Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Heroes from the year 1950

Today's stories are from Black Cat 24 (August 1950), Blue Beetle 58 (April 1950) and Lady Luck 88 (April 1950). As usual, my mindless ramblings follow the stories.

"Superheroes died-out after World War II". That's the commonly held belief by "The Experts". On the other hand, WWII ended in 1945 while many heroess continued to be published for years afterward. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Arrow, Fawcett's Captain Marvel & the rest of the Marvel Family, Plastic Man, Doll Man, Lev Gleason's Daredevil, Captain America, Lady Luck, Blue Beetle, Black Cat and Air Boy all made it to at least 1950. Plenty of others lasted until 1949, like Black Terror, Sub-Mariner, Skyman, The Face, The Target (who also had some stories reprinted in 1950-51), The Human Torch, The Shield and Quicksilver. If you consider four years later to be "after World War II", then make sure you add phrases like "Image Comics was founded after the fall of the Roman Empire", "Malibu Comics was sold to Marvel after the first Moon Landing" and "after the invention of the wheel, Jack Kirby started work on his 'New Gods' books". I guess as long as you keep the timeline straight & people don't know better, who really cares how much time passes between one event and another?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Art Appreciation: Dick Ryan

Dick Ryan was an artist who worked in comics mostly during the 1930s. Ryan also worked on the syndicated strip "Animal Crackers", which ran from 1937 to 1957, although the feature is better known as being the work of Warren Goodrich. According to the "Who's Who of American Comic Books" website, Ryan worked on "Animal Crackers" in '37 & '38.

The majority of Ryan's output was produced through the art shop of Harry A Chesler, where it was seen in such early comic books as National Allied Newspaper Syndicate's "New Comics", Chesler's own "Star Comics" & "Star Ranger", and Ultem Publications' "Funny Picture Stories" and "Funny Pages", along with a few early issues of MLJ's books like "Pep Comics" & "Blue Ribbon Comics". His work also appears in 1945's "Carnival Comics" from the Pershing Square Publishing Company, taking-up about half the book with reprints of his earlier work.

Searching the internet looking for more information to share regarding Dick Ryan turns up ... pretty much nothing. I found an interview on a religious website with an artist named "Dick Ryan", but there was nothing to indicate that he was ever a comic book artist. There's an actor with the same name who was born in 1896, worked in film from 1916-21, then again from 1941-67, and eventually passed away in 1969, but again, nothing to indicate that this actor has anything to do with the comic book artist. I suppose I could just make-up a story about the guy ... I wouldn't be the first person in the world to talk out my butt about something I know nothing about.

More rambling follows the artwork portion of this post. Included are pages & covers from 1936 & '37

Without question, when it comes to comic books, I'm a superhero fan and I don't apologize for it. Superheroes aren't ALL I read (Groo The Wanderer, Poison Elves, Bone, to name a few), but they do make-up the bulk of my collection. The work of Dick Ryan appeals to me for some reason, not in the stories so much as the detail he puts into his artwork. It's a nice change of pace to be flipping through a Golden Age comic book file I've downloaded from the 'net, seeing page after page of the usual GA artwork, and then run across a Dick Ryan page. It gives the books a nice little "pop" and breaks-up the visual monotony a Golden Age comic can have when you're not reading the stories the first time through. It's disappointing to search the internet for a while and not find any information about the guy beyond seeing what little work he did in comics 70 years ago. It's only through the efforts of the people who physically own these books and share scans freely with other comic book fans across the internet that I even know the guy existed. That's a shame ... or, as an old friend of mine once said: "That shit ain't right."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

aka "Centaur Comics"

Today's stories come from the string of companies commonly referred to as "Centaur Comics". First up is The Fantom of The Fair from "Amazing Mystery Funnies volume 2 # 7" (July 1939). Next is The Arrow from "Fantoman # 2" (August 1940), which is also probably reprinted from an early issue of Funny Pages. The first appearance of The Clock is from "Funny Picture Stories # 1" (November 1936). Last but not least, it's The Masked Marvel from "Keen Detective Funnies # 24" (September 1940).

"Centaur Comics" has quite a history to it. If you're a fan of the books and characters, I'm sure you've read the story: William Cook & John Mahon took features from Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and published "The Comics Magazine # 1" with a cover date of "May 1936". On the Who's Who of American Comic Books site, it's mentioned that Everett "Busy" Arnold "Printed COMICS MAGAZINE COMPANY comics for Cook and Mahon c1935", which was when he was working at Greater Buffalo Press as vice-president. The date of "1935" seems a little off, but it's better than the usual "financial or other, unspecified help" that I usually see all over the place.

It's well known among fans of the books that "Dr Mystic" was simply a retitled "Dr Occult" story, the first part of a continued tale that wouldn't be picked-up again by The Major's books until "More Fun Comics v2 n2" (October 1936). What's usually left-out of this picture is that Dr Occult had two stories published ("The Metheuselah Murders" in May '36 and in July-September 1936, "The Werewolf" Parts 1-3) in-between his appearance in CMC's "Comics Magazine" and the October issue of "More Fun Comics". I have a hard time believing that Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, the creators of Dr Occult, would work out of order like that, so I'm left wondering if The Major ever had plans to publish the entire story started in "The Comics Magazine".

Also ignored is the fact that not only did Mahon & Cook get "inventory" from The Major, but he may have given them two features to call their own, as well. Both "Dickie Duck" & "Freddie Bell" appeared in National's "New Comics" #'s 1-3 (Dec 1935-Feb 1936), and then continued to run in CMC's books from "The Comics Magazine # 1" until issue 11, at which point that series had been retitled "Funny Pages" (Dickie Duck would make another appearance in Star Comics v2 n2). Both features were drawn by Matt Curzon (originally Nathan Kurtzon, if I can believe anything I ever read on the internet), who went on to create "Pixie Puzzle Adventures", which ran from 1948 to '56 in New York Herald-Tribune Sunday comics section. Ok, so maybe The Major didn't give Mahon & Cook the two features, maybe Curzon decided to work CMC instead of National, but 70-some years later, who really knows what the heck was going-on there?

The Clock is the first masked hero to originate in a comic book, although masked heroes weren't anything new, what with Zorro, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Lee Falk's The Phantom and a number of pulp heroes appearing before The Clock. Created by George Brenner, The Clock would appear in CMC's Funny Pages, Funny Picture Stories and Detective Picture Stories before being taken to Feature Funnies (eventually Feature Comics) and then Crack Comics, published by Quality Comics. Two of The Clock's appearances would be reprinted under the title "Alias the Clock", which ran in Keen Detective Funnies vol 1 #'s 8 & 9 (Sept-Oct 1938), published by CMC's successor, Centaur Publications.

The transition from Mahon & Cook's Comics Magazine Company to Centaur Publications involves Frank Temerson's Ultem Publications and Harry A Chesler's two titles, "Star Comics" & "Star Ranger". Ultem Publications would become the publisher of "Star Comics", "Star Ranger", "Funny Pages" and "Funny Picture Stories" starting with cover dates of September & October 1937. Nearly everything Mahon & Cook had included in their books was chucked out the window to make room for Chesler's features. Gone were Matt Curzon's Dickie Duck & Freddie Bell, The Red Avenger by Ellis Edwards, Victor Dowling's Sights About Town, Martin Filchock's CC Kid & Windy, George Brenner's Clock and J.A. Patterson's Learn Cartooning. Replacing all of that was the work of Dick Ryan, Ken Fitch, Fred Guardineer, Frank Frollo and the rest of Chesler's crew.

Whatever the reality is of why Ultem picked-up these four titles for only a short time, the end result is that all four of these books were acquired by "Centaur Publications", which began publishing the books starting with cover dates of "March 1938". From this point forward, most of "Centaur Comics" more popular features began appearing. Paul Gustavson was the creator of both The Arrow & The Fantom of the Fair. The Arrow debuted with a cover date of "September 1938", shortly after Superman showed-up in "Action Comics # 1". The Fantom arrived almost a year later with a cover date of "July 1939", the same month that The Masked Marvel debuted with a story by Ben Thompson.

I'll get back to "Centaur Comics" again sometime, continuing to flesh-out that story. It's a work-in-progress, really, since most "comic historians" ignore anything that doesn't appear in a comic book format. There was more going-on there than most people realize.

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