Pulp Dime Novel publisher Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson saw the success of comic books and like George Delacorte before him tried to do a comic strip book with all original material. He chose this route because it was cheaper to get original material than to pay the syndicates to reprint their well known strips. "The Major" as some people called him, was a prolific writer as well and had a hand in writing and editing of the comics he published. The company was called National Allied Publications and the title was New Fun Comics, first appearing in 1935. The title would soon change to More Fun Comics in part to make way for another title called New Comics (December, 1935). Like New/More Fun Comics it featured all new material. More Fun would also use distributor S-M News Co., Inc. the same that handled Comic Cuts in 1934.
Of those contributing strips to the issue would be Walt Kelly and Al Capp who later go on to have great success in the comic strip field. The series was the same size as a Sunday newspaper section, measuring 10" x 15" tabloid size. The cover was stiff cardboard and full colour but inside most strips were black and white. This comic also included some adaptations of well known stories such as Ivanhoe and Treasure Island. Also inside the comic were advertisements, which was normal with free comics but new to newsstand comics. Among the ads would be the Charles Atlas body building ad which would continue to run for 40 years. The advertisers were regulars with Wheeler-Nicholson as they often appeared in his pulps novels. The editor was Lloyd Jacquet, who would later go on to convince an important pulp publisher to get into comic books.
Behind the Scenes - Nothing up my sleeve... or
In issue #6 there was a feature called Doctor Occult. He was a magician who fought supernatural villains like Vampires and such. It was done by Leger and Reuths, who were in fact the future creators of Superman, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel!
When New Fun Comics didn’t do so well, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson decided to publish another title. This book would be closer to the Famous Funnies size, but had 16 more pages (80 in total). Unlike Famous Funnies the insides would be black and white. This series was called New Comics (December, 1935) and again it featured all new material. Among the artists who's work featured in here was Walt Kelly, Sheldon Mayer and Vincent Sullivan. All three would be important to the development of the comic book industry. The title would go through many name changes turning into New Adventure Comics with issue #12, then to simply Adventure Comics with issue #32. Like New Fun the title went through a period of volume 2 with new numbering starting with New Adventure Comics #1, then New Adventure Vol 3 #1 and stopping with Vol. 3 #2, before returning to #22 continuing it's original numbering run. This title with the help of many superhero features would last until 1983 ending with issue #503.
Around the summer of 1936 the first of many comic "shops" were set up. This was done by Harry "A" Chesler. He was an entrepreneur from Chicago who saw the comics market and knew they would need new material. He hired several artists and writers, had the artist work in a very bad building (located at 276 Fifth Ave. the corner of 32nd street) with cracked, creaky floors and a creaky elevator. Under that floor was Chesler’s office where he would receive the scripts from the writers and head upstairs to assign the work. The Artists would work in a factory line like method, one finishing a page and handing it down to the next to get it inked and so on. Among the artists to work in this method were Joe Kubert, Jack Cole, Carl Burgos, Ken Ernst, Fred Guardineer, Irwin Hasen, Rafael Astarita, Creig Flessel, Charlie Sultan, Charlie Biro, Bob Wood, Paul Gustavson, Jack Kamen and Gill Fox. Many other factories were set up in a similar manner and it’s how most of the early newsstand comic book output was done.
Will Eisner's first work was in Wow What a Magazine #1. Wow would only go 4 issues, but Will's career would span another 68 years. He would become one of the corner stones of comic book art. He would create (or co-create) a variety of popular characters, teach his fellow artists innovative storytelling methods and popularize a different format of comics. He strove to make both the comic industry and the world take comic books & graphic novels more seriously. Eisner was born March 6, 1917 in Brooklyn, NY. He went to De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, along with Bob Kane. He got his first artwork published in the school newspaper. He would later get work in the printing industry but would soon move on to drawing comics for a living. Among the various areas he worked in are traditional comicbooks, newspaper comicbooks/strips, educational military work, corporate sponsored books, underground books, art educational books and graphic novels. Along the way he was an entrepreneur and a tough negotiator. He kept the rights to his characters and continued to make money from them long after publishers went under or lost interest in them. You will read about his many accomplishments later on.
McClure Syndicate had recently purchased a newspaper tabloid called The New York Graphic. Along with it came two, 2 color printing presses. They then hired Max (Charlie) Gaines on his promise to keep them rolling. Gaines would use the 2 presses to produce 4 color machines, then get George Delacorte back into the comics business again. With Famous Funnies making money on the newsstand and access to McClure’s popular comic strip characters a new comic book series was born. Max would also hire a teenage Sheldon Mayer to do the paste up job of putting the comic book together.
The comic was called Popular Comics. It was cover dated February 1936 but appeared on the newsstands in late 1935. Inside it featured a huge amount of well known characters. Among them, Dick Tracy, Terry & the Pirates, Gasoline Alley, Skippy, Mutt and Jeff, Tailspin Tommy, Little Orphan Annie and many more. This third and final try at comics would be what Delacorte needed to become a successful publisher; in fact Dell Publishing Co. would become one of the most successful comic publishers of all time. This title would last 145 issues and end in 1948.
Cover dated April of 1936, Tip Top Comics #1 appeared on the newsstand with all United Features Syndicated comic strips. Under their umbrella was Tarzan, Li'l Abner, Broncho Bill, Captain and the Kids and other popular strips. Eventually Peanuts appeared in this series as well. This title would be published by former Eastern Color employee Lev Gleason who would make waves in the future. The series would also end up becoming an early version of what's today called a comic book trade paper backs. They were bound reprints of a number of issues sold at the 1939 Worlds Fair. First set had issues 1-12, second 13-24, the third 25-36. This practice of compiled reprints would come popular in the late 20th Century. This title would be published by both St. John Publishing and later Dell Publishing, stretching out and last 225 issues ending in 1961.
What’s interesting about this series was a fan club called the Tip Top Cartoonist Club which encouraged readers to send in their comic strip samples. With issue #21 it took a turn, a "Buffalo Bob" character was created and each issue they’d show him in a nasty situation like falling off a ladder and about to land on a pitchfork. Tip Top editorial encouraged people to submit comic strips saving Buffalo Bob’s hide. Those who were selected got credit and paid a dollar. Among those that submitted strips were Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Mort Walker, Bill Yeates, Dan Heilman and Warren Tufts.
Also in April of 1936, another major comic strip syndicate would jump in the comic book business. King Features and Hearst created King Comics. David McKay was a publisher who had done some comic books through King Features and he had the job of doing this one with the editor Ruth Plumly Thompson. Flash Gordon, Popeye and Mandrake the Magician would be among the popular strips to make their appearance in the first issue. Later on The Lone Ranger, The Phantom, Prince Valiant, Blondie and Little Lulu would be among the other popular strips to appear in the title. The comic would last 159 issues and end in 1952. Out of it would spring Standard Publishing, a comic book company with many different titles.
Behind the Scenes - Little Lulu and the Wizard
Editor Ruth Plumly Thompson would later go on to continue the Wizard of Oz books after L. Frank Baum died. She would also become "The Royal Historian of Oz" when she retired in 1939. Within King Comics, she would write poems under a feature titled Sis Sez. They were about a freckled teenage girl and were drawn by Marge Buell who would go on to create Little Lulu.