Thursday, August 30, 2012

The New Reprints Part 10: How The West Was Lost!

Part 10: How The West Was Lost!

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
A special thanks goes to our favorite gunslingers, The Robson Kid and Kid Caputo.

I would also like to thank:
Kid Colt, Apache Kid, Two Gun Kid, Kid Slade, The Outlaw Kid, Ringo Kid, Texas Kid, Western Kid, Arizona Kid, Rawhide Kid, Kid, The Dakota Kid, The Gun-Barrel Kid, The Rio Kid, The Sycamore Kid, Kid Melton, The Fargo Kid, The Hair-Trigger Kid, Captain O. U. Kidd, The Durango Kid, The Hard Luck Kid, City Kid Carver, The Nevada Kid, The Gunsmoke Kid, The Phoenix Kid, The Gun-Dance Kid, The Tombstone Kid, The Laredo Kid, The Utah Kid, The Topeka Kid, Kid Barrett, Billy the Kid, Cisco Kid, Fargo Kid, Prairie Kid and of course, the YELLOW KID, without whom this blog would not be possible.

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.

At the beginning of the 1980s I had given up on modern comics. Since I could not go forward, I see now that I was looking back. There was no Amazon then.

What killed the western in comics?
TV, the Comics Code and the super-heroes.

In the 1940s and 1950s, westerns thrived. There were movies, movie serials, radio shows, comics and, of course, the pulps. The pulps were regularly- published Reader Digest-sized magazines that were very popular for more than a half a century. They featured westerns, sports, detective, romance and many other types of stories. A great book on this era, was published by Chelsea House in 1970, entitled “The Pulps” edited by Tony Goldstone.
Reading then was a prime source of entertainment. Pulps and comics thrived in the era before TV... then they got crushed. Whatever genre TV latched on to soon meant the end of that genre in the pulps and comics. When detective shows and westerns took over TV in the late 1950s, those genres first thinned out first in the pulps and then in the comics. When TV began producing soap operas the romance pulps and comics began to disappear. Later, the war comics were hurt by shows such as “The Rat Patrol” and “12 O’clock High.” In our world of popular fiction, this will not be the last time new media changes the old.

Westerns were not only prime time, but weekdays and Saturday mornings. We had Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and a dozen others rerunning. How something went to being so popular to being so rare escapes me.

          Below, is the grid for TV shows on in 1959-see how many westerns were on TV then.

From "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present" by Tim Brooks

The Comics Code was a powerful destructive force. If TV stole the form of the western comics, the Comics Code removed it's substance. The action, the adventure, the violence and the gun play were removed, often actually erased from the drawn panels. The unpredictability and the excitement were gone.

At James Madison University in 1975, Stan Lee explained just how oppressive the code can be: “We submit all our books to the Code authority just to make sure that there’s nothing that slipped by us that might be harmful to a kid six months old. We had a Western story years ago called Kid Colt and in the story there’s a shot where Kid Colt is firing a gun. I forget what the story was, but in the panel-- you know the way you draw a guy shooting a gun, he’s in profile, and he’s holding the gun like this and shooting it, and from the barrel of the gun there’s a puff of smoke, and a line shooting out which denotes the trajectory of the bullet. That page was sent back to me and they said you’ve got to change the page, it’s too violent. I said, “What’s the matter?” And the explanation I was given was the puff of smoke was too big. If we made the puff of smoke a little smaller, it would be less violent. Ever anxious to contribute to a campaign of less violence, or non-violence, I immediately whited out the puff of smoke, drew a smaller one, and you’ll be happy to know that the younger generation was safe.”  

The Comics Code was so rigid with westerns, it would not allow a gun going off and the person seen being shot in the same panel. You had to use two panels. Some westerns, even before the code, were formulaic already, especially in short stories. A villain does something bad, the good guy goes after him, saves the town and the girl. Other westerns were not immune to the influences of horror, crime and violence. See here, in panels from Gunfighter and Saddle Justice, both from EC comics, from 1949, that the horror and gore are here too. And maybe the first Ghost Rider. Speaking of the Ghost Rider, see his splash below, in the Dick Ayers section.

By Graham Engels
From The EC Western reprints by Gemstone, 1996. Saddle Justice and Gunfighter

The code took any real danger, cruelty, torture (and maybe a few zombies) out of the story. It also removed any signs of racism, sex and serious menace. And the good guy could never shoot anyone; he was just able to shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hands.Which became repetitive, boring and a bit silly.
The code removed a lot of genres such as westerns, war, crime and horror, from the industry, and crippled many others. The reintroduction of he super-heroes, which were the remnants of the industry, not it's savior,
affected the westerns, in may ways, as they began to take control of the comic book industry.

An orphan is raised by his Uncle Ben, a loving man, who is seen in just a few panels. He treats his nephew as a son. Uncle Ben gives the teenager great wisdom and insists that his young charge studies and learn. Later, the boy discovers that his Uncle Ben, was killed, shot by a criminal. As his nephew learns his great new skills, he tracks down the murderer. Instead of killing him, he turns him over to the law.

    He pledges to spend the rest of his life fighting crime. Not trusted by the law, he must fight the good guys too. To avoid arrest he keeps his real identity a secret. It’s August, 1960. 

And such was the life of Johnny Bart, the Rawhide Kid, as told by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

                                      Peter Parker would arrive a year later.

The structure that made the comic book westerns exciting including the vigilantism, was now gone. These qualities were now placed in the super-heroes. Spider-Man and Daredevil were the “new strangers in town,” bringing criminals to justice in Dodge City. Except it was New York.
While super-heroes began to get longer stories, often continued ones. The story arcs also incorporated soap opera elements with their long, complicated romances. This was not the case in the westerns.

William W. Savage writes in his 1990 book, “Comic Books And America 1945-1954:
“Whatever the heroic cowboy may have been on the big screen or the little one in the 1950s, in comic books he tended to function as detective, usually of the private variety but not infrequently under the aegis and with the badge of some local, state, or federal law-enforcement agency. He chased crooks, be they rustlers or despoilers of banks, railroads, stagecoaches, or other symbols of civilization, security, and economic development. He stood for law and order, peace and quiet, God and country, Mom and apple pie, just as he always had.” “He was,” Mr. Savage continues, “ a cowboy without any cows.”

Well, if we change a few words like “stagecoaches” to “airplanes” doesn’t that really now describe the super-hero?

While Marvel put modern elements in their war comics, such as Sgt. Fury, they did not put them in their westerns. Their western characters were not distinctly developed. For example, Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt were wanderers, with no supporting characters. They still all "sounded" the same when they spoke and many had the same kind of adventures. There are exceptions, the Two-Gun Kid and the Ghost Rider were established in towns and did have supporting characters and some continuity. DC also had exceptions such as Jonah Hex. Over time, the westerns and the failing romance comics did not change very much although with Red Wolf, and a decade earlier, Tomahawk, the comic companies attempted to give them a “super-hero slant.”

 Enemy Ace followed by the first Sgt Rock story in Our Army at War #83, June 1959

The war comics began to fail by the early 1970s also. It is my observation that the mixed feelings around the country regarding the conflict in Viet Nam intruded onto the war comic's storytelling. They weren't losing readers and much as no one wanted to write them anymore! That is is a whole different blog! When Martin Goodman, publisher, left Marvel in 1972, Marvel lost interest in the westerns and war, although their sales were good. In fact the westerns were reprinted them until 1980.

Another major factor is that the westerns lost their great talents, such as Jack Kirby, who in the 1950s had done Bullseye, Boy’s Ranch and the Rawhide Kid. The westerns became a training site for new talent and if they did well, they went on to other things… mostly super-heroes. Herb Trimpe, Barry Smith, Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich and Steve Englehart were all brought in at the training ground of the westerns. And when they established themselves, they left to do create super-hero stories.

I asked famed Marvel and Grim Ghost writer Tony Isabella about this: "I can offer some speculations.Westerns were also disappearing from movies and TV. While the genre remained popular among its devotees - there are annual western movie conventions - it wasn't high in the public consciousness. I always wanted to write some westerns for Marvel, but never got the chance. I did pitch the concept of a modern-day Two-Gun Kid - this was before Englehart used the Lee/Kirby version in Avengers - but it didn't interest anyone at the time."

Tony is right, TV would have a similar path, with westerns slowly being replaced by private eyes, spies and a “Wagon Train To The Stars.” All these shows had the “new sheriff in town” concept. For example, the popular, adult TV western, “Have Gun Will Travel” was co-created by Sam Rolfe. He would go on to create the “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” series. See how close the character of Napoleon Solo is to Paladin. Bruce Geller, another one of the show’s writers, would go on to create both “Mission Impossible” and “Mannix. Of course, the Wagon Train reference is for another Have Gun alumni, Gene Roddenberry, who would create "Star Trek."

The Golden Age Westerns have not be given a great amount of attention in reprints. With some exceptions of the Rawhide Kid Masterworks and the three volumes of EC westerns published by Russ Cochran. Golden Age Greats, which had a 12 issue run, in 1994, gave us “The Best of the West” in issue #7 with stories from the 1940s and 1950s featuring The Drango Kid, The Black Phantom and many others. 

In another issue, Volume 11, Bill Black returns to the westerns and features the movie stars, such as Roy Rogers, who had made it into he comic book pages. he gives very interesting and informative commentary of stars and artists who have made it into this issue, including John Wayne, Tom Mix, Frank Frazetta and many others. He also helps make my point about great artists leaving the westerns for super-hero. Here are splashes from Steve Ditko and John Buscema from the mid 1950s:

  Volume 7 even included an interview with Dick Ayers, excerpted here:

THE GHOST RIDER was created by writer Ray Krank and artist Dick Ayers. Gardner Fox took over the writing followed by Carl Memling but every single GR story in TIM HOLT, THE GHOST RIDER, BEST OF THE WEST and BAR-B RIDERS was illustrated by Dick Ayers. Most likely Dick has drawn more Western stories than any other comic book artist.
BILL BLACK: When did you start to work for ME? (Magazine Enterprises)
DICK AYERS: April, 1948.
BILL BLACK: What was their first assignment? Was it your first comic book story?
DICK AYERS: "Doc Holiday- DOCTOR OF DEATH!" It was published in "COWBOYS AND INDIANS" No. 6. This was my first "all Ayers" story. Previously I had worked with Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel on their FUNNYMAN, but it was not a full time job. I would drop by during the day as I was attending school at night. I worked on the comic book. Later Joe had me pencil some of the daily strips (FUNNYMAN also appeared as a syndicated newspaper strip).
BILL BLACK: How did you get your job at ME? What do you remember about Ray Krank, the Editor? Vince Sullivan?
DICK AYERS: Joe Shuster recommended me to Vin & Ray (ME published FUNNYMAN) to do their upcoming "JIMMY DURANTE" comic book. In the 1930s Vin Sullivan produced a strip based on Durante, SCHNOZZOLA, and my interpretation was loosely based on this strip. Ray Krank wrote the story
BILL BLACK: What writers did you work with? Who wrote THE CALICO KID? Whose idea was it to have THE CALICO KID become THE GHOST RIDER?
DICK AYERS: Ray Krank wrote Durante. I don't know of the writer's names being on scripts I got. The first several stories might have been written by either Gardner Fox or maybe Ray Krank. Vin and Ray came up with the concept to have CALICO become GHOST RIDER. I took it from there with costume design.
BILL BLACK: Tell us about Carl Memling. I don't ever recall reading about him. Here's your chance to set the record straight.
DICK AYERS: Carl Memling was a writer I was paired with in a strip idea for a Catholic newspaper (which didn't get published). I liked his writing and urged him to come write for Magazine Enterprises He frowned on writing comics but let me take a pulp Western sample he'd had published to Ray Krank. Ray assigned him GHOST RIDER and he wrote all of them from then on. Carl also wrote BOBBY BENSON, PRESTO KID (his creation) and JOLLY JIM DANDY (his creation). He also wrote for Atlas and others. He became very prolific in comics. He even wrote books I did for Al Fago. Carl died some years ago.
BILL BLACK: Well, that's one for the history books! Popular belief is that Gardner Fox wrote GR and PRESTO. I even credited Fox as writer in AC's PRESTO KID comic. Thanks for setting the record straight you mentioned Al Fago... of Charlton comics. You worked for Charlton at this same time?
DICK AYERS: Having gotten married in the early '50s, I had added responsibilities. I tried Stan Lee at Atlas. There I drew Western features and horror stories... KID COLT and HUMAN TORCH. At Chariton I did horror... THE THING and EH! DIG THIS CRAZY COMIC!"
BILL BLACK: I have some of those! Wild stuff... like MAD. Your exaggerated style was perfect for those parodies. So you worked for three publishers at once?
DICK AYERS: Yes, for a while.
BILL BLACK: Unlike today's comic artists, you penciled, inked and lettered all your stories. That's quite a word load considering how many stories you drew. 
DICK AYERS: I produced 1,189 pages for ME alone.
BILL BLACK: How did you get to letter your own stories? Frank Belle wanted to letter his and was surprised that you got to do your own lettering. Both he and Belfi said they received stories to ink from ME after being lettered by an unknown letterer. Can you identify this letterer?
DICK AYERS: No. I lettered the Doc Holliday story in addition to pencils and inks. Ray liked the lettering so he had me letter the Durante book. From then on I did my own lettering. I even did it on Marvel (Atlas) stories until the '60s. Then Stan started the "Marvel method" of scripting... I would ink stories without ever seeing a script.
BILL BLACK: Yes, until the implementation of the "Marvel method", your stories, being "pure Ayers" had the same look no matter which publisher you worked for. With Memling writing, they were virtually interchangeable. Later, when Marvel initiated the "house style" concept, it was very hard on artists with individual styles. But how did you handle all this work?
DICK AYERS: I had an assistant, Ernie Bache. Ernie joined me around January, 1952 when I suddenly became very busy with assignments from ME and Atlas. I rented studio space in Bronxville, N. Y and we worked together there until January, 1953, when I bought a place in White Plains. We continued working in my home studio there until the "Code" forced us to separate due to book cancellations. We split sometime in '55, I believe. Here's how we worked. I would letter a page first, then rough pencil the panels, then outline it all in ink. Ernie would finish up, weighting the lines, adding tones (crosshatching) and blacks and whatever he thought would add to the job. We worked side by side for 3 years.
BILL BLACK: You do this neat effect with open areas in panel borders... like when arms or rocks extend into the panel...
DICK AYERS: That was Ernie's innovation. He added a lot to the atmosphere.
BILL BLACK: You took over BOBBY BENSON from Bob Powell (No. 14 - 20). Any story behind this? Do you know if royalties were paid to the BOBBY BENSON radio show? If so, how much?
DICK AYERS: No special story. Ray just assigned me to do BOBBY BENSON. And no, I never heard about that end of it but when Bobby Benson was on TV played by a blonde- I had to make Bobby blonde after long being established as having brown hair.
BILL BLACK: I thought that you taking over BB from Bob may have led to Powell, a couple years later, undercutting your page rate and snaking the AVENGER assignment from you!
DICK AYERS: The script for the second issue of THE AVENGER was long overdue so I called Ray Krank to ask when I could be expecting it "You're not going to get it," he said "Bob Powell called asking about THE AVENGER... asking how much am I paying Ayers to do it? Thirty Five dollars a page, I told him. Powell said he'd do it for $28.50." So Powell got the job!
BILL BLACK: When you first told me that story I resolved to give you the chance to do a second issue of THE AVENGER. And we did it... for AC... forty years after the fact. It was a thrill working with you on that.
DICK AYERS: Yeah, sure. You have a couple up on Stan Lee. He just writes and edits. You publish, edit, write, pencil, ink and letter!"
BILL BLACK: Don't forget "take out the trash!" But back to GHOST RIDER-- the implementation of the Comics Code Authority caused a lot of changes in comics. Is
that what killed THE GHOST RIDER?
DICK AYERS: Yes. Code restrictions... horror stories were out
BILL BLACK: One of the last stories had dotted lines drawn on GR's face to indicate nose and mouth. Were you instructed to do that to make the skull face less terrifying?
DICK AYERS: I don't remember doing that... not until doing THE HAUNTED HORSEMAN for you. Incidentally I really like that name!
BILL BLACK: No, no... we make THE HAUNTED HORSEMAN more skull-like. This effect was to show that there was a human face beneath the mask. Guess it was drawn on by the Comics Code authority because you would have remembered this. The last feature you did for ME was JOLLY JIM DANDY, the backup in DAN'L BOONE. How and why did the end of ME come about?
DICK AYERS: Other than bad sales, I have no idea. Ray just didn't have any more work for me on my end. Whenever a book went below 45% sales, Vin would put it on hold. Later the book might be revived or a story published in another book. But sales consistently dropped in the mid-50's and ME folded.
BILL BLACK: If you can talk about it, how did Marvel Comics get hold of the GHOST RIDER property in the mid-60's?
DICK AYERS: Fan letters requested OR Stan told me he had the copyright and assigned me on it. The indicia in the Marvel version had the copyright...
BILL BLACK: But back then, copyrights ran 14 years. The last GHOST RIDER story was published by ME in 1955. The first Marvel GR was published in 1967. Hmmmm? At any rate it gave you the chance to do him again and, as with ME, you did all the GR stories done in the 1960's.
DICK AYERS: Yes, but Marvel changed the concept of the GHOST RIDER.
BILL BLACK: Yes, sad but true. By "Marvelizing" the character they made him a ghost of his former self. The Western character was later called NIGHT RIDER when Marvel used the GR name on a horror hero. And in the 1990's he's called PHANTOM RIDER and you drew him in a series of 5 page backups to "original" GHOST RIDER, the motorcycle version.
DICK AYERS: I met one of Marvels editors on a plane trip to France in January of 1992. Later, about May. Marvel phoned assigning me PHANTOM RIDER. It ended when the reprint book was cancelled
BILL BLACK: That was unusual. I had heard that after many, many years of good work and faithful service, Marvel closed the doors on you. Story?
DICK AYERS: Maybe... in my autobiography. It was due to their reprinting so much of my work with no compensation. My reaction? I sued.
BILL BLACK: Having drawn countless features in your long career, Dick... what was your favorite?

Since 1987 AC Comics has published a great deal of Golden Age material. They have licensed many Western film heroes including Roy Rogers and Tom Mix and have acquired permission to reprint Magazine Enterprises Durango Kid, Redmask, Black Phantom, and Presto Kid, and many other stories which have fallen into public domain.

Steve Brower has been a comic book fan and a researcher for many years. He recently put out a book, collecting many of his favorite western stories, entitled Golden Age Western Comics. I had mentioned earlier that the original artwork and film is forever lost from many of the companies that are out of business. So we are lucky that Steve had these comics and wanted to share them with us. These are comics not taken at random, but are chosen favorites out of his personal collection.

I bought a copy of Steve’s book from Amazon and I enjoyed it, having fun in a genre I had almost forgotten about. I think Steve wanted to give us a visit to a time when TV, movies and pulps were just full of westerns and shoot ups. In fact, I got so caught up in reading these stories that I left my horse double parked! The short stories in the book were relatively simple by current standards. They featured some familiar names, Jessie James, Gabby Hayes, Annie Oakley and Blackhawk. (Okay, so it wasn’t that Blackhawk). In the era of super-heroes it was so interesting to find out that the bad guys just wanted to rob a bank or a stagecoach and not take over the world. My favorite story here is that of Tom Mix. The robbers instantly kill the Post Office clerk they intended to rob, but only tie up Tom Mix, their only threat, when he comes to get them. As in every James Bond movie they give the good guy an opportunity to escape!

Steve was nice enough to give us an interview. Heck, we had a discussion.

Barry: When did you discover comics?
Steve: I actually can’t recall when I started reading comics, it seems I always did, so probably as soon as I could read. I would think the origins of my interest began with the Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. I was a huge fan. As I was of Western T.V. shows, the Lone Ranger, Broken Arrow, Branded, The Rebel, The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, etc. But more than anything it must have been Superman on T.V. that led me to print.

Barry: What were original favorites? How did you discover westerns and which ones did you read?
Steve: Of course which comics I read varies with what age I was which comics I read. Among the earliest were Superman, Batman and World’s Finest but I’m not ashamed to admit as a younger lad I read Casper, Richie Rich, Little Lulu, and Archie. Classics Illustrated got me through many a book report. The Western books I read were Dell, Charlton and Gold Key. Later those from Marvel, Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt.. Once I discovered Jack Kirby and The Fantastic Four life was never the same.

Barry: What gave you the idea for this book?
Steve: There have been ample anthologies of late of the crime, horror and romance genres. Westerns seemed to be a neglected group. I think in part because unlike those others, there’s no mitigating the portrayal of Native Americans, and so much of the material is mired in nostalgia. There are no contemporary anti-heroes here, little irony, the books are pretty straight forward. But they are fun, and I that’s what readers will come away with.

Barry: How did you decide which comics to include?
Steve: Working backwards the publisher, powerHouse, came up with a page count. That led me to choose shorter stories. There simply was no room for 22 page stories. At the same time I wanted to have a mix of “names”, both Western legends and matinee stars.

Barry: Where did you get these comics?
Steve: They are all from my collection.

Barry: How did you find the credits?
Steve: Many of the stories are signed. I also researched via GDC and Jerry Bail’s Who’s Who. Christopher Irving, who wrote the introduction, contributed to the credits as well.

Barry: What is your favorite story here?
Steve: I know this will sound like a cop out but I like them all for different reasons. Rather than answer that directly I will mount a defense of Manny Stallman’s Little Eagle. Christopher criticized Stallman’s art in the intro and so far reviews have mentioned how stiff and bizarre his art is when compared to others included. So I’m going on record to say I like Stallman’s art. There is something very psychedelic about that splash page and I like his page designs.

Barry: How many comics do you have?
Steve: At least a thousand.

Barry: Of what type?
Steve: Superhero, war, crime, Westerns, romance, horror, classics illustrated, pretty much every genre except funny animals. Lot's of S&K 50s stuff. Lots of Kirby, Ditko and of course Meskin. And all decades.

Barry: If you were able to do the long story westerns, which ones would you have chosen?
Steve: Gene Autry for one. Many of the matinee stars' stories ran the full comic length.

Barry: What were your favorite Western TV shows? (Mine were the Rifleman and Have Gun, will Travel)
Steve: Definitely those two. My family watched Gunsmoke every week. I remember liking Branded and The Rebel.

Barry: Did you read any of the Marvel Westerns, Ghost Rider, Rawhide Kid, Two Gun Kid?
Steve: Rawhide Kid and Two Gun Kid, yes, Ghost Rider, no.

Barry: How about DC?
Steve: Yes, although once Marvel happened I read DC less.

Barry: Did you check out any of the recent revivals?
Steve: If you mean in comics, no. I don't read many mainstream contemporary comics.

Barry: Anything else you’d like to say about the westerns?
Steve: Just to say I've enjoyed the chat and appreciate the time

            Steve is also the author of a biography of a famed artist of the Golden age, Mort Meskin.

See you next time as we near our journey's end.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The New Reprints Part IX: The Archives and Masterworks

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

Part IX: 1990s until Today: The Archives and Masterworks

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
Thanks to Nick Caputo, Kid Robson and Mike Vassallo!
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.

At the beginning of the 1980s I had given up on modern comics. Since I could not go forward, I see now that I was looking back. There was no Amazon then. When I bought the EC archives, I did it by mail order, buying them directly from Cochran, bypassing the comic book stores.

 Finally, I was finding the Golden Age.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
T.S. Eliot

It began slowly.

DC comics began to see the potential in reprinting Golden Age comics. In 1987, DC published a hardcover book, “The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told.’’ It was sold in bookstores and featured five stories from the 1940s and six from the 1950s. It also included my favorite Superman story of all time, “Superman’s Other Life” which was published before DC had its “imaginary tales.” In a tale drawn by Wayne Boring, Batman gives Superman the first High Definition TV and it has a video of what would have happened to him if Krypton had not exploded.

Soon the “Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” would be available in bookstores. This volume would have six stories from the late thirties and early forties, and five from the 1950s. Both of these volumes would be successful enough to have sequels. In fact, there was also a third book for Batman called, “The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told.” While the early Batman stories were not without charm, they were certainly without great artwork but the stories were still fun to read. There was also “Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told” with mostly stories of the Silver Age Flash, but there were four with Speedster Jay Garrick. Oh yes, there was also “Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told,” which had five Golden Age stories.

In 1990, DC published “The Greatest 1950’s Stories Ever Told.” This book was put together using great imagination and great variety. It featured stories of Superman and Batman, of course, but it also featured Congo Bill, Blackhawk, King Faraday, Tommy Tomorrow and even a romance story. So I figured I’d use a scan of the greatest team since Superman and Batman:

Also that year, DC published, (at last!), “The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told.” FINALLY!!!!!! A book full of the Golden Age!!!! Roy Thomas remembers the order of releases as Golden Age book followed by 1950s. He could be right. The order in which I bought them may not have been the order in which were published. It had the obligatory Superman, Batman and Wonder Women stories, all great, but it also had Boy Commandos, Wildcat, Hawkman, Kid Eternity (who?) and three hundred pages of fun. And it had ads!!!! The volume had an introduction by Roy Thomas, who explained the history and importance of the Golden Age characters and not once mentioned anything about Marvel.

In late 1987, Marvel’s first Masterworks hardcover books, available in bookstores, were Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.These, of course, were Silver Age not Golden Age books. The first Golden Age reprints were Simon and Kirby’s Fighting American and Boy’s Ranch. They were published in 1989 and 1991. The comics were originally published by Harvey, not Marvel, but apparently, Simon and Kirby retained the copyright.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
                                                                                       -- T.S. Eliot

Then, one day, in 1990, walking on Queens Blvd, near Continental Ave, in Forest Hills N.Y., I discovered a new comic book store that had two books in the window that I had never seen: The Archive Editions of Superman and Batman! Their stories began in the 1930s! And they both said, “Volume I.” There would be more! Hot socks!

I remembered the 80 Page Giants! But these new color archives were all about the Golden Age. I was ecstatic. I finally got the comics I had wanted for thirty years. It was indeed a wish come true.

The Superman stories were from Superman Comics, which meant they are actually a year later than the first ones that appeared in Action Comics. Eventually the Action Archives would come out. The Batman Archive actually stories from Batman’s beginning in Detective Comics. The volumes cost $50 and there were no discounts.

The books were thick, 250 pages for Superman and 290 pages for the Bat.  Jim Steranko, an expert on the history of comics, wrote the introduction to Superman. I couldn’t wait for the next ones to come out. Throughout the decade, DC would publish archives featuring great, and not so great, super-heroes of the Golden Age: Flash, Green Lantern, The Spectre, Black Canary and many more. DC was the owner of many characters that started out at other companies such as Blackhawk, Captain Marvel (Shazam!), and Blackhawk, but they too got their archives. Now, at long last, I was able to read the comics of the Golden Age.

DC soon published archives of the Silver Age characters as well as Will Eisner’s the Spirit.

The prices now for these books have today gone to $70 and the page count has gone down about 10%. DC has also published bigger Omnibus editions of the Silver Age characters, Green Lantern, Kamandi and Challengers of the Unknown.

And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.
T.S. Eliot

DC would publish rarely seen Golden Age stories in “Comic Cavalcade” and “Rarities.

Cavalcade featured many of the familiar characters of the DC Universe, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Arrow, but a pair appeared that I did not expect.

Rarities gave us stories from World’s Fair comics (which later became World's Finest) such as:

In the late 1990s, aided and abetted by Kitchen Sink Press, DC released, in separate volumes, the Daily and Sunday Superman and later Batman comic strips. These were wonderful stories, created for both children and adults. The Superman dailies and Sunday start off with his origin, in more detail than they ever put into the 1930s comics. See Batman Sundays in 80 page Giant section.

Eventually, DC got around to the World’s Finest Archives and the first comic I had ever read:

Marvel occasionally reprinted some Golden Age classics including Marvel Boy in Marvel Super Action #4 and Venus Weird Wonder Tales #'s 16-18. 

The Marvel Boy story reprinted in Marvel Super Action also appears in the Marvel Masterworks of Atlas Heroes.

Venus is now being reprinted in the Masterworks also.

Below we see the Sub-Mariner from Giant-Size Invaders #1 and The Torch from Giant Size Avengers #1

 When Marvel reprinted the Yellow Claw in the back of Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu they changed some  of the dialogue and images to match the then current continuity. Woo now works for SHIELD instead of the FBI.

Marvel’s first Golden Age reprints, done in 1990, was hardcover copy of Marvel Comics #1, from 1940. This was a thin volume, in color, reproducing only that comic. It cost $17.95.

Marvel published a beautiful, black leather bound volume, “Fantastic Firsts” in 1994. It came with a colorful bookmark, which I also show below. It contained the first appearance of Marvel's most successful characters of the 1960s on glossy white paper. Wait, wait, that’s right...they are still reprinting Marvel Tales! Ant-Man had his first two origin stories printed, (Tales to Astonish #27 and 34) Dr. Strange has his first story (from Strange Tales #110) and not his origin story from issue #115. The Silver Surfer is treated just the opposite, his story is from Silver Surfer #1, not Fantastic Four #48. The Sub-Mariner section featured stories from his first appearance with the FF, in issue #4 and in FF Annual #1. Each story featured a preface and epilogue by Stan Lee.

Once again the book contained nothing from the Golden Age. For Cap, Subby and Torchy, these were not Fantastic Firsts, but Fantastic Seconds.

 Above is a scan from Fantastic Firsts (The FF page 12) and to your right a scan of the original page (not a reprint)  from FF #1. I scanned that page for Mark Evanier's great book on Jack Kirby!

A similar book, Famous Firsts: X-Men was released a year later. Complete with bookmark! It contained the stories fromX-Men Uncanny X-Men #1-12;  Incredible Hulk #181 (Wolverine); Giant Size X-Men #1, (Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus); Uncanny X-Men #129 (Kitty Pride); Avengers Annual #10 (Rogue); Uncanny X-Men #244 (Jubilee); Uncanny X-Men #256 (Psylocke); New Mutants #87 (Cable); Uncanny X-Men #266 (Gambit); and Uncanny X-Men #283 (Bishop).

In 1998, Marvel published a two volume set featuring the Captain America stories from his first 10 Golden Age issues. The fillers were not included. For all you folks who missed Hurricane and Turok, the fillers and text stories were to be included when Marvel, in 2005, began releasing Captain America Masterworks.

Marvel would later release these stories in two trade paperbacks, called, "The Classic Years." The first one had a very funny looking Hitler on the redrawn cover. I think they used Oliver Hardy as the stand in.

It would take Marvel almost a decade to come up with a book similar to DC Golden Age reprints. In 1998 Marvel published “The Golden Age of Marvel Comics." There were two volumes. These wonderful trade paperbacks had great stories of the very famous, The Torch, Captain America and the Sub-Mariner and the not so famous, Venus, The Vision and Black Knight. These were fun books because they also featured a lot of lesser known characters as well as famous ones.

Marvel finally began regularly publishing Golden Age Masterworks in 2004 and Atlas Era Masterworks in 2006. These included Marvel Comics/Marvel Mystery Comics, Sub-Mariner, Daring, USA, and many others.Sadly, at the beginning the printing and coloring in many of these books was erratic and  inaccurate. They went through stages of good and bad. This was evident in the Marvel (Mystery) Comics Masterworks Volume One. The colors did not represent the originals, they were dark and blotchy. The volume was great to have, but a disappointment.

Thank gosh (and a guy named Cory) that currently the printing of these books is now outstanding. I first noticed it with their big $100 thick omnibuses. It took time but they really got it right.
Let’s take a look at the first Masterworks editions, and compare them to both their originals and to their comic book reprints. There are tags on top to show you where they are from. A BIG THANKS to Bob Bailey for supplying pictures of the originals.

For the original Human Torch we have a photo of the original comic, and his reprints in Fantasy Masterpieces, Masterworks, Omnibus, Marvel Comics (1990); and Golden Age of Marvel Softcover.  Note that he is always blue EXCEPT in Fantasy Masterpieces.


For Cap, we have his appearances in the Great Comic Book Heroes, Jack Kirby Visionaries, The Golden Age of Marvel, Captain America Masterworks Vol I, and lastly his two volume set from 1998. Note the handle of the bomb detonator goes from red, to green to white.

The Sub-Mariner's origin was presented in the first Marvel Mystery Comics Masterworks AND in the first Silver Age Sub-Mariner Masterworks in 2003

Speaking of reprints, the origin of the Sub-Mariner, as it appeared in Marvel Comics #1, was a reprint! It was originally printed in advanced copies of Motion Pictures Weekly, a comic book your grandparents got when they went to the movies in1938. So no one got this at the theater. In some reprints Namor's mother is pink, in other blue. So I wondered what she was originally. Well, Motion Pictures Weekly was in black and white!

First up, to your left is Invaders #20, to the right is the Marvel Comics reprint.

Marvel Masterworks is on the left, the GREAT omnibus is on the right.

Here we have the original, one top, and the masterworks (left) and the Omnibus on the right.

 By the end of the 20th century, the distinction between bookstores and comic book stories often blurred as bookstores added “graphic novel” sections and often added comic books to their magazine sections. Comic Book stores added a great many volumes of popular fiction and culture.

In 1999, Marvel would produce several Golden Age reprint comics: The Human Torch #5b, Marvel Mystery Comics #1, although the stories were taken from several different GA comics and featured many stars such as the Whizzer, Captain America and the Angel; and All Winners Squad #21, the sequel to, so to speak, of issue #19 that appeared in Fantasy Masterpieces in the 1960s. It would take 8 to 12 years for these stories to appear in a full blown Masterworks.

Roy Thomas explains two interesting things in his Torch introduction. First, the reason why there were two “#5” issues. Second, he explains how complicated it was to get the Torch and Subby together. But this was the beginnings of the one universe concept at Marvel and it began with the second issue of Marvel Mystery.

Roy also explains how the first All Winners story was reprinted in Fantasy Masterpieces.

ALL WINNERS #19— the Fall 1946 Timely/Marvel comic book you hold even now in your pulsating hands, in a manner of speaking— was first re-presented, albeit rather badly, in FANTASY MASTERPIECES #10 (August 1967).
           In other words, it's now been more than a decade longer since the '60s reprint than it was between the original 1940s comic and that issue of FM.

The above may not exactly be a classic science-fiction "time paradox," but it sure plays havoc with my mind.

           A note about that reprint:
   In 1967, we had to destroy a copy of ALL WINNERS #19 (valued at $2800 in mint condition in a recent edition of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, but worth quite a bit less then) in order to wash out the color, touch up the art, and re-color the story. As the 26-year-old associate editor with just two years in the industry, I was the one who prodded Stan Lee into printing that story; he didn't remember it, and why should he? (I'm also the guy who first started hyphenating the name to "All-Winners Squad," and I'm proud, do you hear me— proud!)
    Alas, our methods were so primitive then, and time pressures so all-pervasive, that the art in those early reprints doesn't begin to do justice to that in the original comic.
More: the colorist managed to reverse the colors on Miss America's tunic and cape. Like, it's the tunic that should be red and the cape blue, rather than vice versa.
(Errors have a way of birthing more errors. In 1997, because of FANTASY MASTERPIECES #10, Miss America was similarly miscolored on the cover of THE GOLDEN AGE OF MARVEL trade paperback. Not that the sky is going to fall in because of it.)
     I also noticed in 1967 that the Squad didn't • really have a logo. The cover logo had simply been pasted onto the splash. In an effort to give the group a solid foothold in the Marvel Universe, I had someone letter in "THE" before "ALL WIN­NERS," and "SQUAD!" after. And I wrote "All-Winners Squad," added hyphen and all, in a blurb on the cover of FM #10. However, Stan had so totally forgotten that the group had ever had a name that he changed the word "Squad" to the ill-fitting "Magazine," so that the arrow/burst read:
"The most colossal collectors' classic ever reprinted! Captain America, Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch, The Whizzer and Miss America... the almost legendary ALL-WINNERS MAGAZINE in a 43-page action packed action epic exactly as it appeared in 1946.
      Not really.

A Whopping Big Point:

The Marvel Comics/Marvel Mystery Comics Omnibus is terrific, the colors are right and the printing is great. In fact, in last few years, the omnibuses, the Masterwork hardcovers and trade paperbacks have gotten better and better... and a bit more expensive. And the credits and the quality of the reproductions are constantly being updated. I know because I have been a small, miniscule part part of it.

A little detour: While it is always nice to sit down with a Masterworks or Omnibus and read one story after another, printed well on good paper, it’s nice to read the original comics too. However, in the 1970’s, due to economics, paper shortages and gosh knows what else, the printing quality deteriorated on the Marvel books. Of course, 40 years of aging paper doesn't help much. Simply, many looked bad then and worse now. So with some comics, such as Tomb of Dracula or Howard the Duck, the reproduction is so good in the Omnibuses, I don’t want to read the actual comics.

Often here are bonus features of original art and alternate covers.

The Omnibuses often, but not always, have the letter's columns and the introductions previously printed in the earlier Masterworks. By mere coincidence here is a letter's column for Silver Surfer #14, 45 years ago, with my letter in it!
Also, they work hard on giving us little surprises as they improve their product for each generation. For example, if you get the trade paperback of Spider-Man Masterworks #1, you get the following two treats: the original artwork from first Spider-Man story AND pictures of the bullpen from Marvel Tales #1.

In the 1970s, one comic in particular, in the 1970s, was a problem. Deathlok, appearing in Astonishing Tales, used many different fonts to set the mood of the story. Often, they would use colored ink over the fonts. With the bad printing it was hard to read. It was great to get the Masterworks and breeze right through.

From original comic, Astonishing Tales #33

From the Marvel Masterworks

We now have entered a new era. Many comics, from many closed companies are being reprinted. This includes the magazines from Warren, who published Creepy, Eerie and Vamperella. We are getting a look at a lot of comics that faded away. In the mid 1970s Warren published Blazing Combat. It was reminder of the War comic by EC. These comics got almost no distribution but they are here for us to see.

Marvel and DC also have published big thick black and white reprints of the Silver Age stories in “Showcase” and "Essential" comics. Here is the Aquaman page that we first saw in the 80 Page Giant section as it is reproduced in Showcase. 

And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.
T.S. Eliot

Marvel not only presents their super-heroes, but has returned to their 1960s beginnings with great stories from Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales. Earlier Marvel published editions of Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Thor etc, but did not include the back-up stories. I had feared that the wonderful anthology stories of the late 1950s and early 1960s would be left out of the Masterworks. Now, in separate volumes they have been reprinted.

At this point, my search for the Golden Age stories takes an ironic turn. I will be writing the introduction to one of the four “special” Marvel Masterworks: Tales of Suspense, Volume IV. This volume, along with Tales to Astonish Volume IV and the yet to be Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales final volumes, contain the last anthology stories before the Marvel Age. And it will have some of the first stories of that era. These four will be the bridge, the link between the two ages. So, in a mysterious, Steve Ditko way, I have become my own link between the Golden and Marvel Ages of Comics. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “In my end is my beginning.” 

Here are some ORIGINAL images, along with their black and white proofs and their color reproductions from Tales of Suspense, Volume IV due out in September 2012.


In 1994, A small trade paperback series produced “Golden Age Greats” with editor Bill Black presenting reprints. He included interviews with the creators, covers, features on the publishers and the characters. As an example, in the Best of the West there was an interview with Dick Ayers, a color picture, and a reprint of the Ghost Rider reprint, and most importantly, a Dick Ayers Checklist. More on that in my next chapter, "How The West Was Lost." We got to read Catman, Rocketman, The Cat and even Phantom Lady. More and more I was getting the comics I had always wanted to see.

In this new Golden Age of Reprints, John Romita and Walt Simonson also have Artists editions, similar to the one Wally Wood has, but drawn two decades later Romita's artwork is smaller than Woods.


Saddle up, partners, the westerns are next:

How The West Was Lost