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The Buzzard swoops! – Wham Comics #2, 1940

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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

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

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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

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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

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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 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

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 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

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

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

It’s Alive! – Prize Comics #7, December 1940

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Hundreds of comic books writers and artists of the Golden Age toiled in obscurity (sometimes well-deserved), as it was not the common practice of the time to credit what today we call “the creative team”. But we’re occasionally fortunate enough to know exactly who produced a particular story or series even if he or she worked under a nom de plume. One of the best-remembered comic book talents of the 1940’s was the great Dick Briefer (who we’ve met before in this blog) who was himself responsible for the creation (or, perhaps, “adaptation” would be more appropriate) of a character based on a literary classic, and in the process was responsible for one of the most fondly remembered comic book characters of the period. But before we take a closer look at that character’s debut in a 1940 issue of Prize Comics, a little bit of backstory would seem to be in order. More

Usa, The Spirit of Old Glory – Feature Comics, Mar.-Sep. 1941

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Happy Independence Day, fellow Yanks! In keeping with the spirit of the day, The Big Blog o’Fun is presenting an overview of another Golden Age heroine with a patriotic theme: Usa, the Spirit of Old Glory. Don’t feel badly if you’ve never heard of her. Usa was obscure even while her adventures were still being published; these days she’s totally forgotten. More

The Deacon character sheet for the Hideouts & Hoodlums roleplaying game

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Obscure? Here at The Big Blog o’Fun we love obscurity! (And by “we” I mean “me” because this is essentially a one man show. Get yer own soapbox on a different corner, kid.). In the previous two blog posts we’ve all been enjoying the adventures of an obscure, somewhat goofy, 1940’s character named The Deacon who made his four color home in the pages of Cat-Man Comics. It was only natural that I’d want to stat out The Deacon for use as a character in the Hideouts & Hoodlums roleplaying game, itself something of an obscurity (and very undeservedly so, as it puts a whole new twist on old school RPGs. Instead of yet another elf/dwarf/magic fantasy retro-clone, H&H explores a whole different, completely unique concept: what if The World’s First Roleplaying Game Which I’m Not Allowed To Legally Mention By Name had been based on Golden Age comic books instead of the Tolkeinesque fantasy genre?). More

Blitzkrieg crime wave! – Cat-Man Comics #5, December 1941

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In the previous post to The Big Blog o’Fun we met a Holyoke “mystery man” character known as The Deacon. In that post I mentioned that I’d seen The Deacon described on another web page as being similar to Batman but “with religious overtones”, and I went on to question that assertion. In the week subsequent to my post that web page has been edited and the phrase has been deleted. Interesting… More

Twin fists of parochial fighting fury! – Cat-Man Comics #1, May 1941

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As I was doing some online research the other day I came across an entry for a Golden Age comic character called The Deacon. The page’s writer described the series as being similar to Batman but with “religious overtones”. I instantly perked up. Would The Deacon be a crimefighter in priestly vestments flinging crosses like batarangs? Would he be a mysterious hooded cassocked figure climbing the sides of buildings using a rosary for his grapnel and rope? The possibilities were staggering! I just had to check it out! More

Memorial Day 2014

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While you’re enjoying your holiday weekend, please pause a moment and say a silent “Thank You” to the many thousands who aren’t here to swim, play, and barbecue, because they sacrificed it all — for you.

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Valkyrie and the Airmaidens – Air Fighters Comics Vol. 2 #2, November 1943

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When comic book aviator Airboy celebrated his first birthday, artist Fred Kida gave him a wonderful gift: a gorgeous red-hot cleavage-baring Nazi dominatrix named Valkyrie, a character who totally put the lie to the notion of the “innocence” of Golden Age comics.

 

By the way, you may want to get the kids out of the room. 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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