In our last post, we showed a comic-book rack from 1945, with a young man reading one of the offerings on display. The photo we used was a portion of a larger photo from the Life magazine archives. Here’s the whole photo:
Having little going this weekend, I decided to do some research and find the exact covers for all the comics shown on that rack. We’ll start at the top, and go from left to right.
Here’s the first comic, Exciting Comics #38 from April of 1945. Note the sensational cover art by Alex Schomburg. Schomburg was a Puerto Rican-born artist who came to the U.S. in the 1920s and began his ten-year comic-book career in the early 1940s. He worked for Nedor/Better/Standard Publications (as in this instance), and also for Timely Comics, which later evolved into the Marvel Comics Group. Schomburg had two distinct styles; the regular pen-and-ink style, shown here, and a later airbrushed style. For the pen-and-ink covers, he signed his name as Schomburg and for the airbrushed covers, he signed his name as Xela (Alex backwards).
The cover-featured heroes were the Black Terror and his kid sidekick Tim; together, they were referred to as the Terror Twins. Their uniforms or costumes were perhaps the most stylish of those worn by anyone in the Golden Age of Comics. We’ll see them again in this blog entry.
Next on the rack is Captain Marvel Adventures #46, from May of 1945. Probably the best selling comic book of the 1940s, selling over a million copies an issue; CMA was published by Fawcett. Outselling Superman was quite an achievement, and for a while, Captain Marvel Adventures was published every other week instead of monthly, as most comics were.
The head artist for Captain Marvel was C. C. Beck, who later retired to Florida. I was lucky enough to correspond with him by letter in his retirement days and he was an entertainingly cranky and acerbic correspondent! His clean-line art style was perfect for comic books but deceptively simple; his rule, as he wrote to me, was never put in a line that didn’t further the story.
Next on our rack, after a second facing of Captain Marvel Adventures, is Black Terror #10, from May of 1945. The Second World War had ended its European theater by that time, but since comics were written, drawn and printed months in advance, it took a while for them to catch up. In his fight against Nazi villains on this cover, the Black Terror faces a neatly labelled flame thrower; Schomburg was careful to label everything of importance on his covers. He’d have so much going on in his covers that a kid would study them for quite some time after plunking down his dime for the book.
As the comic-book publishers had many stories about WWII in inventory, they’d publish them after with war with Now It Can Be Told! added to the splash pages.
The Black Terror, who in real life was a pharmacist, was invulnerable to knives, flame throwers and bullets, but in almost every story he’d be knocked out by a blow to the back of his head. It confused me as a kid and still does. Maybe it was an Achilles’ heel kind of thing but they should have explained it better in the stories.
Proceeding down the comic book rack, we come to Shadow Comics volume 5, issue 2. Street & Smith published the Shadow, who was later licensed and published by Archie Comics, DC Comics and others after S&S gave up on comics, which was always a sideline to their pulp magazine business. In these original comics, the Shadow was colored a pale blue when he became invisible by clouding the minds of his enemies. Street & Smith comics had a different look than most other comics, with unusual coloring and some painted covers. I suspect that I wasn’t the only kid annoyed by the way they numbered their product with a volume/issue numbering system; it was less straightforward than just the issue numbering. For teenaged boys, who bought most of the comics, having all the issues was a big deal and probably boosted comic book sales. Hillman Publications, who published the wonderful Airboy Comics, also used that volume/issue scheme.
I can’t see enough of the cover of the next comic to identify it, but the one to its right is Red Band Comics, either number 3 or maybe number 4; both had the same cover art and interior contents! I show you the cover of #3 here.
This obscure and rather disturbing and unsatisfying comic was published by an outfit who only operated during 1944 and 1945 called Rural Home Publications. If DC Comics, Fawcett and Dell were first-string publishers, and Nedor/Better/Standard and Timely were second-string, then Street & Smith were third-string and Rural Home was barely in the running.
As you can see, the villain on this cover is quite horrific; the Bogeyman mentioned in the blurb was actually the hero, who’s shadow you see. Bogeyman was a swipe of Will Eisner’s Spirit charactor only drawn with a mustache. Neither Bogeyman or this ugly villain, who’s named Satanas, are in the comic book; covers were to sell the comic and often they promised more than they delivered.
Captain Marvel Adventures #46 gets still another facing on the rack, but to its right is one of my personal favorites: Don Winslow of the Navy! This is issue #26. Don Winslow comics were well drawn and written and after Fawcett got out of the comics business in the early 1950s, they passed the rights to Winslow and a couple of other titles to Charlton Comics, who printed stories that Fawcett had in inventory for a couple of issues.
When I was a kid trying to break into comics in the late 1960s, I’d look for old issues of Don Winslow in second-hand magazine shops in New York City and try to copy the style of the guys who drew them. Great stuff!
Another obscured issue and then we see Mystery Comics #3, published in 1944 (no month indicated). This great Schomburg cover features Wonder Man battling a mad scientist who’s built a human-sized pink robot who fires a Thompson sub-machine gun and glows, perhaps indicating that he’s radioactive or ultra-electrical or something. Covers sold the comics and what kid could resist a cover like that?!?!?!? This comic gets another facing at the bottom of the rack.
Below this comic on the rack is another issue of Black Terror; this one is #9, from February of 1945. These war-time comics had covers that can make us cringe today; the enemy folks in this Pacific-theater-of-war cover are absurdly rendered to convey their evil qualities, and young Tim doesn’t hesitate to mow them down with another Thompson sub-machine gun, perhaps borrowed from the pink robot in the previous comic. Those Tommy-guns were all over comic book covers in those days.
Our last issue is a whopper; the 194-page Everybody’s Comics from 1944. This giant-sized offering was published by Fox Comics, perhaps the sleaziest of all comic-book publishers (and that’s saying a great deal). What publisher Victor Fox would do was take the comic books returned by news dealers as unsold, bundle three or four random issues together and slap a new cover over whatever the contents were. There are examples of numbered issues of these giant comics that have totally different interiors; it was all very slapdash and shoddy.
That’s all for this entry. As I mentioned in the previous entry, there are no DC Comics (or Dells, or Timelys, or MLJ/Archies) on this rack, which leads me to suspect there were other comic-book racks at this store not shown in the photo.
UPDATE: I can’t resist showing you one of Alex Schomburg’s airbrush-style covers; this one is from Exciting Comics #66. Much different than the ornately detailed covers he did using his pen-and-ink style, wouldn’t you say?