Thursday, June 14, 2012
INTO THE DANGEROUS WORLD
“My mother groan’d, my father wept,
Into the dangerous world I leapt.
- William Blake (1757-1827)
The theme of this month’s CBG is children’s comics and, in keeping
with that theme, I will reveal that I was once a child. I was born
on December 22, 1951, and I’m still reading comics.
Due to a nifty website known as Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, I
have become fascinated with the comic books that hit the newsstands
in the month of my birth. Mike’s site has a feature which allows
one to view the covers of comic books published in any month. The
comics industry then was very different from the comics industry of
today. Let’s consider this for a moment.
Mike’s Amazing World shows 153 comics published in my birth month,
but that is clearly not the complete total. Only 12 publishers are
represented. Among the omissions: Classics Illustrated, ACG, ME,
and Lev Gleason. Noting that I am thus working with an incomplete
list, here’s some nonetheless interesting statistics I’ve compiled
on these 153 issues.
Marvel was the most prolific of the publishers, releasing 33 comic
books or 22% of the issues listed.
Marvel...33 issues (21.6%)
Fawcett...30 issues (19.6%)
DC....24 issues (15.7%)
Dell...24 issues (15.7%)
Harvey...15 issues (9.8%)
Quality...10 issues (6.5%)
Archie...6 issues (3.9%)
Charlton...3 issues (2%)
EC...3 issues (2%)
Fiction House...3 issues (2%)
Eastern Color...1 issue (0.65%)
United Features...1 issue (0.65%)
Licensed properties account for 62 of these titles. That works out
to 40.5% of the comics published that month. Noting there will be
some overlap, here’s that breakdown by genre/subject:
Humor...28 issues (45.1%)
Western...17 issues (27.4%)
Comic Strips...17 issues (27.4%)
Celebrity...16 issues (25.8%)
Funny Animal...12 issues (19.4%)
Adventure...6 issues (9.7%)
Crime...4 issues (6.5%)
Teen Humor...3 issues (4.8%)
Science Fiction...2 issues (3.2%)
Breaking down these comics by genre, humor was the leader with 41
titles. In the list below, I broke that down into sub-categories
like funny animals, teens, babes (for lack of a better description
for Millie the Model and others), domestic, kids, and miscellaneous
(for Adventures of Bob Hope and other titles that didn’t easily fit
anywhere else). Here’s what I ended up with...
Western...27 issues (17.7%)
Romance...21 issues (13.7%)
Funny Animal...17 issues (11.1%)
Crime...16 issues (10.5%)
Horror...14 issues (9.2%)
Super-Heroes...12 issues (7.8%)
Adventure...12 issues (7.8%)
Teen Humor...9 issues (5.9%)
War...5 issues (3.3%)
Miscellaneous Humor...5 issues (3.3%)
Science Fiction...4 issues (2.6%)
Kids Humor...4 issues (2.6%)
Domestic Humor...3 issues (2%)
Babes Humor...3 issues (2%)
Sports...1 issue (0.7%)
If you’d like to see the comics published in your birth month, head
over to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics.
Next time around, assuming I haven’t blown out my math skills this
time around, I’ll crunch the numbers for the comics published last
December, six decades from my birth month. I hope my abacus is up
to such a huge undertaking.
Crime ruled a major chunk of the comic-book turf in my birth month
and no crime comic was more famous or notorious than Lev Gleason’s
groundbreaking Crime Does Not Pay. Modern-day publisher Dark Horse
has recently published two collections of stories from the title,
giving today’s readers a good sense of what those oft-reviled comic
books were like.
Crime Does Not Pay Archives Volume 1 [$49.99] reprints the first
four issues of the series, which took its numbering from Gleason’s
Silver Streak Comics. Right from the start, Crime Does Not Pay went
big and brutal. The cover of issue #22 [July 1942] has bodies on
the floor and bodies falling from stairs. Inside, editors Charles
Biro and Bob Wood presented “true crime cases” of 1930s gangsters
like Louis Lepke to Old West outlaws to serial killers and others.
Somewhat out of place in that first issue was the origin of super-
hero Air Eagle. His adventure was probably not based on any true
crimes and I suspect the same can be said for the “Be a Detective”
feature which challenged readers to solve a mystery. True or not,
Norman Maurer’s “The Blackout Murder Mystery” was an entertaining
addition to the issue.
A foreword by the fine comics writer Matt Fraction dwells overmuch
on the forbidden lure of Crime Does Not Pay, but my own new-found
interest in the title isn’t any sort of “bad boy” attraction. It’s
seeing grim crime history transformed into exciting and sometimes
literate comics scripts, and drawn by artists who would rank among
the industry’s best. It’s recognizing that “crime does not pay,”
while certainly true in the long run, wasn’t without profit up to
that inevitable conclusion. In a world where such things were not
spoken of to youngsters, these gritty stories gave an inkling that
sometimes bad guys do get away with it. That inevitable triumph of
good over evil wasn’t a guarantee in real life.
Were I a parent in the 1940s, I don’t know if I’d be okay with my
children reading Crime Does Not Pay. At least not until they were
well into their teens. But, as a comics reader and student today,
I’m delighted to be able to read these “disreputable” comic books
and recommend this volume to others of like mind.
Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer [Dark
Horse; $19.99] is a less expensive way to sample the grisly wonder
of the title. Reprinting stories from 1942 through 1948, this book
spotlights some seriously scary criminals and killers and art from
some of the best artists of the 1940s. Dick Briefer’s visuals for
“So Mean He’d Kill His Own Mother” are positively manic and he goes
even further in “The Horror Hobby.” Also represented in this book
are Bob Montana, Carmine Infantino, Rudy Palais, Dan Barry, George
Tuska and Fred Guardineer.
Comics writer Brian Azzarello’s brief introduction brought a grin
to my face as he wrote of finding his first Crime Does Not Pay in
the dusty boxes of Cleveland’s legendary Kay’s Book Store. If you
lived in the area and were into books in the 1960s and early 1970s,
you went to Kay’s as often as you could.
The highlight of the book is “Biro and Wood: Partners in Crime” by
Denis Kitchen. The noted comics artist, publisher, and historian
gives readers a riveting history of Crime Does Not Pay, including
the tragic story of Bob Wood, who went from working on some of the
most successful comics of the 1940s to gruesomely murdering a lover
in a New York hotel. Peter Poplaski’s cover portrays that crime as
chillingly as the Charles Biro covers that enticed readers to the
original Crime Does Not Pay comic books.
Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped delivers great bang for your bucks.
It should have been nominated for an Eisner Award.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella