In January of 1922 Comics Monthly #1 appeared on the newsstands for 10 cents. Inside this issue were 1921 reprints of a successful comic strip called Polly and her Pals by Cliff Sterrett. The strip was printed in black and white, but the cover was done in two colors (red and black). The book was 8 ½ by 9 (or 10) and was 24 pages. Each issue would focus on another successful comic strip. The publisher was also the distributor Embee Distribution Company of New York City. The company was owned by George McManus who did the Bringing up Father comic strip and Rudolph Block Jr. (Em for McManus, bee for Block.) Rudolph was also the editor of the magazine. The comic strips were from the King Features and Hearst Syndicate, the latter Rudolph had a family connection to. His father was the Comics editor for Hearst newspapers The New York Journal and The American. He was involved in developing some of the earliest newspaper comic strips, particularly The Katzenjammer Kids. Other strips to appear in Comics Monthly would be Rube Goldberg’s Mike and Ike and Foolish Questions, Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google, Spark Plug and New Bughouse Fables, James Swimmerton’s Little Jimmy, Russ Westover’s Tillie the Toiler, Jimmy Murphy’s Toots and Casper, and C. M. Payne’s S’Matter Pops? The series would only last 12 issues, ending in December of 1922.
In 1929 Dell Publishing put out the first issue of The Funnies. It was a big tabloid-sized book that was distributed by the newsstands along with newspapers. These books were probably intended to be mistaken for the Sunday color comics that came free with the newspapers. Within were original comic strips, which were cheaper to buy since the artists probably had their strips rejected by the major syndicates by then. Among the strips were Frosty Ayre by Joe Archibald, My Big Brudder by Tack Knight, Deadwood Gulch by Boody Rodgers and Clancy the Cop by Vic E. Pazmino (VEP). The series was edited by Harry Steeger who would go on to success in the pulp novels.
A new issue came out every Saturday but it lost money. They were
16 pages and sold for 10 cents until issue #3 where the price had changed to 30 cents. The price
changed again to 5 cents with issue #22 and would last until the final issue #36. For a time the book
came out monthly. Dell would try again with 2 comics devoted to Clancy the Cop and 1 to Deadwood Gulch.
Behind the Scenes - Are you a Man or Woman?
Vic E. Pazmino was wrongly thought to be a woman named Victoria. He was once credited as "The First Lady Comic Artist" in at least 2 comic history books until someone got a hold of Pazmino’s descendants and they set the record straight. Vic is actually Victor. Sorry dude!
Another publisher to try its hand in Newsstand Comic Books was Humor Publications. In 1933 Detective Dan, Secret Operative No. 48 came out. Done by Norman Marsh this comic had a 3 color, cardboard cover. Inside was black and white. It had 36 pages, sold for 10 cents with dimensions of 10x13". The Detective Dan character was a Dick Tracy clone who would go on to appear in other comics, one of them was The Adventures of Detective Ace King also done in 1933 by the same publisher. There are some minor differences between the two books, among them a paper cover and pages 9 1/2 x12". Detective Dan would later be renamed Dan Dunn and would be published many times under that name. Humor also did Bob Scully, The Two-Fisted Hick Detective. These books, Detective Dan in particular were the inspiration of turning a then sci-fi fanzine pulp hero Superman into a comic strip. They almost published an early non-costumed version of Superman but quit doing comic books just before it was to be printed.
Another early attempt at newsstand comics would be done on May 19th of 1934 by a Canadian named Jake D. Geller. He was a business man from Windsor, Ontario who set up an office in New York City and partner with H. L. Baker to publish the comic. The series would import British style comic books that were also available in Canada. He named his series Comic Cuts (same name in Britain) and in it were reprints of various British comic strips done under Amalgamated Press. The series was distributed weekly by S-M News Co., Inc. and sold for 5 cents, but it would only go 9 issues. It's strongly suspected that this comic would inspire US publishers to try something similar with homegrown material.
Comic Books would finally get successful series on the newsstand thanks to employees at Eastern Color Inc, a printer struggling during the depression. Sales manager Harry I. Wildenberg was trying to think of ways to keep the presses rolling. The printer did Sunday comic strip pages for several east coast newspapers. He noticed by taking a newspaper and folding it twice it made a nice little booklet that would be a good format for printing reduced, but still readable comic strips. He managed to convince some stores to print some comics that would be given away for free with coupons and ads inside them. These books will be discussed in detail when I get done the Free / Premium Comics section. Eventually the stores stopped doing comics, despite of making a profit on them.
Charlie Max Gaines was sales man during the early 30’s selling novelty items. One of his items was a Tie that said "We Want Beer" sold during the prohibition. He was hired by Eastern Color and worked with Wildenberg at selling the idea of comic book premiums to companies. Together they made good money publishing free comic books using very famous characters. The comics were paid for with ads and printed at Eastern Color Inc. One day Max thought about publishing the comics for sale at the newsstand. He took some of the free comics (Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics) and put 10 cent stickers on them and asked newsstands if they could put them on their racks over the weekend. He went back to the newsstands on Monday and found all the comics had sold and the dealers were asking for more. He told Wildenberg about this but he wasn’t yet convinced that comics could sell on the newsstand. Soon Gaines would become a publisher himself and do more giveaways.
A few months later Wildenberg decided to try and sell a "higher level" of a comic book for 10 cents. He tried to get many companies to join in but none would. Among those to turn him down were Oscar Fitz-Alan Douglas known as the brains of Woolsworth department store. After much deliberation he decided 10 cents wasn't worth a comic book. Many other stores turned them down, as did Parents Magazine (who would later jump into the comics business to make "good" comic books). They just couldn't see anyone paying 10 cents for old comics they already read from the newspapers. The Comic Strip Syndicates didn't see it selling either, they remembered both Comics Monthly and The Funnies trying and failing at selling comic books. Eastern Color also had the problem of being printers and not publishers. Gaines who used to put together the comics had left Eastern Color and was now an independent publisher.
George Delacorte had published comics previously with The Funnies and knew how to do them. Eastern Color owner George Janosik stepped in and asked Delacorte to form a 50/50 partnership in a 10 cent comic magazine for the newsstand. He agreed but the two were stopped cold by the newsstand distributor American News Distribution. They wouldn’t handle the comics because they remembered Dell's The Funnies failure from 1929. The two then decided to go to the retail chains stores again and got some of them to sell the comics at 10 cents each.
Famous Funnies (Series 1) used material previously reprinted from the first Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics and Century of Comics (both will be discussed in a future Free Comics section). This book isn't a newsstand comic, but it acted in the same manor through different outlets. It was 64 pages and had a print run of 400,000. They sold out within 30 days. Not a single one returned. Eastern wanted to go back for a second print run but Delacorte wouldn't agree. Advertisers did not think the book would continue to be successful. Still, the sold out print run made the two companies $2,000. The results were enough to convince publisher George Delacorte and printer Eastern Color Inc. to again attempt to bring a regular comic series to the newsstands. Again the newsstand distributors rejected the idea, remembering George's first attempt in 1929 with The Funnies. Delacorte then sold his 50% of the partnership and the rights to the Famous Funnies name to Eastern Color.
Harold Moore (an Eastern Color employee under Wildenberg) was on a train reading an ad in the New York Daily News that said their Comics section was responsible for much of their success. Moore then went to Distributor American News President Harry Gould with the newspaper. After a few days Gould changed his mind and agreed to distribute a monthly comic magazine with a print run of 250,000.
In May 1934 (the comic was dated July), Famous Funnies #1 Vol. 2 appeared on the newsstands. It featured four pages each of several newspaper comic characters. It was 64 pages long and had a 10 cent price tag. It had a 90% sell though but still lost $4,150.60. A second issue came out in July (cover dated September) and the series was monthly after that. With the second issue the magazine hired people at 5 dollars a page to create original material for them. Meanwhile it cost the magazine 10 dollars a page for Syndicated reprints. The comic was edited by Stephen A. Douglas but Moore got the credit in the first issue. From issue #3 and on Buck Rogers took the center stage and became the comics feature character. With issue #7 they finally made a profit of $2,664.25. Every issue from then on out had higher sales and by a years time sales were up to almost a million per month. How the 10 cents per issue got divided among the parties bounced around as the series progressed. At first Eastern would see 6 of the 10 cents, later it was 6 ½. The rest was split between Newsstand and Distributor with the newsstand taking 2 then 2 ½ cents and American News took 1 then 1 ½ cents. Eastern proudly made public the amount of money they were making off the comics. At one time they were making $30,000 per issue. By the time a year had gone by Funnies had gained some respect and was placed on newsstands beside slick magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Harper's. They also had 5 competitors putting out monthly magazines. This comic series would last 218 issues ending in 1955, making it the first successful newsstand comic book series. It also established the comic book format, with the exception of some shrinking in size and page count, this is the format followed by most publishers today.
To better illustrate how important the Eastern Color crew was to the development of comic industry, here is a list of the people that were on staff under Wildenberg and what happened to them.
Behind the Scenes - He Hated Comics.
The guy mainly responsible for giving the newsstand comic industry it’s birth didn’t even like comic books! Harry I. Wildenberg said he couldn’t understand how anybody could read them. All he knew is they had commercial potential and used that to keep the printers running.
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