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Saturday, November 12, 2011

New Comics # 6, July 1936

Looking at the editorial statement this issue shows that they considered the lettering a major selling point! Good eyesight would, of course, be necessary to read such a big comic, after all. Oooookay.

Lots of continuing strips as usual. Looking at a few, here are some observations:

First of all, we still aren't given as much a s a hint as to who Dale Daring is and why she's getting herself in so much trouble. Now that she's hanging out with the guy that rescued her from the fire, though, she seems more like a traditional girl sidekick than the heroine.

Our ol' pals SAGEBRUSH 'N' CACTUS continue their quest for a killer but starting with this issue they do it under a brand new title, CAL 'N' ALEC. Their art still isn'y very good, though.

SANDOR continues to be perhaps the most exciting adventure strip in the book.

The movie pages deal with animal stars, Ginger Rogers and Shirley Temple and point out the fact that actor Richard Dix has been in pictures for 15 years...longer than anyone else then in the business. This, of course, seems to ignore Buster Keaton (since 1918), Charlie Chaplin (since 1915), Stan Laurel (since 1917) and probably others still active at that time. AMOS 'N" ANDY are highlighted on the radio page.

Sven Elven begins a particularly wordy adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's SHE (nice big, easy to read letters, though!) and H. C. Kiefer's illustrated poetry, one page of which is seen here, is quite lovely and intricate.

RUSTY, by Hal Sherman, gives every impression of a couple of unfinished pages, lightly sketched by the artist with every intention of going back and filling things in, spotting blacks and finishing the images.  Except, no...this was the finished product.

THE GOLDEN DRAGON is a new strip with Tom Hickey channeling Milton Caniff as so many did in those days.

No real excitement in the other strips, most of which continue apace here. working their way toward next issue.

Friday, November 11, 2011

New Comics # 5, June 1945

The art of Whitney Ellsworth makes its first cover appearance with issue five here of NEW COMICS and yes, it's yet another silly but well-designed gag cover. We're still a ways away from the selling point being adventure!

This issue's editorial acknowledges the winds of change, though, as the editors attempt to come up with just the right mix of what the readers of the day want.

The first thing one notices is that SIR LOIN OF BEEF is now drawn rather childishly and credits two folks, J. Muselli and Bill Patrick, in place of the talented Robert Leffingwell. They also take over SAGEBRUSH 'N' CACTUS elsewhere in the issue with the same results and Patrick replaces Leffingwell on IT'S A DERN LIE on the last page, too.

Tom Cooper's CASTAWAY ISLAND art is starting here to look much more Cannifesque, although not particularly good.

SANDOR AND THE LOST CIVILIZATION is a brand new strip by Homer Fleming, yet another derivative of Hal Foster's TARZAN storytelling only this one's pretty good. Unlike Tarzan, Sandor is a white man raised by a pack of wild dogs. In other words, he's a real son of a....MOVing on...

Alger's SAM THE PORTER is a nicely drawn humor strip but unfortunately features some of the most negative stereotypes yet both in illustration and substance.

FUNNY MAN, an 8 (!!) page text story by Paul Frederick about a cartoonist and the women of various ages who figure in his life, follows.

Another new feature, RATTLESNAKE PETE, is credited to R. Donrog. Obviously an anagram, GCD says it belongs to Gordon Rogers. Gordon Rogers had been a newspaper cartoonist and apparently didn't want folks to know he was slumming in comic books. He would eventually become known by his nickname, "BOODY" Rogers, under which his brilliant creation, SPARKY WATTS would appear in both newspapers AND comic books! A couple of years ago, Craig Yoe published a collection of some of Boody Rogers' best material. Boody returns later in this issue as "Rogers"with a proto-FLINTSTONES strip entitled ROCK-AGE ROY.

Wow. Check the artsy adaptations of the legend of Pandora's Box and Prometheus! GCD makes a guess--and I can see it--that this unsigned work is by H.C. Kiefer whose work had, of course, appeared in the prior issues.

Creig Flessel makes his NEW COMICS debut with the B&W STEVE CONRAD feature. Flessel would become a fixture at National for ages, particularly on SANDMAN. After a long and distinguished career in art survived long enough to be rediscovered and feted at Comic Book Cons well into the new century!

Part two of the practically anachronistic STRATOSPHERE SPECIAL comes next.

Broadcaster and newsman Lowell Thomas is profiled in the radio column this month. Thomas would still be broadcasting fifty years later. William Powell, stuntmen and the unreleased at the time ANTHONY ADVERSE get written up in the movie column.

After the monthly magic tricks page, Kiefer's back, signed this time, with an ornate three page illustrated poem.

RAY AND GAIL are back, too, after a single issue absence, and their color is back, too. In fact, their strip has a bit of action here and looks better than it had to date.

This month, if you're keeping track, Dale Daring is rescued from the fix we left her in last month in spite of a big fire. BUT...we still don't learn who she is or why she got mixed up in all of the mess she's in in the first place.

FEDERAL MEN announces the JUNIOR FEDERAL MEN CLUB, one of many such clubs from the early days of comics basically designed to promote reader loyalty and see just how many people are out there.

At the end of this issue is the regular indicia. Interesting, though, to note that subscriptions were cheaper in the US, South America, Mexico...and Spain. Spain? Why Spain? Why did Canada have to pay a buck fifty more than Spain? Why did Spain get the cheap rate when, in order to get it there, it had to pass through various other European countries who had to pay MORE! Who knows? Wonder if they ever actually had any subscribers from Spain.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Comics # 4, March-April, 1936

I don't know about anyone else but I'm loving these quaint gag covers. They aren't so much funny as they are just very well designed. There are a lot of new strips in this issue replacing some of the old ones. One wonders if they got a lot of mail either pro or con or just decided to shake things up a bit. Some of their mail is actually printed in this issue in what was certainly one of the very first comics letters columns.

Issue 4, which appears to now be bi-monthly, opens with an inside front cover ad for the latest issue of MORE FUN COMICS, the contents of which at this stage were almost a twin to NEW. (It would be advertised on the inside back cover also, described as "a thick wad of hilarity, thrills, mystery, adventure") This issue's editorial promises  that offensive items won't be found in this or any other issues. (That, of course, would change.)

The first strip this time 'round is INCH, yet another of the virtually interchangeable kid strips similar in tone and art-style to SMITTY, SKIPPY and a host of other then-popular ones. It would be his only appearance. Interesting to note the African-American kid, stereotype though he may be, is shown consistently smoking a cigar! This strip is credited to one Deanie Patrick, about whom I could find absolutely nothing.

An artist making his first appearance here is Hal Sherman with two strips, G. WIZ and CHUBBY. Sherman had been and would later be again a gag cartoonist but his main contribution to comics would probably be his co-creation, as the original artist with writer Jerry Siegel, of THE STAR-SPANGLED KID and STRIPESY.

An adaptation of Dickens' A TALE OF TWO CITIES follows, apparently written and drawn both by Merna Gamble, an early female comics creator. The art here is unusual and very crosshatch heavy but fascinating. See sample.

Stan Randall's RAMBLIN' JIM is yet another new strip this issue as well as being yet another kid strip. You have to realize just how many of those there were in the nation's newspapers in those days!

17-20 ON THE BLACK continues to look much better in color.

OL' OZ BOP by "Alger" is also new here. The artist, according to GCD, was actually one Russell Cole. As Alger, he was a fixture in the early National comics. His GOOFO THE GREAT would appear later in this very issue.

GREAT GUNS, a seven page (!) text story about pilots--an amazingly popular subject in those days--follows.

JUNGLE BOY is yet another sparsely drawn strip aping the illustrated text style of Hal Foster's original TARZAN strip. It's signed "Pingston."

SLIM AND TEX, a new black and white cowboy strip that seems to have had very little effort put into it, is followed by the similarly poor CAPTAIN JIM OF THE TEXAS RANGERS. Well, actually, in between was the HELLO KITTY of its day, that sugary, uber-cute little kid strip, SARA LOU SUNSHINE.

STRATOSPHERE SPECIAL, seen here, is curiously old-fashioned both in subject and art. It's credited to one Serene Summerfield, about who you can read more than you'd likely ever really want to know at THE COMICS DETECTIVE.

Al Stahl's NEEDLES is back bit shorn of color it looks naked and unfinished. Unlike some strips, NEEDLES just seemed to need that extra boost.

Also in black and white, we have MAGINNIS OF THE MOUNTIES. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police was another subject that was enormously popular on those days in movies, radio and other comic strips. In fact, residual popularity carried over well into the sixties and led to the creation of DUDLEY DO-RIGHT. This strip, credited to J.C. Leonard, has almost a woodcut look.

Signed by Dick Ryan, BUGVILLE is a black and white two page spread of scores of anthropomorphic insect gags similar in style to the type of thing that Sergio Aragones would make his own decades later.

This issue's film review pages promote B westerns and Charlie Chan films. This issue's radio watch namechecks WSAI out of Cincinnati, my personal favorite radio station when I was growing up!

OUR KIDS by Harry Lewis is an oddly drawn new strip--and yes, it's another kid strip and yes it also has a black stereotype character. Both Sheldon Mayer's J. WORTHINGTON BLIMP and Siegel and Shuster's FEDERAL MEN make return appearances right at the end along with DALE DARING by "Ryan." Who is Dale Daring? Who knows? It's an attractive  strip but in its two pages it doesn't tell us if she's a cop, a reporter or just a nosy blonde dame.

A lot of changes this issue. Gone were several nicely drawn strips such as RAY AND GAIL, DICKIE DUCK and PETER AND HO-LAH-AN to be replaced with a lot more strips in black and white.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Comics # 3, February, 1936

The opening editorial message in NEW COMICS # 3 attempts to create a new acronym--AOC. Note the usage on the cover. The very fact that you and i don't immediately recognize that these initials stand for "All Original Comics" tells us that they did NOT catch on.

KING ARTHUR and KING BOZO--a serious strip and a silly one, neither drawn all that well--are both new this time along with a few others. There's a page of nice color circus cartoons by Whitney Ellsworth, a SMOKEY STOVER rip-off called LUKE McLUKE, THE FIREMAN, the sticky, sickly sweet poetry niceness of SARA LOU SUNSHINE, DEAR OL' DAD and the unfortunate but then-accpeted racial stereotype character LICORICE by Vin Sullivan.

Otherwise, most of the old favorites from the first two issues return--some switching from color to black and white and vice versa--with Jerry and Joe's FEDERAL MEN again looking the most impressive. All of the serialized stories are starting to gain some substance, though, and undoubtedly had their fans.

The text pieces again offer book, radio and film reviews as well as a hobby section on magic tricks and another on how to make a leather billfold!

Overall, another good read for the kids of 1936. And for a dime! Think how many copies they must have been selling in order to just pay the score or so of writers and artists for each issue! The price would stay the same as page size, then number of pages decreased steadily up until the early sixties when even then only two cents was added to the price!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Comics # 2, January, 1936

Beneath an unusually non-festive Christmas cover (proving that it was on the stands in December), the second issue of NEW COMICS opens with another note from the Editors, this one noting the "avalanche of commendatory letters, subscriptions and picture postcards."

Most of the same features from issue one repeat here with the serials continuing and the Sunday strip style humor offering more of the same. RAY AND GAIL is now in black and white but CHIKKO CHAKKO is now in color.

New this issue is DARE-DEVIL DUNK, BEANY, CASTAWAY ISLAND and the real highlight, FEDERAL MEN by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, still a year and a half away from getting their SUPERMAN published.

FEDERAL MEN is the story of STEVE CARSON, an undercover G-Man like those who had been much in the news in recent years. This particular first story echoes the also-recent Lindbergh baby kidnapping. A typically wordy Siegel script with some really smooth art by Shuster.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NEW COMICS # 1, December, 1935

Comic books were still very much a new thing in the mid-thirties so one has to assume that kids didn’t exactly haunt the newsstands and drugstores of America for them yet. For those lucky few who found or had purchased for them a ten cent copy of the first issue of NEW COMICS in either September or October of 1935 (as  periodicals then and now are dated a month or two early), it had to have seemed the absolute coolest thing ever.

What few comic books there were consisted mostly of reprints of newspaper strips. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Publications was determined to change that. The company had already published a tabloid magazine of all new features earlier in the year but NEW COMICS, with a gag cover by its future editor Vin Sullivan, was their first book that would be recognizable to us today as a comic book.

The book that would eventually become ADVENTURE COMICS started out as a mixture of every kind of feature imaginable, offered mostly in brief, serialized spurts. Most readers are probably familiar with the obtuse postal regulation that required at least two text pages in a comic book in order for it to be allowed second class mailing privileges (and believe me, that was a huge money-saver!). I’m not sure if that was already in force at this point but NEW actually embraces the concept of text features, presenting a number of both fiction and non-fiction pages throughout the early issues.

An introduction from “the Editors” shows a bit of precognition when it states that the reader could expect, “…comic characters of every hue, knights and Vikings of ancient days, adventuring heroes, detectives, aviator daredevils of today and hero SUPERMEN of days to come!” This was two and a half years before Superman would make his debut in the premiere issue of ACTION COMICS.

Anyone with more than a passing knowledge of Golden Age comics realizes that in spite of those artists we remember who were above average at the time, for the most part comic book art of the period simply really wasn’t that good. Comic book artists tended to be frowned on as low talent or no talent also-rans by the same folks who in those days elevated newspaper strip artists to national celebrities. In the beginning here, though, it is very clear that some effort was being put into this magazine.

The art is good throughout and, in some cases, just stunning. Much of it is done as cartooning whilst other bits are more traditional children’s book style illustration. Many of the creators represented here in this first issue would go on to bigger and better things in the field.

Let’s take a look at what we have:

To start with, NOW… WHEN I WAS A BOY by “Leo” is a very traditional newspaper style strip told in two pages.

SIR LOIN OF BEEF is more of the same with a medieval setting and is by R. G. (Robert) Leffingwell. Leffingwell would later take over the art chores on his brothers LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE-inspired strip, LITTLE JOE and, many years on, even take over LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE itself briefly. He was prolific in these early issues. There’s a tacked on, tiny four-panel strip called AXEL that may also be by him.

Whitney Ellsworth provides some fun art on the next Sunday-style comic strip, BILLY THE KID, about a young boy getting into trouble. Ellsworth would later become a major force at the company and, in the fifties, producer of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN on television.

Leffingwell is up again already with SAGEBRUSH ‘N’ CACTUS, a silly cowboy feature that would last awhile. This time the bottom strip, FANNY, about a mule, is signed by him.

THE VIKINGS is the first actual adventure strip in what will become ADVENTURE COMICS. Told in the style of PRINCE VALIANT, it offers some very impressive illustrative art by one R.H. Livingstone.

Sheldon Mayer’s J. WORTHINGTON BLIMP appears next. The character, as his name suggests, was most likely inspired by THIMBLE THEATRE’s J. Wellington Wimpy who was by all accounts giving Popeye a run for his money in the popularity department during that period. Mayer would go on to be M.C. Gaines’ sidekick and assistant editor as well an immensely talented cartoonist himself. Among his creations would be SCRIBBLY, SUGAR AND SPIKE and the one that would bring him back to the pages of ADVENTURE some 40 years on, THE BLACK ORCHID.

The next strip, the old-fashioned looking THE TINKER TWINS AT PENN POINT, appears in black and white. It was a peculiarity of most early comic books that some pages were in black and white or, in other cases, two toned. It’s credited to Joe Archibald whose name is also on the dense, four page text story western that follows.

Some ad pages and three non-fiction text pages follow before we end up back at comics with Al Stahl’s NEEDLES. Stahl would be a regular contributor of short comedic features throughout the Golden Age for several companies.

A page of unfunny single panel cartoons (signed by “Bo Brown”) is followed by another black and white strip, this one the ambitious-looking 17-20 IN THE BLACK, notable as the first appearance of Asian stereotypes in the book. They’ll turn up often throughout the early years. The strip, whose star Jim Gale, would continue on here for some issues to come, is credited to one “Billy Weston” and yet signed “Tom Cooper.” The sketchy art is very stylized.

JUST SUPPOSE is given a RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT style treatment by H.C. Kiefer who would go on to a quite notable career in comics.

A “How to draw cartoons” page and a puzzle page are followed by two black and white pages of CHIKKO CHAKKO, a Mexican stereotyped character by Ellis Edwards.

The following two pages, however, are a real treat---a couple of scenes from Jonathan Swift’s GULLIVER’S TRAVELS illustrated rather ornately by, of all people, Walt Kelly, who would go on to fame and fortune as the creator of POGO in the decades that follow.

More black and white strips follow—first a SKIPPY style strip called FREDDIE BELL (HE MEANS WELL) and then a “Junior Section—For Younger Folks” with a cutesy strip called SISTER AND BROTHER and then two pages of paper dolls to cut out.

“WING” WALKER by “Thor” gets four black and white pages of newspaper adventure strip style, then we’re back to color for Tom Cooper’s really nicely drawn CAP’N SPINNIKER.
Another text section follows with an article on Stamp Collecting, two pages on other hobbies, a section on movies, book reviews and sports! They really did go out of their way to make this an all-round solid collection of material.

And it wasn’t through yet!

John Elby’s CAPTAIN QUICK is a rather sparsely drawn adventure strip, also in black and white. GCD says Elby was actually Jon Blummer who would stick around National well into the superhero era.

Vin Sullivan’s JIBBY JONES and Sheldon Mayer’s THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF MR. WEED follow. Again, both men would be major players in the comics field for years. The latter strip looks promising as it’s about a nerdy historian who meets a scientist with a time machine.

RAY AND GAIL is a late Depression-era soap opera style strip with realistic art credited to one Clem Gretter.

ALLAN DE BEAUFORT is yet another poorly drawn take on PRINCE VALIANT in both style and content. It gets four pages but no artist is credited. (Smart man!)
DICKIE DUCK sees the return of cartoonist Matt Curzon. Then it’s PETER AND HO-LAH-AN (pronounced??), drawn in a lovely children’s book style by “Liv.”

Then, at long last, we reach the end of this treasure trove of comics where Leffingwell returns yet again with IT’S A DERN LIE, a THEY’LL DO IT EVERY TIME feature that solicits readers to send in ideas as that strip also did.

The back cover advertises THE number one toy of its day, the official Shirley Temple doll!

So…wow! This single first issue of NEW COMICS would have taken ages for a kid to read, sprawled on the grass outside or sitting on the steps of his apartment house or in his treehouse or under the covers with a flashlight. And best of all, there was an ad for subscriptions! There were going to be MORE of these comic books! In the long run a LOT more! Next: NEW COMICS issue two!