Sunday, July 22, 2012

The New Reprints: A Voyage of Discovery to the Golden Age of Comic Books

The New Reprints: A Voyage of Discovery to the Golden Age of Comic Books

Part 1: Introduction

This project will be presented in twelve parts. Unfortunately, I can’t change the order, so later posts will appear first. Please try to check this out in order! And your comments are important. Please post how you became aware of comics and their history!
    1. Introduction/Comics in "real" books.
    2. 1960s: Reprints from the Comic Companies: 80 Page Giants & Marvel Tales!
    3. 1960s: The Great Comic Book Heroes
    4. 1960s: The Paperback Era
    5. 1970s: The Comic Strips AND the Comic Book Strips! 
    6. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part I
    7. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part II
    8. 1980s until Today: Horror We? How's Bayou! The EC Age of Comics
    9. 1990s until Today: The Archives and Masterworks
    10. How The West Was Lost
    11. When Comics Had Influence: Public Service, Education & Promotion
    12. Journeys End, What We Leave Behind: A Century of Comics
      So let us continue our voyage to and from the 1960s and discover the world of comics once almost forgotten. Our expedition is mostly into the world of reprints that were available OUTSIDE the newsstands and comic book stores but we will have a few detours on the way.

                                    This Sunday Strip is from the Complete Peanuts 1950-1952
      To a child of the 1960s, reprints from the Golden Age of Comics were hard to find. There were no Comic Book stores then, no internet, and with the Comic Code hangover still in place, it was hard to even find the original comics. At least it was for me. And when you did manage to find them, they sold for LESS than the cover price of 10 or 12 cents.  While comic strips will be shown here (because comic books are often treated as partners of the strips) this presentation will be about discovering and restoring the Golden Age of Comic Books.

      Today, we are certainly living in the Golden Age of reprints.  For the first time in more than a half a century, for the first time in my life, we are getting to see the stories that shaped an industry and caused the furor that created the Comics Code.  Many publishers and editors have worked hard to compile, present and place these stories in a proper context. Because the art (and film) of many of these stories no longer exist, publishers often must use scans of the original comics.
      Marvel and DC are reprinting many of their older and Golden Age comics in “book” sized archives and in larger, very heavy, “omnibuses.” They are among the companies also publishing cheaper, thick black and white editions. Marvel and DC also package many of their stories in “theme” books.  Starting in 1980s, EC had their entire comic library from the 1950s reprinted in large, black and white hardcover editions. These are now being reprinted in color. (EC also had reprinted many of their titles in comic book form). Sadly, most Golden Age comic book publishers are now gone. Their books, such as “Crime Does Not Pay”  and "Unknown Worlds" have fallen into public domain and are finally being reprinted. 

      Paul Karasik collected the unusual and fascinating work of Fletcher Hanks from the 1930s and 1940s (“I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets” and “You Shall Die by Your Own Creation”). He probably had to scan the pages from the original comics. This, of course, is often a step down in quality from the original artwork but it’s the only way we will see these great and pioneering stories. In many cases though, the scanning and "Photoshopping" are done very well, as they are here. 

      One of my favorite volumes is “Supermen” edited by Greg Sadowski. The scanned artwork looks just great. They obviously worked on the scanned art before publication and the selections are wonderful. “Supermen” features super-heroes BEFORE and just after the appearance of Superman. There is a lot to learn from the book and a lot to enjoy. So many of the ideas that I thought came from Superman didn’t, they were there before his introduction.  Below is a story by Siegel and Shuster, “Dr. Mystic,” and another one by Bill Everett, “Dirk the Demon.” Other stories featured characters such as Dr. Mystic, the Clock, the Face, the Flame, Skyman, Blue Bolt, the Comet, and many more. Other creators include: Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Gardner Fox, Jack Kirby, Ogden Whitney, & Basil Wolverton.

      I am saddened, however, when some editors randomly compile stories that are in the public domain with no research or explanation, often only because they had a famous artist. Many times the "compiler" was able to borrow these comics and just scan them. They don’t write a little something before each story telling why it was considered important or why they chose it. This, again, is usually because they don’t know, but it doesn't prevent them from trying to pass themselves off as historians. Sadly, I have been one of the “borrowees” and saw how this was done.

      In some publications, if the editor cannot find the at The Grand Comic Book database none will not appear in the published book. The better editors try to find missing credits, although not all are completely successful. Also, if the GCD is wrong, the misinformation may appear in a published book.These wonderful stories need to be preserved and presented properly and the authors need to be acknowledged and remembered. Many editors do work hard to get the credits right. Many have a notice in the book stating that if any new information is found it will be included in forthcoming editions. My friends, Nick Caputo and Mike Vassallo check out the credits to the Marvel Masterworks. After the book is published they don’t stop looking for credits and often update them in subsequent editions.

      In the 1960s there were very few books published on the subject of comics. Those that were, tended to concentrate on the comic strips - mostly, if not completely, bypassing the comic books. The first I was able to discover in the library was "The Comics" by Coulton Waugh.  I was excited to see this book, crammed with ideas and pictures, but as time went on, I learned that the book was superficial and incomplete. It would take me years to discover the real beginnings of comics.

      I was to learn as time when by that Waugh presented the history and origin of comics, in sort of a mythological way. For example, he told us that the Yellow Kid and Hogan's Alley was the first comic strip. I accepted that and other comments he made. But researchers today are giving us the more complete story. Brian Walker has written the best and the most complete book on the history comics I have ever read.  The illustrations are wonderful. And it’s a great read.  It’s called “The Comics: The Complete Collection” (2004). Originally published in two volumes, I found the complete collection in one volume the most economical way of buying the book ($30 at Amazon.)

      On his very first page, Brian Walker corrects Waugh and shows us how much he has researched the subject:

      Richard Felton Outcault's bald-headed, flap-eared, buck-toothed street urchin, who made his first appearance in Truth magazine on June 2, 1894, is often described as "the kid who started the comics." Coulton Waugh's landmark history, The Comics (1947), describes a scene from a "February day of 1896" when Charles Saalburg, "foreman of the New York World's tint-laying Ben Day machines," used the kid's nightshirt to experiment with a faster-drying yellow ink. When Outcault's "The Great Dog Show in M'Googan Avenue" appeared in the newspaper on February 16, the bright hue made a "vivid bulls-eye in the whole big page." The Yellow Kid, as he soon became known, "caught the fancy of hundreds of thousands of readers." Waugh claimed, "A new form of communication was about to be built on this foundation." In subsequent years, this story has been repeated so many times that it is widely accepted as the official account of the birth of the art form.
      The truth is, almost every aspect of Waugh's tale is a myth. The Chicago Inter-Ocean was the first American newspaper to install a high-speed rotary color press, in September 1892, and was publishing color comics in a small insert format by 1893. In the spring of 1894, a new weekly supplement for kids, the Inter-Ocean Jr, was introduced with a regular color comic series starring The Ting Ling Kids by Charles Saalburg on the cover. By 1896, Saalburg was working for the New York World as a cartoonist and art director—not as a press foreman. The World, following the lead of the Inter-Ocean, had purchased a four-color rotary press from R. Hoe and Company and published its first color comics on May 21, 1893. The cartoon on the cover of this supplement, by Walt McDougall, featured bright yellow hues.

      "The Comic Strip Century: Celebrating 100 Years of an American Art Form”  is a  two volume set, presenting a great illustrated history of the comics that I suggest you check out. (Kitchen Sink, 1994). While this book has the MOST reproductions of early strips, the Walker book also has a great amount of images among the superlative text. Gosh, the reproductions in both books are so good and so informative, I wish they had been available thirty years earlier.

      In the 1960s, aside from the Waugh book, I was  able to find only four other books that dealt with comics, “The Funnies by David White” (1963) and “Comic Art in America (1959) by Stephen Becker, which was the most compelling of the two. The books contain long essays on the history of comics and biographies of famous creators and a few reprints. Both books open with comments from British writers and publications, showing American’s inferiority complex with comic art and storytelling. By today's standards these were not reprint books, but, at the time, these were the only books where you could find any reproductions at all.

      (Please note: These are scans from the real comics and books. Sometimes the binding prevents me from getting a perfect scan. In many cases, I have had to use a camera.)

      A third book, “Classic Comics and their Creators” by Martin Sheridan was published in 1942 and was hard to find by the 1960s.  It was republished in the 1970s after being out of print for thirty years. It gave a nice overall view of what comic strips were like, way back then. It also had very short bios and descriptions of nearly 100 comic strips, with a just few reprints.  It did feature one chapter of comics, Siegel and Shuster’s Superman, which was also a newspaper series at the time.

      "Many a youngster gifted enough to scrawl the caricature of teacher on the blackboard dreams of becoming a famous cartoonist with a two-yacht income and a short working day. Such windfalls used to occur only in the comics. But the real life story of two Cleveland, Ohio youths, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, parallels the Number One daydream of American youth.
              Their brainchild, which pays each of them in the neighborhood of fifty thousand dollars a year, is Superman, the one-man brawn trust of the adventure strips. Superman is a combination Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Galahad and Hercules. He does everything. He does any­thing. He's colossal. He's terrific. He's marvelous. In short, he's a superman.
      Siegel, the continuity writer, and Shuster, the artist, are in their middle twenties. The idea for Superman evolved when they were still in high school. Jerry Siegel created the character, offered his friend, Joe Shuster, the opportunity to draw the feature. Then the young men tried to sell Superman to practically every newspaper syndicate in the country for five years.
      "How do you expect youngsters to like that sort of a character?" editors asked Siegel and Shuster. "Superman is too fantastic."
      The Cleveland master minds had faith in their creation. They con­tinued to send it to syndicate after syndicate. Finally, they mailed the drawings to J. S. Liebowitz, one of the originators of the monthly comics magazines. Mr. Liebowitz thought Superman might be the strip for which he had been searching and offered to print a few trial sequences of Superman's adventures in the June, 1938 issue of Action Comics Magazine. After a few issues the circulation of the magazine doubled.
      Newspaper syndication of the daily and Sunday adventure strip began in four newspapers through the McClure Newspaper Syndicate in January, 1939. Two years later Superman was appearing in more than three hundred daily and ninety Sunday newspapers in forty States, Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, Brazil and the Philippine Islands, with a total circulation of more than 20,000,000.
      Superman Quarterly Magazine made its first appearance in May, 1939. A year later it had reached a newsstand circulation of 1,300,000. It became a bimonthly publication and the circulation rose to 1,400,000.
      Superman became a radio star on February 12, 1940 with an initial outlet of ten stations. Within ten weeks the radio series had risen to a Crossley rating of 5.6, the highest rating of any three-times-weekly juvenile program on the air.
      Superman's popularity has become so great that Paramount Pictures, Inc., signed a contract to distribute a series of Technicolor animated cartoon shorts to be produced by the Max Fleischer Studios. These will be released at the rate of one a month for three years.
       A forcible demonstration of Superman's influence on the habits of his loyal fans was made in Baltimore in March, 1940. At that time the Enoch Pratt Free Library experimented with the use of the famous character to accomplish something with which they had had no previous success. This was to influence the reading habits of their juvenile members, and to see that boys and girls would read suitable books.
      To accomplish this, a poster featuring a picture of Superman, and carrying the headline, "Superman Recommends," was prominently displayed in the children's department. As soon as Superman's stamp of approval was placed on the books, there was an immediate increase in the circulation of these same books. The excellent results of this experiment prompted the publication of a regular monthly bulletin of books recommended by Superman, which is currently distributed by many libraries.
      As a promotion stunt, readers of the Superman magazine were invited to join the Supermen of America Club. In return for the ten-cent fee, applicants were sent an illuminated certificate of membership, a Superman button, and a secret code card for use in decoding messages that appear regularly in Action Comics. Among the 200,000 members of this unique club are one DuPont, one LaFollette, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's two children, Eric and Jean, sixty Annapolis Midshipmen, and students at the Coast Guard Academy.
      The phenomenal growth of Superman needs no deep study. His popular appeal is due to the fact that America is a land of hero worshippers. Superman is the ultimate in heroes. He outdoes everybody in everything he does and he does everything, even to bursting through steel doors and catching bullets between his teeth."

      The oldest  find of all was Cartoon Cavalcade by Thomas Craven, which was published in 1943 by Simon and Shuster. It has over 400 pages of comic strip reproductions in black and white. An interesting part of the book was the publisher explaining how a wartime shortage of paper affected its publishing. It begins with an essay on “American Humor in The New Century” and it is interesting an insightful. It doesn’t view the comic strip as a separate creation, but an evolution from illustrations in such books as Uncle Remus and even Peter Rabbit.  He also concentrates on political cartoons, by such artists as Thomas Nast and shows how they influenced comic strips. I will be presenting a bit more of this book in our ninth chapter, “What We Have Lost.”

      But see the first cartoon strip here, I put it in because it shows that nothing has changed.

      Homer Davenport did this in 1898.  He could have done it in 2008.

      Arthur Burdett Frost (January 17, 1851 - June 22, 1928), was an American illustrator, and comics writer.  He was known for his use of action and motion in his storytelling. He  illustrated over 90 books and  produced hundreds of paintings. And was undoubtedly an influence on what would eventually become comics.

      In the 1960s, there were paperback books reprinting such strips as Peanuts and the Wizard of Id - and, of course, Mad also had a line of paperbacks. Published by Simon and Shuster, Al Capp’s The Shmoo from Lil Abner sold over 700,000 copies showing that there was market for such things. It is now available from Dark Horse Books.

       Next! 1960s: Reprints from the Comic Companies: 

      80 Page Giants & Marvel Tales!


      1. Very interesting stuff, Barry. Looking forward to reading the other nine chapters.

      2. Yes, interesting! Thanks for posting this!

      3. Thanks to both of you. The next chapters will follow qucikly.

      4. I was fortunate enough to be a second generation comic fan. My mother was a huge fan of WONDER WOMAN and PLASTIC MAN. When I was 10 a co-worker of my mother gave me a grocery bag full of early Silver Age Marvels that he had in his attic.
        My Uncle was a Lil Abner fan and had the collections. Visiting my Uncle was always a treat. Besides the comics he had a pet goose and had a neighbor that had peacocks! That was why as a child I thought peacocks were native to New England!
        The barber shop that I got my first haircuts from had piles of tattered old comics to read while waiting and there was a costume/gag shop a block from my grammer school that had old EC Comics for sale

      5. Bill, do you remember what comics were in that bag?