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R.I.P. Fred Kida – Sands of the South Pacific #1, January 1953

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Sometimes I have to dig around a bit to discover subject matter for this blog, but other times the material just presents itself seemingly out of nowhere. Today’s post fits the latter category perfectly, as it came about through a series of synchronous events (which is how big people like to say “random coincidences”). More

Here comes Airboy! – Air Fighters Comics #2, November 1942

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Comic books were very quick to villainize the European fascist powers prior to America’s entry into World War II. This is hardly surprising given that a great many comic writers, artists, editors, and publishers were first or second generation Jewish immigrants who retained close ties with “the old country”. But despite Japan’s furious aggression in the Pacific which cost thousands of lives (including well-publicized atrocities in China, such as the infamous “Rape of Nanking”), pre-1942 comics generally left the Japanese alone. More

How to read digital comic books on your PC

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In today’s blog post I’m fulfilling a special request made by my friends (and fellow troublemakers) Susie and Angie. They’ve asked me to post instructions for reading downloadable digital comics. It’s difficult to refuse requests from friends such as these, not just because they keep me laughing but also because they know where some of the proverbial bodies are buried (and they’ve sometimes helped to dig the holes). Ladies, just for you…

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Opium Smugglers of Venus – Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

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Picking up where we left off in the previous post, here’s the rest of Avenger’s (and Teena’s) debut adventure from Space Detective Comics #1. There’s a lot for us to talk about just on the first page, so strap yourself in and let’s hit the spaceways! More

Rod Hathway, Space Avenger – Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

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Part of the fun of reading Golden Age comics is that you never know what you’ll encounter next. For every crazily inept (yet oddly entertaining) series like The Duke of Darkness, there seems to be a corresponding feature of surprising quality in which either the writing or the art (or sometimes both) delights you as a reader. Often these stories aren’t anyone’s idea of all-time classics, but reading them is just plain fun.

Science-fiction comics of the Golden Age often fall into this category. More

He’s dead and loving it – K.O. Comics #1, October 1945

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Comics have never been more popular than they were during the Golden Age. Some books (such as titles featuring Captain Marvel) sold more than a million copies a month. During the war years comics were hugely popular with the troops; this drove sales even higher since tens of thousands of comics were shipped overseas to members of the armed forces.

Conversely, though, as comic sales rose the overall quality of the product diminished. Many of the more talented writers and artists were drafted into the service, More

Golden Age costume drama – Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

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The other day I read a quote which said that “the hardest job to do is the one you never start”. That’s exactly the wrestling match I’ve been contesting for a couple of months. I have some friends who think it would be cool if I resumed writing about roleplaying games in this blog (as I used to do back when I first started it). I’ve been involved in RPGs since the start of the hobby (the original Dungeons and Dragons had been out just over a year when I got my first copy in early 1976), and comic book/superhero games were a special interest of mine back in the 1970′s and 1980′s, so a couple of people seem to think it would be a good idea if I wrote about the early titles in that genre. I’ve been wrestling with the notion for weeks now. The problem is, of course, the nature of the Interrant; anytime somebody mentions RPGs online the whole discourse seems to degenerate into some protracted polemical girl fight over systems and mechanics, and I don’t have the time or energy for that sort of pointless crapping around. More

Map reading technique is NOT hard to learn! – Rocket Ship X, September 1951

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You say you love your GPS device? I hate the damned thing.

When I was twelve years old I was sent to nature camp for a week. This isn’t a horror story, because it wasn’t a bad experience. I didn’t get beat up, I didn’t get homesick, I didn’t find a snake in my sleeping bag, I didn’t get poison ivy, I didn’t suffer the indignity of seeing my underpants flying from the camp’s flagpole. I did almost step on a copperhead (my pal Billy threw an arm across my chest to stop me just in the nick of time) and I did discover how much I hate wolf spiders. But nature camp was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

Best of all, I fell in love. Not with one of my schoolmates (although I did go to camp with some really cute girls), but with orienteering. More

Blackhawk: Death and Resurrection (Part Three) – Military Comics #10, June 1942

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The last two posts to this blog were occasioned by the oft-repeated myth that, after his apparent death, the French airman André was reintroduced to Quality Comics’ Blackhawk series without any explanation for his reappearance. In those post, we’ve seen the stories which contained his apparent death and his (wholly explained) reappearance; now we’ll finish the trilogy with the tale that completes André’s reintroduction to the team. More

Blackhawk: Death and Resurrection (Part Two) – Military Comics #9, April 1942

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Three months ago I offered a post about the influence of Alexandre Dumas’ work on Golden Age comic writers and their tales. Today I introduce Exhibit B to the argument. More

Blackhawk: Death and Resurrection (Part One) – Military Comics #3, October 1941

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A few months ago I noticed that this blog was getting an occasional visitor from a reader (or readers) in China. I was cracking wise on my Facebook page about how my blog hadn’t yet been blocked by the Chinese government and I wondered what I was doing wrong.

This post’ll be the one that does it. More

Announcing a NEW Hideouts & Hoodlums RPG supplement, plus H&H stats for Hawkman

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I’m pretty excited to announce the release of a new supplement for the Hideouts & Hoodlums tabletop roleplaying game, especially because I had a moderately influential hand in writing it. The new book, Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men, Part 2: Harvey-Timely completes the two-volume set of Hideouts & Hoodlums character stats and write-ups for various Golden Age comic superheroes. Equipped with both booklets, an Editor (H&H’s term for “Gamemaster”) can add literally scores of actual 1940′s comic characters to his or her H&H campaign, including more than a few characters who are still active in comics today. More

Jungle Good Girl Art – Zoot Comics #7, June 1947

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The character Tarzan (who was created in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs) was immensely popular during the 1930′s and 1940′s (and is still a cultural icon today); a dozen movies starring Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as the jungle lord earned metric boatloads of money for MGM between 1932 and 1948. It’s therefore not the least bit surprising that comics featuring jungle tales were also big moneymakers during comics’ Golden Age, as comic publishers were never adverse to following a trend. Most of the major comic publishers of the era featured at least one jungle-themed book among their offerings. More

Action on the border – Captain Fearless Comics #1, August 1941

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The U.S. Border Patrol enjoys an interesting history. While today it’s frequently associated with deterring illegal immigration along the southern U.S. border with Mexico, the Border Patrol was more concerned with the country’s northern border during the organization’s early years in the 1920′s. Bootleggers trucked their wares into the U.S. through Canada; it was the Border Patrol’s job to inhibit that smuggling of illegal alcohol. You might recall the depiction of this duty in a scene from the 1987 film The Untouchables. More

Boy nemesis terrorizes gangdom – Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

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Golden Age comics could keep a reader very busy for their cost of a dime. In their early years comics typically topped sixty pages and, although the size of comics gradually decreased as the Forties wore on, by the middle of the decade a dime comic still contained more than fifty pages of story. That amount of content takes a fair little bit of time to read; even today it often requires the best part of an hour for me to read a Golden Age comic (unless I’m speed reading/skimming it) and that’s if I skip the obligatory text two-pager.

When I was a kid in the 1960′s, a DC “80 Page Giant” would keep me occupied for a couple of hours. More

Genre mashup 50′s style – Space Western Comics #42, Feb. 1953

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During the past few years, pop culture genre mashups (the mixing of two seemingly unrelated genres in one work) have been increasing in number. We’ve recently seen the release of movies in which gunslingers battle aliens, historical characters fight supernatural menaces, and there have even been films containing mixtures of horror and comedy (said mixture having been around almost as long as movies themselves, only these days it’s designed to be funny on purpose).

But genre mashups aren’t anything new; they’ve been around for a very long time. More

Vengeance or justice? – Pocket Comics #1, August 1941

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While the number of stories which can be told is infinite, the number of basic plots is surprisingly small. The exact count depends on which list you consult (or which instructor you had for your college literature course), but it’s generally agreed that the number of basic plots lies somewhere between seven and forty. That’s not a high number but a writer can derive a lot of mileage from just a handful of basic ideas; after all, there are millions of songs but they use varying combinations of just twelve basic notes.

Writers do tend to crib a bit from each other (sometimes unconsciously); early comic book writers swiped a lot from the books they’d read, both pulp novels and classics. More

The Ultimate Singing Cowboy – Gene Autry Comics #3, Sep-Oct 1946

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The antiques “mini mall” was filled wall to wall with stalls of varying sizes, each stall containing the wares of different vendors. I was on a book hunt, on the prowl for volumes about mythology or folklore written for young people, books which were a staple of nearly every child’s or teen’s library from the 1930′s through the 1960′s. Bon Jovi and U2 were blaring from the store’s music system (that’s a real wake-up call regarding your own age and mortality when an antiques store sets their mood by playing Top 40 hits released when you were well into your twenties).

A particular volume caught my eye. It was a medium-sized hardback book with a colorful cover, a volume of a type very popular from the 1940′s into the 1970′s; they were published as “Golden Books” back when I was a kid. This one was a bit older, though, going back to the mid-1950′s. More

War devastation on the home front – Human Torch Comics #5, Fall 1941

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I’ve recently been reading Studs Terkel’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two. Terkel interviewed dozens of people from all of the proverbial walks of life, gathering their reminiscences of the war. I was struck by the frequency of a particular observation offered by many of his interviewees who had been overseas during the war: that if anything like London, Dresden, or Hiroshima had ever happened in the U.S., Americans would not be so quick on the trigger when committing to military action and/or declaring war. More

Wildcats and Rockets

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After the United States officially entered the Second World War in December 1941, citizens on both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines were concerned about the possibility of an Axis attack. While that notion seems to be the object of derision and comedy today (or as close as Spielberg’s 1941 comes to comedy, which is to say “not very”), it was a legitimate concern, however unlikely the scenario may have been. Records discovered after the war’s end showed that Axis submarines came quite close to both coasts, and we can’t forget that a Nazi German airship did directly overfly New York City (see the previous post to the Big Blog o’Fun). And before we laugh too hard at our parents and grandparents, let’s not forget the post-9/11 panic in late 2001, a time during which urbanites possessing more money than sense were paying exorbitant sums for NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) suits that they didn’t even know how to properly use. More

The Hindenburg – Stamps Comics #5, June 1952

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Travel across the Atlantic Ocean in the days before jet aircraft was not exactly a trivial matter. Surface passenger liners took a week to travel between Europe and the United States. So in the 1930′s when Germany announced trans-Atlantic crossings by zeppelin which would take just a couple of days, the affluent jumped at the opportunity (“affluent” because it cost $400 U.S. for a one-way ticket, at a time when most workers in the U.S. earned less than a dollar an hour; in fact, minimum wage in 1938 was a quarter an hour). The result would easily have been a public relations coup for Nazi Germany, but Mother Nature had other ideas. More

A lynching is no laughing matter – Silver Streak Comics #13, August 1941

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The early 1970′s Green Arrow/Green Lantern teamups are among the most often republished comic books of all time. Written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, these “street level” tales found the heroes tackling a variety of contemporary social and economic injustices which included discrimination and drug abuse. These stories are often cited (in various documentaries, as well as in print) as being the first time that comic books addressed “real world” injustice, but that statement is wholly incorrect. As far back as 1941, costumed heroes were occasionally confronted with socioeconomic dilemmas. More

Batman’s humble beginning – Detective Comics #27, May 1939

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Superman’s June 1938 debut in Action Comics #1 was a lot of cliché things: it was a bolt from the blue, it burst like a bombshell, it took the publishing world by storm. Listen, seriously – it was big. It was the first comic superhero story and invented a genre that still defines most of the comics industry three-quarters of a century later. And it’s an OK tale in its own right: not great, but readable. That’s why it’s frequently reprinted in facsimile editions (I own a couple of them).

But what about Batman’s debut nearly a year later, in the May 1939 issue of Detective Comics? I’ll bet you’ve never seen that one reprinted outside of an expensive hardbound Archive edition geared toward collectors; in fact, I’d bet you’ve never seen that story at all. Batman’s first adventure isn’t often reprinted and I’m about to commit heresy (and risk a trip to the pillory) by suggesting the reason why it’s seldom seen. More

Four more pages would have been GREAT! – Doll Man Quarterly, Spring 1948

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I generally don’t go for blondes, but for the delightful Miss Torchy Todd I will gladly make an exception to that policy – as would any living heterosexual male on the planet.

In this blog’s virtual pages I often point out a tale’s social significance or connect the story to some historical event. Today’s story is definitely significant, and for a single reason: it features Torchy — in her underwear. More

It’s streamlined! – Planet Comics #2, February 1940

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Here’s a question I’ll bet you never thought to ask: why are the rocket ships in Golden Age comic book stories and movie serials bullet-shaped? Think about it for a moment and you’ll realize that most spaceships from the late 1930′s into the late 1940′s really are shaped like bullets (the proper word for which, by the way, is cylindroconoidal. I love that word. It’s the biggest word I know, plus when you say it aloud it sounds sort of dirty — try it). So what gives here? Today I provide the twofold answer (along with plenty of cool pictures). More

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