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Vegetables for victory – How Boys and Girls Can Help Win the War, 1942

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When the United States entered World War 2, the country was tasked with myriad problems tied to mobilizing the largest military force in history. Feeding so many troops proved a major difficulty. While the U.S. is sometimes referred to as “the world’s breadbasket” due to its plentiful food supply, the government wasn’t able to just take what it needed: farmers needed to be paid for their products. No government could long afford to pay for food at free market prices, so the U.S. government instituted measures (including rationing) to keep the price of food at a level affordable for a sustained war effort. More

The World’s Most Tortured Pun – Blue Circle Comics #3, September 1944

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I’ve honestly put far more thought into this post than I should have. I’ve batted ideas around for days, weighing them to evaluate how I can present this comic book page to you. I’ve been flashing back on my high school freshman year when I used to put off a hated project until the last minute (plus ten) because I just plain didn’t want to do it. More

The Steel Fist – Blue Circle Comics #1, June 1944

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After I’ve read a Golden Age comic story I’ll occasionally have the nagging feeling that I missed something subtle, yet important, in the story and consequently I’ll go back to read it again. I had to read today’s tale more than twice to figure out why I had that nagging feeling.

Today’s tale comes to us from Enwil Associates, a small and somewhat fly-by-night collection of comic companies which released a handful of comics during the period 1944 through 1946. None of their titles went past the five issue mark by utilizing original content (although a couple of them reached a sixth issue consisting of republished material). There is a fair bit of evidence that Enwil didn’t have “in house” writers and artists but instead purchased their content from studios and other publishers. They did publish a fair amount of pretty interesting stories, though, of which a few have previously graced the virtual pages of this blog: Toreador, Gail Porter, Driftwood Davey, Maureen Marine, and one of my personal Golden Age favorites: The Green Turtle. More

I see dead people (Part 4) – Mask Comics #2, April-May 1945

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Last summer this blog explored the Golden Age comic theme of spectral avengers: murdered men who return from the afterlife as spirits of vengeance. The series of three posts discussed DC’s Spectre, MLJ’s Mr. Justice, and Gerona’s Duke of Darkness, three characters whose appearances were more than a bit similar. A few months ago I discovered a fourth spectral avenger (coincidentally from the same publisher as the aforementioned Duke of Darkness) which we’ll examine in today’s post. More

A comic which will live in infamy – National Comics #18, December 1941

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Earlier this week the United States observed the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval and air base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And, as happens each December 7th, people take to social media and Internet blogs to post pictures of the cover of December 1941’s National Comics #18, mentioning that the book depicts a German attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s one of those great “Believe It or Not” style factoids that frequently get passed around on the Internet, but there’s a problem with this one: the comic does not depict a German attack on Pearl Harbor. I don’t know whether it’s a case of people repeating as gospel something they’ve heard elsewhere or a case of modern-day readers who struggle with the highly compressed (by today’s standards) style of writing employed by 1940’s comics, but even the Golden Age website Comic Book Plus mentions the “German attack” on Pearl.

Either way, the assertion is dead wrong. But the real story is actually far better and even more ironic… More

The War Wheel! – Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

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Comics featuring aviators were hugely popular during the Golden Age, and of these four color airmen Blackhawk ruled the proverbial roost; his appearances in Military Comics and, later, in Modern Comics were among the best selling comics of the era. In late 1944 Blackhawk was given his own title by Quality Comics (replacing Uncle Sam Quarterly) and his adventures appeared in both Modern Comics and his own book until late 1950 when Modern ceased publication. More

The Blue Tracer – Military Comics #1, August 1941

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Today is Veteran’s Day, a holiday which evolved from Armistice Day. Originally intended to recognize veterans of World War I, the holiday’s purpose was changed after World War Two to honor veterans of all United States wars. This is not the same thing as Memorial Day, which is intended to remember those who have died in American wars. Over the years the two have become not only conflated but nearly reversed in the minds of many citizens. Memorial Day was intended as a day of sombre remembrance. With the rise in the 1950’s of “consumer culture”, Memorial Day devolved into a happy, albeit unofficial (as well as astronomically incorrect), “first day of summer” rather than a day to remember the fallen. Veterans Day (somewhat unconsciously) in the minds of many became a conflated military holiday for recognizing the living and memorializing the dead. More

A grim fairy tale – Scoop Comics #3, March 1942

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The “Mother Hubbard” series underwent a rapid transformation over its short three issue run from late 1941 to early 1942. While the character was herself always portrayed as a traditional witch (from her peaked hat down to her buckled shoes), the setting of the stories changed immediately after her first appearance. Mother Hubbard battled enemy agents in her first outing, but in her second story her antagonists were traditional “fairy tale” villains. Judging from her third (and final) appearance in Scoop Comics #3, that would likely have been the trend for future stories. And it’s that facet of the series which brings this series of posts full circle to the point at which I first encountered the character. More

Dialogue in rhyme – Scoop Comics #2, January 1942

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Comics were disparaged as “lowbrow” reading for decades by librarians and educators, in large part because words and pictures work in tandem (ideally) to tell a story. In traditional prose or poetry the writer is required to “paint the picture” with words, which educations viewed as in some way more “noble” than the prose presented in the pages of comic books. (In the educators’ defense a great deal of comic book writing was [and remains] hackery, but I doubt that a significant number of writers set out to make it deliberately so; it’s just the way the world works. To quote Theodore Sturgeon, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”) But comic book writing was tougher than one might suspect; the writer had to help move the plot by supplying written narrative which explained the story but didn’t overwhelm the panel and hide the art. Up until the turn of the 21st century (when the primary emphasis in comic books shifted to art at the expense of writing), the comic book writer walked the proverbial tightrope between providing too little text (thus losing the reader) and too much text (which covered up the artist’s hard work). More

Double, double toil and trouble – Scoop Comics #1, November 1941

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Comics from the Golden Age (roughly 1938 through the early 1950’s) often didn’t follow established conventions for the simple reason that there weren’t any as yet; aside from the “panel, picture, word balloon” format which had been inherited from the popular “funny pages” in newspapers (in fact the earliest newsstand comic books were just repackaging of newspaper strips), comic books writers and artists were inventing the form by trial and error as they went along. These creators often worked for “studios” (contrary to what the word “studio” implies, these were often dingy and crowded affairs) which produced features for large publishing houses that didn’t want to hire their own writers and artists. More

I see dead people (Part 3) – Triple Threat Comics #1, 1945

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The third of our 1940’s spectral avengers comes to us (indirectly) from Charlton Comics, which was a major player in the 1950’s and 1960’s comic industry, an era which saw many rivals to the supremacy of the “big two” (namely DC and Marvel); publishers like Charlton, Gold Key, Harvey, and Archie Comics were major comic book publishers as late as the 1980’s. More

I see dead people (Part 2) – Blue Ribbon Comics #10, March 1941

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A murdered man who returns from the grave as a costumed avenging spirit of justice? That’s too good an idea to not swipe! It’s hardly surprising that a year to the month after Detective Comics introduced The Spectre that a rival company would unveil their own version of such a character. More

I see dead people (Part 1) – More Fun Comics #52, February 1940

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The Golden Age of Comics was a very creative time; the new comic book medium had few “rules” and the writers and artists were making up the conventions as they went. The result was an odd and colorful assortment of characters, quite a few of which are still with us in comics published today. Of course, not everyone who picks up a pencil is a creative genius, and a fair bit of idea swiping occurred in the 1940’s. Occasionally while reading a period comic you’ll come across a character who seems familiar – and I’m being generous here; what I’m saying is that some character ideas were simply stolen from a competitor’s comic.

The “spirit of vengeance” was once such character idea which made the rounds through the 1940’s. More

Tugging on Captain Marvel’s cape – Atoman #1, February 1946

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It’s been frequently mentioned in this blog’s virtual pages, but it’s a fact which bears repeating: despite being the first comic book superhero, Superman was not the most popular, the best known, nor the best selling superhero character during the Golden Age of Comics. That distinction belongs to Fawcett Publications’ Captain Marvel (often referred to today as Shazam), who sold more comics than any other comic character at that time or in the decades since; at the height of his popularity in the 1940’s, Captain Marvel was selling more than a million comics a month. More

“Come on! Get your own origin!” – Feature Comics #38, November 1940

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Comic books superhero origins have always been a bit of a dicey subject. It’s very tough these days to come up with a truly original (no pun intended) concept for how a costumed hero or heroine obtained his or her powers. Most of the combinations of origins have already been used, so unless your new, exciting comic book character got his powers because he was a billionaire mutant who’d been bathed in gamma radiation after being struck by lightning at the exact moment as he was bitten by a radioactive wombat which had been exposed to cosmic rays and, as our hero recoiled from the bite, fell into a vat of chemicals but was saved from drowning by Cuchulain, who is secretly his father and anoints our hero heir to his legendary powers, his origin has probably already been done before. More

The Racketeer – Cyclone Comics #2, July 1940

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We mention “rackets” and “racketeers” frequently here in The Big Blog o’Fun for the simple reason that racketeers were frequent antagonists in 1940’s superhero and adventure comics. But just what is a “racket”, really? More

An American Tall Tale – Cyclone Comics #1, June 1940

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The month of June 1940 marked the second anniversary of the first superhero comic: Action Comics #1 which, of course, contained within its pages the debut of Superman. Comics featuring colorfully garbed “mystery men” were in their infancy, and publishers were still figuring out the techniques and tropes which would become staples of the comics genre for decades to come. It was an exciting time for the nascent industry; writers and artists were simply making it all up as they went, seeing what worked and what didn’t. More

The Appeal of Empty Rhetoric – Daredevil Battles Hitler, July 1941

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About a month ago on a day off from work, I spent part of the afternoon watching the 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. As a historian and film fan the movie is practically required viewing; Leni Riefenstahl’s cinematography (in the use of moving cameras, multiple views, and aerial shots) was groundbreaking and, in the case of the opening “flying through the clouds” sequence, breathtaking.

But for all of its visual beauty and pioneering technique, one can’t forget that Triumph of the Will was a propaganda film commissioned (and directly influenced) by Joseph Goebbels as a visual record of the events surrounding the 1934 Nuremburg rally, which was officially titled the Nazi Party Congress. And since the film was a Nazi propaganda movie, I don’t suppose I need to tell you who the star of the show was. In fact, the majority of the “Hitler giving a speech” footage you’ve seen in numerous documentaries down through the years is taken directly from Triumph of the Will; this is unsurprising when one considers that the film is in public domain (so no royalties have to be paid for the use of the material). What surprises the modern viewer when one watches the complete and unedited film is that Hitler manages to speak an awful lot, yet say absolutely nothing of any real substance. More

Post-war hysteria (Part 2) – Atomic War #1, November 1952

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Here’s an interesting little exercise for you: think back to your childhood and try to remember the age at which you first realized with absolute certainty that there were things in this world from which your parents couldn’t keep you safe.

For many people of my generation (the baby boomers) it was the moment when you first understood the potential for dying in a nuclear blast. More

Post-war hysteria (Part 1) – Atomic War #1, November 1952

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No popular entertainment medium exists in a perfect vacuum; like water dripping from a stalactite in a cavern, outside influences often leach in to color and inform it. A medium can be influenced by the sudden popularity of another medium or genre (nothing speaks as loudly as money, and success breeds countless imitators). Current socio-political events also hold great sway over pop culture, be it overtly (such as the popularity of military-themed movies in wartime), or subtly (exemplified by “one man against a system” movies and TV shows in the post-Vietnam 1970’s). More

Happy Easter!

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A few questions regarding intent – Sparkling Stars #6, November 1944

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Any (and every) work by a writer or artist is open to interpretation. Novels, paintings, movies, short stories, even comic books, are subjected to scrutiny and (if the work is of merit or is at least sufficiently oblique) debate as to what the creator meant by producing it. Countless legions of educators and critics have made a living doing little more than asking the question “Why?” (Because, as we all know, those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, critique.) More

Here, take a hit – of justice! – Exciting Comics #9, May 1941

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America seems always to have had this weird, convoluted, conflicted, love-hate relationship with drugs, which seems to be odder now than ever before; we tell our youth that drugs are “bad”, yet allow multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies to run advertising campaigns around the clock on television for drugs with happy-sounding made up names (which all seem to end with the letter “a”). It’s small wonder that people can become so confused when drugs are concerned. The whole situation seems like a batch of Effluvia to me. More

Happy Veterans Day, 2014!

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To all those who’ve served America with distinction, Happy Veterans Day!

Speed Comics #38, July 1945

The cover (attributed to Bob Powell) is from Speed Comics #38, dated July 1945. (Courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum)

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2014, Steven A. Lopez. All rights resverved.

The Ghost of Flanders – Hit Comics #18, December 1941

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Saying that patriotic-themed characters were a staple of the Golden Age is more than a slight understatement; there was a veritable army of such characters appearing in comic books from the late 1930’s through the war years. Some of them still make appearances in today’s comics; Captain America, The Shield, and Uncle Sam are among these lasting characters. A few (like Pat Patriot) deserve to be far better remembered than they are today. Quite a few of them, however, lapsed into well-deserved obscurity. Today’s comic book feature falls squarely into the latter category. More

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