Monday, July 30, 2012

Reprints of the Golden Age: Part 4: The 1960s, The Paperback Era

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

Part 4: The 1960s: The Paperback Era 

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.

My interest in the Golden Age was growing and so was my frustration. I was becoming more and more aware of this era, yet unable to visit it.

In the actual comics:

I was finally able to meet many of the characters of the Golden Age when,in the summer of 1963 when the Justice League had its first Crisis. I meet  the Atom, Back Canary, Doctor Fate and Hourman. I also got to meet the "other" Green Lantern and Hawkman. A few characters that were identical to their Silver Age (Earth-One) counterparts, Wonder Woman, Batman  and the Specter, would have to wait. Of course I was introduced to Jay Garrick not in Flash #123 (“Flash of Two Worlds!” or #137 (“Vengeance of the Immortal Villain”) but in the very first Barry Allen story in Showcase #4! It would take until Showcase #60, in 1966, to meet the Spectre, who appeared the same year in the JLA’s ongoing Crisis.

Every summer, The Justice Society would have a two issue adventure with the JLA, often featuring Golden Age characters that I had never seen before. In fact, "For 21 days, super-powered men and women can cross to the others existence...
can and have!"

In 1966 Marvel published  Marvel Super-Heroes Annual #1, with the Torch fighting the Sub-Mariner in a story from Marvel Mystery #8. Marvel then released giant sized Fantasy Masterpieces #3 which had Captain America stories from the 1940s. I was learning not just about Golden Age super-heroes Bucky, the original Human Torch and Toro but about the villains, Vandal Savage, The Ringmaster and the Fiddler. (I know I am mixing companies.)

From the few Marvel comic reprints and from The Great Comic Book Heroes, I saw that comics were very different in the 1940s from their 1960s counterparts.  I did  NOT know that the GA comics were being censored and redrawn in their reprints. (See part 2.)  And I was learning that many modern characters, such as the Sub-Mariner, were very different than their Golden Age versions.

Marvel was teasing us. For example, 1968, with no warning or back story, Marvel Tales gave us the first tale of a character with the marvel name, Marvel Boy! The comic said he was from the 1950s, but did not say which comic, or when.
At this time there were no books out explaining or "indexing" these characters. There was no internet, Wikipedia, or Grand Comic Book Database.  This was also years before comic book stores.  Who were these characters?  Why did they fail? Where do you go to find out?

There was a big surprise.  Before the Justice League, before the Avengers, there was the All Winners Squad. Really?  I didn't know that!!  How many issues! How come we don't get another one? And who is the girl?

From Fantasy Masterpieces #10

In 1974,  Marvel published the Human Torch comic, without mentioning it featured only reprints.  It featured two stories from Strange Tales and one with the original Torch. Unlike earlier reprints, we are no longer informed as to what issue this if from or even what year.  I began to wonder: Why was Marvel reprinting so many Timely and Atlas era comics but almost avoiding the Super heroes?

When a “know it all” wrote DC to say that he was an authority on Batman, DC asked him, in the letter’s column, “Did you know Batman carried a gun?”  Well, I didn’t.  Maybe the reprints would show me Batman with a gun!

By the way, if you are wondering why a gun for Batman was important, let me fill you in. First, of course, Batman had no super powers. Well, this was actually a lie, he did.  He was able to jump off five story buildings and not get hurt, he was able to climb those buildings in ten seconds, and, if shot he healed quickly.  In the 1960s Batman was always the target of a killer or stuck in some sort of death trap or being thrown of a cliff. You'd think he'd want to stop these guys once and for all! You see the Comics Code stopped the good guys from carrying guns but they didn't stop the bad guys.

Batman did carry a gun in Detective Comics #35, but more than that, I added the panels where he basically throws a guy out of the window to his death.  These are the stories I wanted to read, this was Batman I had never seen!

Meanwhile, back at the bookstore:

Since the 1920s, comics have always found a way into bookstores. In the 1930s, Little Orphan AnnieMutt and Jeff and a few others were reprinted in cardboard covered volumes (I guess that's why they were called “Comic Books”) and sold in bookstores. Comic strips were MUCH longer at the turn of the last century than they are today, or even fifty years ago.  You can see that in the Mutt and Jeff strips below.               

A few humor strips were being republished, including The Wizard of Id. Pogo was popular then and Walt Kelly, with Pogo, had his own series of paperback books.

While the 1960s would develop into a great showcase (every pun intended) for comic books there was still a drought of reprints from the Golden Age.  Comic books then were thought of as being disposable, with no future value. When I visited the DC offices in the early 1960s they gave some of the art away to visitors, it was worth so little to them.  I took the Kodachrome slides.  Who knew? Paperback reprints of Mad magazine were  published by Ballentine.They featured great material, in black and white, from the original color comic books of the 1950s. These books were released throughout the 1960s, often with different covers. Gosh, it made you want to get the complete originals, but there was no way I could. These books were so popular they are still being reprinted today.


In 1964-1966, Ballantine Books also published five black-and-white paperbacks of EC stories.  Tales of the Incredible  and Tomorrow Midnight reprinted  science fiction tales. Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror reprinted EC horror tales. The Autumn People reprinted Ray Bradbury’s "There Was an Old Woman" (Ingels); "The Screaming Woman" (Kamen);  "Touch and Go!" (Craig); "The Small Assassin" (Evans); "The Handler" (Ingels); "The Lake" (Orlando);"The Coffin" (Davis) and "Let’s Play 'Poison'" (Davis). I was to get my first hint of the Horror and Crime Ages of Comics.

When Batman arrived on the TV scene, in 1966, several Signet paperbacks were released featuring stories mostly from the 1950s. With the exception of an edited version of his origin story,from Batman's first issue,(which I had read in The Great Comic Book Heroes) the four stories featured in his first paperback, the red one below,  were all from the 1950s. There was still no Batman with a gun! The printing was not great, the black and white (no color) panels were often a bit blurred. Signet and DC were owned by the same company.

Of course if Batman went Signet, could Superman be far behind? But even the Superman story,that was billed as the “original” story of how Superman began, was from the 1950s.  So DC was giving me a taste of their Golden Age, but not a full course.

And Toto too?

Marvel countered with paperbacks from Lancer Publishing. The stories were all in black and white and a bit hard to read. However, they were distributed in local bookstores and were, for many people, their introduction to Marvel. The volumes featured Thor, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Daredevil and The Fantastic Four, in stories from the early 1960s. There was nothing from Marvel’s Golden Age past. Sigh!

Years later, Marvel put out color paperbacks.


Marvel soon featured new paperback novels featuring the Marvel Characters. The Bantam Captain America was a great book, giving Cap a back-story that he never had in the comics. It was written by famous editor and writer Ted White. The Avengers story by Otto Binder was very light and not much fun.

Archie Comics was getting onto the bandwagon. With stories by Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, they copied Marvel and released their own super-heroes. Notice the words Superman and Marvel on the cover.

Whatever happened to the comic book?

The decade, for me, seems to end where it began, with a stray book about comics in the bookstore, in the “HUMOR” section.  In 1967, next the paperbacks of Peanuts and Pogo, was the trade paperback of George Perry’s The Penguin Book Of Comics

It asked the question, “Whatever happened to the comic book?”

As with the books mentioned in the introduction, this British book concentrated mostly on comic strip art, but with a unique twist: the British comic strips were included. The book was in black and white. (The second edition, published four years later, had a few color sections.) The book was mostly illustrations of old comic strips, printed well for the time, but not great. It did have a 30 page section on the comic books containing six pages of text, the rest illustrations. And what does it do in its six pages of text? It quickly went over old material: Superman, Batman and, again, Frederick Wertham. (I made the point earlier that with so much space spent on Wertham, I wanted to read the comics he questioned.)  It then  discusses Stan Lee and the Marvel Age for about a page and a half. And with the exception of one page of the Spirit and one on Captain America, there is nothing from the Golden Age, they were all current Marvel tales with no mention of current DC comics. Mr. Perry borrows a lot from Esquire and The Great Comic Book heroes and does not have much new to say.

The climate has greatly improved since the early fifties. Comics are blamed for crime no more or less than other media. Indeed, television is usually the whipping-boy today.
            In the last few years, with the growth of Pop Art and other influences, there has been a great comic-book revival. In the vanguard of the new interest is the Marvel Comics group. It publishes the adventures of many superheroes, including Captain America, the Human Torch, the Amazing Spider Man, the Mighty Thor, the Incredible Hulk, and the Thing. The amazing creative genius behind this grotesque gallery is Stan Lee (real name Stanley Lieber), a dynamo of creative energy in his early forties, who works in a small yellow-painted office overlooking Madison Avenue. It has an unclosed door and a queue of cartoonists, writers, inkers, and letterers waiting to see him.
            After many mundane years of hard slogging the time came recently when Marvel Comics became part of the campus life of America. A college student quoted in Esquire said: ' We think of Marvel Comics as the twentieth-century mythology and [Stan Lee] as this generation's Homer.' Deluged with requests, the hard-working Mr Lee delights in addressing university audiences. He spends only two or three minutes at these sessions with a prepared talk; the rest is question and answer.
            He sees the superhero fantasies as fulfilling the same function that myths, legends, tales of romance and fairy stories did for earlier generations. Most of the heroes are flawed in some way. The Amazing Spider Man, in his other identity, is an insecure, guilt-ridden teenager who has no luck with the girls. The Mighty Thor is a crippled doctor whose nurse despises him but is in love with the Thor side of him, unaware of his dual character. Marvel heroes have problems. Says Stan Lee: I like Shakespeare more than anything. Everything there is on such a grand scale — so heroic. I guess I'm corny at heart.' He dislikes most of the rival companies' products, particularly Superman and Wonder Woman which he finds dull.

            One of the few comic-book series which Stan Lee does admire, because, as he says, it has style, is Will Eisner's creation, the Spirit, who was brought out of retirement by Harvey Comics in 1966. Unlike many of the other comic heroes who have to slip behind corners unobserved and climb frantically into their tights, cloaks and masks before they can become operational, the Spirit wears an ordinary suit and wide-brimmed hat, with the merest concession to a mask outlining his eyes. Fortunately, he does not constantly have to change back to something else — his former self is thought to be dead. In fact, the Spirit is very much alive but in a state of suspended animation, which is why he lives in a graveyard. The line is hard and decisive, with lots of shadows, strange angles, and elegantly intricate headings.
            Humour is one of the ingredients used by Eisner in a very idiosyncratic manner. As Jules Feiffer has noted, many of the stories have a Jewish shape to them, being up-dated fables or cautionary tales; the spirit of the Spirit is basically Jewish. Perhaps this comic-book hero is nothing more than the Wandering Jew in a modern or futuristic guise.
                        The early forties provided the strip with its really great days. The revived Spirit has a narrower hat-brim and a better fitting suit, but the Eisner style is still there and unmistakable, if frequently imitated. Jules Feiffer says: 'Alone among comic book men, Eisner was a cartoonist other cartoonists swiped from.'
There was no follow-up to the Great Comic Book Heroes, no competing company putting out a similar book. There was no special sections in the bookstores.  The end of the 1960s will leave us with a greater knowledge of the Golden Age but with few resources to follow up on it. And we will still check the humor section, looking for a book on comic books.  And we still smiled when we see a new Peanuts book!

There were often new Peanuts books at the book store, they were released annually, usually having about 85% or so of the last year’s strips with some strips were left out. Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, these books were twice the size of paperbacks and cost $1. A year or so later the same strips would be repackaged into two volumes of regular sized paperbacks and sell for 35 cents. The bigger paperbacks originally had just the dailies, but soon, with “Peanuts Every Sunday”, a book with  the Sunday strips was released. These strips would be in black and white!  It would take a decade to get these Sunday strips in color:  The pages below show how the dailies and the Sundays strips were first printed.This format would change in the 1980s, as Peanuts often switched companies. This produced many different sized books.

This two page paperback spread is from “Good Grief, Charlie Brown” (1963), a smaller paperback. We saw this strip on the introduction page. The darker page color is from the aging and yellowing of the paper in these 50 year old books. 

Now, a series of volumes entitled The Complete Peanuts are being released. The Unseen Peanuts, a Comic Book Day giveaway by Fantagraphics, explained several of the probable reasons why many Peanuts strips were not reprinted. One reason is that several strips had color references that did not make sense in a black and white reprint.

Peanuts really had its start in a comic series called “Li'l Folk”. In 2006, these comic strips were published in a volume entitled “Charles M. Schulz: Li'l Beginnings”.

 Peanuts 2000: All good things must happen for a last time.

                  Charlie Schulz, how can we ever forget you?