcett Publications. copyright holder.
Schwartz, Julius, with Brian M. Thomsen. Man of Two Worlds. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000.
Severin, Marie. From a tape made by John Benson of a 1975 comicon appearance.
Schelly, Bill. “Interview with Vincent Sullivan.” 1994, unpublished.
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Vasquez, Tina. “Ramona Fradon: A Woman’s Life in Comics.” Graphic Novel Reporter. 2012. <http://www.graphicnovelreporter.com/content/ramona-fradon-womans-lifecomics-interview>
Spicer, Bill. “Interview with Harry Harrison.” Graphic Story Magazine (No. 15). 1973. Spicer, Bill. “Interview with John Severin.” Graphic Story Magazine (No. 13). Spring, 1971. 230
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AMERICAN COMIC BOOK CHRONICLES: The 1950s
3-D comics 6, 75-9, 85, 87, All-Star Comics 11, 13, 27, Avon (publisher) 19, 29, 90-3, 124 50, 146, 189, 203 31, 41, 47, 50-1, 53-4, 57, 131, 142 Aamodt, Kim 46 All-Star Western 11, 50 Ayers, Dick 20, 98, 138-9, Ace Publications 16, 45, Amazing Adult Fantasy 177, 193, 201, 221 47, 73 179, 221 In TwoMorrows’ ambitious new Baby Huey, The Baby Giant Aces High 133series documenting each American decade Comics Group 127, 145 (AGC) 29, 45, 54, 57, 126, Ackerman, Forrest J. 222 of comic book history, BILL 180-1, 198, 218, 224-5 Bails, Jerry 189, 205 tackles comics of the Action ComicsSCHELLY 10-4, 19, Atomic Era of Marilyn Monroe American Eagle 50, 228 Baker, Matt 8, 16, 45, 67-8, 51, 72, 74, 86, 91, 94, 95, and Elvis Presley: EC’s TALES OF 70, 119 112, 145, 168, 182, American THE169, CRYPT, MAD, CARL BARKS’ News (ANC) 22, 184, 186, 208-9, 112, 166-7, 177-8 Barclay, Violet (aka Donald215 Duck and Uncle Scrooge, Valerie) 45 the FLASH in Showcase Murphy 14, 21, Adam Strangere-tooling 7, 188-9, Anderson, #4, return of Timely’s CAPTAIN 202, 208, 211 31, 40, 205 Barks, Carl 6, 9, 23-6, 56, AMERICA, HUMAN TORCH AND 60-1, 63, 88, 121, 130, Adler, Jack 150, 153-5, Andru, Ross 102, 104, 163, SUB-MARINER, FREDRIC 160-2, 199 210-1 WERTHAM’s anti-comics182, 206, 217 campaign, Barry, Dan 13-4, 51, 167, Adventure Comics 10-1,and 44,more! Antoshak, Perry 15, 43, 86 217 94, 120, 168, 182-3, 185, (240-page FULL-COLOR HARDCOVER) $40.95 Aquaman 11, 44, 216-7 (Digital Edition) $12.95Publications • ISBN: 9781605490540 193, 201, 213, 216-7 Barry, Sy 13, 51 Archie Comics http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1111 Adventures into the Bat-Hound (Ace) 118, 120, 19, 78, 88-9, 112, 118, Unknown 13, 29, 126, 124, 152 126-7, 180, 183, 196, 180, 224 198, 223-4 Batman 10, 13, 51, 74, 94Adventures of Bob Hope 13, 5, 107, 118, 120-2, 152, Arnold, Everett M. (“Busy”) 143, 164 191-2, 215 15, 163 Adventures of Dean Martin Batman 10-13, 51, 87, 94, Association of Comics and Jerry Lewis, The 13, 107, 121-4, 143, 152-3, Magazine Publishers 66, 143, 164 191, 212, 217, 221 (ACMP) 52, 109 Adventures of Rex the Battle 49, 63, 178 Atkinson, Ruth 45 Wonder Dog, The 66, 154 Battle Front 125 Atlas comics 8, 17-8, 41, Adventures of Superman, 45-7, 49, 54, 57, 61, 63Battlefield 63-4 The (TV series) 8, 13, 72, 5, 67-9, 72, 85, 89, 95-9, Battleground 125 74, 91, 96, 99, 212-3, 219 103, 118, 124-5, 138, Batwoman 144, 152 Ajax/Farrell 20, 22, 54, 87, 141, 151, 158-9, 176-8 Beck, C. C. 14, 76, 223 101, 103, 139 Atlas distributing 41, 177 Bender, Lauretta, Dr. 111 Alarming Tales 166, 196 Atlas implosion 167, 176-8, Beppo the Super-Monkey All-American Comics 194, 218, 221 215 (publisher) 11, 27, 50, Atomic Attack 73 Bernstein, Robert 44, 66, 65, 143, 163-4 Atomic War! 73, 74 133, 215-6 All-American Men of War Attack on Planet Mars 41 Best of Boy’s Life 196 65-6, 95, 124, 205 Avenger, The 95, 138-9 Better Publications 45 All-American Western 12, Big Town 13, 51, 143 50, 70 234
Binder, Otto 14, 76, 91, 94, 105-6, 120, 133, 181-5, 208, 212-4, 216-7 Bizarro 183-5, 187 Black Cat 15 Black Cat 43 Black Cat Mystery 43, 85-7 Black Cat Mystic 127, 166, 196 Black Cat Western 127 Black Cobra 101 Black Fury 128 Black Knight 141 Black Magic 43, 46, 87 Blackhawk 15, 81, 139, 163, 215 Blackhawk 15, 81, 145, 215 Blake, Zinda 215 Blue Beetle 139, 160 Blue Beetle 95 Blue Bolt Comics 21 Blue Bolt Weird Tales of Terror 47 Blum, Alex 21-2, 89 Boltinoff, Murray 44, 145, 217 Boring, Wayne 13, 74, 181, 185-7, 212, 214 Boys’ Ranch 15-6 Bradbury, Ray 37, 43, 79, 81-2 Brainiac 182-4, 187 Brant, Ruth 45 Brave and the Bold, The 124, 141-2, 154, 189-91, 200-1, 205, 208, 211, 217 Breslauer, Bernie 11 Brewster, Ann 45 Broderick, Warren 69