Home

Amelia Earhart – It Really Happened #5, October 1946

2 Comments

In a time when very few people had flown in a plane, much less piloted one, being known as “an aviator” actually meant something. There was a certain dash, a panache, connected to the term “aviator”; it conjured thoughts of a daring, reckless character who was able to journey to mysterious, far off lands at the drop of a hat. Very few people in those days could lay claim to the appellation, and even in that rarefied company, Amelia Earhart was something special. Prior to the Second World War, women were expected to be homemakers or, if they worked outside the home, the options were essentially limited to secretary, nurse, telephone operator, or what we today would call “customer service”. But Earhart dared to be something more, a pilot who roamed the world, and became (along with Lindbergh, Post, and Rickenbacker) one of the four most famous aviators in America.

Then, while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, Earhart vanished without a trace over the Pacific Ocean. More

The Veiled Prophet – Miracle Comics #4, March 1941

Leave a comment

The “backstory” to the comic book we feature in today’s post is one of the great true adventure tales of the Victorian Age. While it is certainly true that many Europeans of that era were virulently racist (“Wogs begin in Calais” as an Englishmen once stated), there were also quite a few who were legitimately curious about other cultures and religions, and a very few who went so far as to experience said cultures (even to the point of breaking many of their own culture’s taboos). The most celebrated among the latter was Sir Richard Francis Burton. More

The Buzzard swoops! – Wham Comics #2, 1940

9 Comments

There is a commonly held belief amongst today’s comic book fans that the “Big Two” (DC and Marvel) outlasted their myriad 1940’s competitors (and became the two major comic companies) by providing a superior product: better characters, better stories, better art, better ideas, better business management. That belief is in no small measure fueled by the P.R. machines of the two companies in question. But the truth is that these two companies became the top dogs simply because they never stopped publishing comics. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman became the iconic “trinity” simply by virtue of the fact that they were the only superhero characters whose adventures were published continuously throughout the 1950’s. DC dropped their other superhero books completely in 1951 and, although the first of their revamped characters (Barry Allen replacing Jay Garrick as The Flash) appeared just five years later, that half-decade saw only the three aforementioned superheroes hitting the stands under the DC imprint. Marvel (then Timely) had for the most part stopped publishing superheroes by 1950 (although Marvel Boy lasted into 1951). The company attempted a superhero resurgence in the mid-1950’s by reintroducing their own “Big Three” (Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and Human Torch), but the effort lasted only two years. The company published westerns, romances, and monster comics through the Fifties before starting a new line of (successful) superhero titles in the early Sixties. But the relative quality of DC and Marvel’s comics had little to do with the publishers’ longevity; they’re still around simply because they just didn’t quit. More

Good girl art, down on the farm – The Farmer’s Daughter #1, 1954

1 Comment

Q: What do you get when you cross a dirty joke with a comic book?

A: Today’s post in The Big Blog o’Fun! More

Free Comic Book Day, Forties style – C-M-O Comics #1, 1942

3 Comments

Today is Free Comic Book Day, which is traditionally held on the first Saturday in May. A relatively recent creation (it’s a 21st century invention), the day was created by comic book distributors to help drive business into local brick and mortar stores. Comic publishers print special FCBD titles which local stores can purchase to give away to their customers; the middlemen distributors provide the advertising materials and drive the online presence. Opinions vary as to the promotion’s success; it’s been a mixed bag over the life of the project. In my small town, in which we have three (!) comic shops (one of which, to be fair, is a 2nd & Charles store, part of a chain which seems hell-bent on being “Hot Topic for the geek crowd”), FCBD used to be a far bigger deal ten years ago. Back then, the free comic offerings from the “Big Two” and the indies were better: “How to Draw” books, preview “Issue 0” books for forthcoming titles, “extra” books for existing titles featuring stories not featured later in the main books (Death-Defying Devil from Project Superpowers, I’m looking at you here). Online photos from big-city comic shops (like Collectors Corner just outside Baltimore) showed lines going around the block the night before the event. In the last few years, however, FCBD has become much more of a “meh” event. The indie publishers have recently started offering “preview” books which are just issue #1 reprints of failed titles cancelled years before, while the Big Two offer titles which feature “concept art” from their next big mega-event (“Alex Ross’ preliminary character sketch designs for the upcoming Ultra-Secret Invasion Heroes Rebirth Flashpoint United event — after which the D’Carvel Universe will never be the same!!!” [until we reboot again just before the next mega-event]). More

A conservationist legacy – Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

Leave a comment

A few years ago I had the great pleasure of being a working historian with the Maryland Park Service. I was hired for my knowledge of the American Civil War (and gave battlefield tours while I worked for the MPS), but was also tasked with increasing my knowledge regarding other areas of U.S. history. On weekdays I ran a museum (and occasionally filled in at a second museum) and spoke with visitors about multiple historical periods and topics: 1820’s political history, Victorian-era literature, the American Civil War (and the political arguments leading to it), and the early conservation movement (being as the Appalachian Trail passed directly through all of the parks to which I was assigned). The job also rekindled my interest in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as one of President Roosevelt’s agencies had a direct connection to my park (said rekindled interest also led directly to the primary subject matter of this blog). More

Hardy and Hardy – Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Leave a comment

American movies and comic books during the 1930’s and 1940’s catered to a broad range of tastes (as we’ve discussed several times previously in this blog). Today’s movies and comics tend heavily toward adventure genres, but “pop culture” of the Golden Age of comics spanned a wider range of story types, many of which might seem surprising to today’s comic readers and moviegoers. More

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

1 Comment

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

Leave a comment

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

5 Comments

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

1 Comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

3 Comments

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

3 Comments

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

1 Comment

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

2 Comments

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

5 Comments

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

2 Comments

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

1 Comment

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

4 Comments

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

Older Entries