Friends and neighbors:
As most of you know, I am writing a book about journalists in comic books. It's a riff on my Master's thesis. It's kinda fun, and I want to share that, since it's consuming all my time. I think maybe you guys would like to be in on the conversation in my head.
I know some of you have done books on your own, and haven't asked any help here. I acknowledge that, and am not asking for help myself.
I just think it will be fun.
So, do you guys want to go on this journey with me? Sure, you all get credit in the Foreword.
But the first question is ... do you want to play? If not, I'll continue to toil in darkness.
Let me know, Legionnaires!
This might be well known, but I just stumbled across it. Wonder Woman took a job as a romance advice columnist in Sensation Comics #97. I don’t know if it was just for that one story, or if it was something she did over numerous stories.
I've gone through the Sensation Mystery issues, so I'll go back and check the earlier ones back to Sensation #97.
And I have found a third pre-Jimmy Jimmy Olsen!
I don't know how how far forward you're planning to take this, but if you're going all the way to the present, be sure to check out this week's Lois Lane #1 for a take on modern day journalism.
Yes, I will be carrying it forward to today. It's frustrating to read today's comics, knowing that I'll have to re-read them again and take notes sometime in the future. Taking notes now won't work, because I need to see various eras as a whole, to know what I'm looking for. So when the time comes, I'll re-read all the New 52 Superman books, then all the Rebirth books, and then the Bendis books.
I haven't read Lois yet, as I've had cataract surgery and reading is too difficult (until I get the second one done). What's the Bendis take on her job?
It's Rucka, not Bendis. It's just a look at journalism in the digital age. I have no idea how accurate it is, but I imagine he put a certain amount of research into it.
Here’s one I want to bring to your attention: “I Am Robot X!” from Amazing Adventures #4, September 1961: A race of sentient robots wrests control of a newspaper from a group of aliens to thwart an invasion.
Cap, have you considered buying digitally? I'm slooowwwwly easing into it, and with a decent-size tablet and the ability to zoom and do guided-view, it's in some ways superior to paper reading. I'm planning on buying the entire Lois Lane series that way. (Jimmy, on the other hand, seems like it'll be a fun one to read on paper, simply because of it's old-fashioned humor qualities.)
Jeff, thanks for the Robot X reference. I did already have it in my notes, thanks to a re-read of the Masterworks. But I'd rather have it twice than none at all. And it's one-off gems like Robot X that I want the most. (And also not to miss anybody major. Oh, the anxiety!)
Rob, I've got Marvel Unlmiited and DC Universe, so I've got a lot of digital era material available. Also, the Golden Age stuff I'm researching is also digital thanks to whatever sites I'm able to find them on. I'm really doing very little paper research, and won't until I get both eyes done. I have the new Lois Lane book, but haven't made it past the Intro. Reading is hard!
I stopped working on the book when I had cataract surgery back in July and August. Then, somehow, I found myself employed and trying to establish a new way to work around my hours (nights). So I've hit some snags.
But one thing I could continue to do when I couldn't see very well (and couldn't read much) was continue with what has become a sort of side project to the main book, which is making a list of every comic book from 1933 on, so I can organize information the way I use it. Yes, that's a lot. But the Comic Book Database makes it relatively easy, although it's still time-consuming.
And nothing has been more time-consuming than Dell Comics. And that's mainly because of Four Color Series 2. Oy vay, what a nightmare that title is! It weaves in and out of most of Dell's product until its cancellation in the early 1960s, at issue (gulp) #1354. It also weaves in and around itself.
But it's been a remarkable education, which is sort of why I'm doing this -- to educate myself. Here are some things I've learned about Four Color, or that Four Color has taught me.
First, here's a sample of how my list looks:
#300) Walt Disney's Donald Duck in Big-Top Bedlam (Nov 50)
#301) Zane Grey The Mysterious Rider (Nov 50)
#302) Santa Claus Funnies (Nov 50)
#303) Porky Pig in The Land of the Monstrous Flies (Nov 50)
#304) Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse in Tom-Tom Island (Dec 50)
#305) Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker (Dec 50)
#306) Raggedy Ann & Andy (Dec 50)
#307) Bugs Bunny in Lumberjack Jackrabbit (Dec 50)
#308) Walt Disney's Donald Duck in Dangerous Disguise (Jan 51)
#309) Betty Betz Dollface and Her Gang (Jan 51)
#310) Zane Grey's King of the Royal Mounted (Jan 51)
Get the idea? The above isn't really a good sample, because of all the returnees. In the last 500 issues or so, Four Color was dominated by movie adaptations and short-run adaptations of short-run TV shows (mostly Westerns). There was the occasional title based on an obscure comic strip, also short-run, because all the big guns were long since gone. Why, I do not know.
Because in the beginning, Four Color was remarkable in the depth and breadth of its offerings. Whereas David McKay publishing was only King Features, and Popular Comics used only Chicago Tribune-N.Y. News features, and other publishers relied on single syndicates as well, Four Color had everybody.
There's Tribune-N.Y. News, NEA, King Features, Disney, Bob Clampett, Walter Lantz, News Syndicate ... well, just about everybody. So they featured Alley Oop, Popeye, Disney ducks and mice, Woody Woodpecker (and Andy Panda and Chilly Willy), Barney Google, Smilin' Jack, Smokey Stover, Li'l Abner, Wash Tubbs, Don Winslow of the Navy, Beany & Cecil, Tom & Jerry, Tweety & Silvester, Dick Tracy ... it's amazing. Had I been alive, I'd have bought every issue.
And one thing I found interesting is that all the Walt Kelly material is "copyright Oskar Lebeck." I looked it up, and he was the editor who hired Kelly for Western. Did he retain the rights? Did Kelly ever get them back? Why was't Western/Dell a player in this? Curiouser and curiouser.
But that was in the first decade or so. Toward the end it was pretty pitiful. Mostly it was just Disney, but with the ducks and mice in their own books, it was adaptations of serials on the Mickey Mouse Club or Wonderful World of Disney, a lot of grade-B Disney movies, and Westerns.
So. Many. Westerns. God help me. So many.
Actually, taken all together, there were probably more funny animals than Westerns in Four Color. Or maybe even movie adaptations. But those don't irritate me as much as Westerns, which even as a child I found dreadfully stilted, implausible and dull. And toward the end, Four Color seemed to adapt every short-run Western you've never heard of ... probably because so many Westerns were being thrown at the screen in those days and not sticking. The era of the Western was over, but TV -- and Dell -- didn't get the memo.
In the middle of the Four Color run, late '40s or early '50s say, they had a lot of famous cowboys. Roy Rogers, Dale Evans (whom you find on GCD by searching "Queen of the West," not "Dale Evans"), the Lone Ranger, and so forth. What's amazing here is that not only did those worthies run for a while, but so did many of their horses! Gene Autry's Champion had a few issues in Four Color, and a good, long run in his own title. Black Beauty only got the movie adaptation, but "Son of Black Beauty" got a couple of issues. And the Lone Ranger's horse got more issues than Tonto, and a longer name: His title was, and I kid thee not, The Lone Ranger's Famous Horse Hi-Yo Silver.
Sometimes the Westerns were weird.
Johnny Mack Brown had an issue in Four Color, then moved to his own title -- starting at #2, of course. After issue #10, he came back to Four Color for 11 more issues. Johnny Mack Brown appeared more times in Four Color than in Johnny Mack Brown comics!
Then there's Wild Bill Elliott. He had an issue in Four Color, and graduated to his own title (with #2). He also ran until issue #10, before returning to Four Color ... for two issues. Then he went back to his own title for issues #13-17. And just to confuse us all, an 18th Wild Bill Elliott appearance landed in Four Color #643. HAHAHAHA (Sob!)
And no, I have no idea who Johnny Mack Brown and Wild Bill Elliott are, except they were cowboys famous enough (or cheap enough) to get their own comic book.
But one thing that's fun to do is go through all their comics together, and watch these tough-guy cowboys get paunchier and jowlier with each cover photo. They glare grimly into the middle distance, hands clenched on their six-shooters, but look about as threatening as the neighborhood druggist.
I should note that rabbits are way over-represented in the funny-animal kingdom. Yes, there's Bugs, but also Oswald the Rabbit, Uncle Wiggily and Br'er Rabbit. There are probably more, but this is a really long list and I'm tired of scrolling through it.
Some other things I learned:
If you type "Four Color" often enough, it will sometimes come out "Full Color."
Then this: Try-out books are a good idea, but only if they are not on a schedule.
You should publish a try-out book when you've got something you want to try out, not because it's Monday and you have to have something for the next issue by Friday. So only publish the thing when you've got something worthwhile to publish.
That seems like common sense, but nobody does it. All of your Four Colors, Showcases, Brave and Bolds, Marvel Spotlight and whatnot published according to the calendar, not according to content. In the case of Four Color what this meant is that when all the surefire characters like Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny had graduated to their own titles, you end up publishing utter drek or trying to turn Gyro Gearloose into a headliner. The last few years of Four Color are pretty lame.
Speaking of the big hits, some features ran more than 20 times in Four Color before some graduating (some just stopped). They included Donald Duck (30), Porky Pig (26), Mickey Mouse (29), Oswald the Rabbit (20), Bugs Bunny (28) and Zane Grey's Stories of the West (27).
Woody Woodpecker only managed 17, which is the same number of issues given to Santa Claus Funnies. Andy Panda got 16, which is only a few more than Mother Goose (13). Surprising. Even moreso, big guns like Turok and Tarzan don't figure much into it at all, having only two issues each before graduating.
Speaking of Zane Grey:
Zane Grey's Stories of the West was not called that. The book that arose from the Zane Grey novel adaptations in Four Color was called Zane Grey's Stories of the West, and began with #27, so the first 26 Zane Grey stories in Four Color are retroactively sort of also Stories of the West, although the covers and indicia don't say that.
Also, there are 27 Zane Grey issues in Four Color, and only the first 26 come before Zane Grey's Stories of the West began. The 27th issue of Zane Grey in Four Color came after Zane Grey's Stories of the West was canceled with #39, so it is technically ZGSotW #40. But nobody calls it that.
This is not to be confused with Zane Grey's King of the Royal Mounted, who had eight appearances in Four Color. And King is not to be confused with Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, who appeared four times.
That may be a little confusing, but there's lots worse in here. Flash Gordon appears in Four Color, then goes to his own series, starting at #2, then comes back to Four Color for seven more issues. Technically the Four Color issues should count as #1 and #3-9, but that isn't, of course, how they're numbered.
Most of the long-running characters have far more issues in Four Color than can be accounted for in series numbering. For example, there are 30 Donald Duck issues in Four Color, but Donald Duck starts with issue #26. Which four issues don't count? And that doesn't even include stuff like Donald Duck Album, of which there were, going by memory here, five.
I don't mean to imply that every time a character appears in Four Color that the issue counts in the numbering of that character's solo title, if any. Sometimes a feature will appear in Four Color two or four or whatever times, and then start a new series at #1. Sometimes Four Color will get the last few issues of a feature that's been canceled. There really isn't any pattern that I could find. It's all a hodgepodge.
Then there's the super-weird stuff. Like Lolly and Pepper, which ran for five issues in Four Color, and then continued in its own title, a single issue numbered 01-459-207. Jeepers! I think I've figured out that the last three numbers indicate a date: July, 1962. (6)2-07. The first number might be ... volume? But the middle three are beyond my grasp, and I'm really reaching for the others. Honestly, I just don't know.
That brings us to the mess that is the calendar months. Four Color didn't publish according to any kind of schedule. Issues would arrive months out of order -- for example, Four Color #1273 was dated Mar/May 62, but issues #1272 and #1274j, on either side of it, were dated December 1961.
And what the hell is any issue of this book doing with a Mar/May date? Three months? Why? Especially when these quarterly indicators show up in bunches -- like Four Color #1278-1280, which are all dated Feb/Apr 62. Why isn't one of them Feb, one of them Mar, and one of them Apr? Gah!
Then, toward the end, issue numbers just started jumping forward. That is to say, lots of issues simply don't exist. Four Color #1314-1327? Never published. #1329, 1331, 1334? Nope. #1338-1340? Non-existent. #1342-1347? #1351-1353? Never happened. Such is the weirdness of Four Color -- the longest running comic book in history, but not one with the 1354 issues the last issue number would indicate.
Well, that's enough for now. I'll probably remember more weirdness to talk about later. But just remember, if anybody every asks you a question about Four Color ... just politely change the subject.
Captain Comics said:
Such is the weirdness of Four Color -- the longest running comic book in history, but not one with the 1354 issues the last issue number would indicate.
Issue #4000 came out at the end of August this year. The latest issue, #4007, is cover-dated 19-Oct-19.
Interesting reading, Cap. Probably the only title with as confusing a numbering system is Classics Illustrated. I hope your recovery from the surgery is proceeding apace.
Sorry, Peter, you're right about Beano, of which I am well aware. I should have said "longest-running American comic book." And even that won't be true in a few years, when Action and Detective reach issue #1354. Those two titles have already run more years than Four Color, just not as many issues. And, given that so many issues of Four Color simply don't exist, they will pass Four Color in "actual number of issues published" long before they reach #1354.
As to Classics Illustrated, Jeff, I dunno if I'll bother to try and codify those. Not only are they sort of separate and apart from other comics -- unlike Four Color, which is woven into the fabric of Dell Comics -- but many of them weren't published in the standard comic book format, which is the definition I am using.