Saturday, April 29, 2017

0005: You Will Believe A Man Can Spread Smooth Or Chunky

The first image below is a scan of the last page of Green Lantern #196 (01/86), which, if the contemporary fanzine checklists can be trusted, shipped on September 21st, 1985 and was on newsstands for sale by October17th. I mention these dates because, if you enlarge the image, you can find an expiration date for this offer near the bottom. The first 500 people to purchase a 12-issue subscription from the titles offered before December 31st, 1985 would receive a free copy of the "Fifty Who Made DC Great" comic. In standard comic book dimensions for the time, this one-shot had a slick-paper cover and 56 interior pages on heavy stock paper. The presentation was as text-and-illustration (not panels and word balloons). It had a suggested retail value of $2.95 U.S. (or $5.50 Canadian).

The actual comic had a cover almost identical to the picture in the ad except that the zipatone color effect was the same on Clark's skin as it was on the background. Also, the U.S. and Canadian prices were clearly visible in the lower left hand corner. Much more interesting was the particular set of 50 names chosen to explain DC's 50 years as a major fixture of comics publishing. That list can be seen in the scan of the inside front cover on the right above.

As some wags pointed out at the time,"Detective Comics" was the name coined for an anthology comic book series and the company created to publish it in 1937, not 1935. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (p.5) began publishing comics with New Fun #1 (02/35) using the publisher name National Allied Publications, Inc. By the end of the year he changed both the title and publisher name, beginning with More Fun #7 (01/36) now from More Fun Magazine, Inc., without dramatically changing the content. He also added a second title and publisher, New Comics #1 (12/35) from National Allied Newspaper Syndicate, Inc. Midway through 1936 trouble with his distributor led him to ask another distributor, Independent News, to carry his titles. I'm not certain if he was aware that the principle owner, Harry Donenfeld (p.6), had acquired several mismanaged publishing companies and/or their intellectual property in lieu of cash to cover their unpaid bills. Sometimes Harry would have preferred the cash but there were examples of Harry's employees turning lackluster pulp sales into successes simply by approaching the business more professionally. Wheeler-Nicholson was a notoriously bad businessman and a prime candidate for such an acquisition. Donenfeld and his accountant Jack Leibowitz (p.7) gave Wheeler-Nicholson a few conditions to meet for them to distribute his comics. His two titles were then published by Nicholson Publishing Co., Inc. and printed by a company owned by Donenfeld instead of World Color Press (p.29; ironically, all of DC was printed at WCP starting in the mid-50's.). After a few months, Independent became convinced they were serious and two final changes were made: New Comics became New Adventure Comics  and a third title was created to be jointly owned by Donenfeld, Leibowitz and a financier named Paul Sampliner with a controlling ownership by Wheeler-Nicholson. This was Detective Comics, of course, and because of the joint ownership situation they created a separate company (named after it) to publish it. One year later, Wheeler-Nicholson declared bankruptcy and Independent News acquired both Nicholson Publishing Co., Inc. and his interest in Detective Comics, Inc. DC Comics really began in the spring of 1938, more than three years into its own history.

The critical roles played by many such people in the company's administration explains why they are listed among far more familiar names of writers and artists. What is less obvious is why so many slots on the list are filled by film actors and their studios. Jerry Siegel (p.8) and Joe Shuster (p.9) have each done more than just Superman. Bob Kane (p.10) and Bill Finger (p.11) have each done more than Batman and Marv Wolfman (p.48) and George PĂ©rez (p.49) more than New Teen Titans. But is there any reason to give Adam West and Burt Ward each their own spot (34 & 35)? Or Ilya and Alexander Salkind (42 & 43)? If Bud Collyer (p.21), Kirk Alyn (p.22), George Reeves (p.25) and Christopher Reeve (p.44) each played Superman, how could all four of them be indispensable? I understand the nod to Fleischer Studios (p.20), but how is Hanna-Barbera Productions (p.41) any more significant than Filmation? Or Kenner (p.53) action figures any more significant than Mego? Frank Miller (p.50) is included largely on the strength of "Ronin". Remember, his "Dark Knight" mini-series didn't start until the following spring. The mini-bio says he's "currently at work on a Batman graphic novel" and has to mention the four years he spent working on Daredevil for Marvel to explain who he is. Yet, where is Gil Kane? Creig Flessel? Even Gaspar Saladino played a bigger part in the history of DC as a company than Superman Peanut Butter (p.52). And it certainly wasn't Helen Slater (p.51)'s fault, but the Supergirl movie was not a rip-roaring success. Why not Joe Orlando or Jenette Kahn? There must be a centenary observation in the conceptual stages (we just passed 80 years in 2015) and I hope that any sort of list based on that number starts taking a close look at how these choices are prioritized. Listing them in a vaguely chronological order as they have been here is actually the smartest aspect of this project. It avoid the sniping that would result over those early creators whose difference in importance is a matter of hair-splitting anyway or squabbles over the apples-and-oranges comparisons of individuals and institutions, creators and management and work done in different media. You shouldn't have to choose which Marx Brother is funniest to know that any of them are funnier than the Ritz Brothers.

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