The COMICS MAGAZINE COMPANY:
14 MONTHS OF
COMIC BOOK HISTORY
Written By MICHAEL SANCHEZ
Edited by Jeff Kepley
The world will probably little note nor long remember a small comic book publishing company from the 1930’s that published only four titles, 27 total issues (click on each individual image to enlarge)
and survived only 14 months (May 1936 through June 1937). Comic book fans, on the other hand, will always remember it and appreciate it because it showcased the talents of some of the best artists and writers in the history of comic books! Not only that, but many early and little known first appearances previously credited to National Allied Publications (NAP) and other larger and more well-known companies actually began in its pages. The driving spirit behind NAP was Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who is the “founding father” of a comic book consisting solely of original material instead of newspaper reprints. Funnies 1-36, 1928-1930 was a comic publication with no staples that contained original material. Nicholson’s first comic book was New Fun Comics Volume 1 #1 published in February 1935 (but his story has been told elsewhere).
The “mystery publisher” is The Comics Magazine Co., Inc. (CMC for short), knowledge of which is incredibly important in order to understand the “big picture” of the early development of the comic book industry. See spreadsheet 1 for CMC publishing run:
Consider just a few of the many important, noteworthy, and virtually unknown examples of comic book history associated with CMC publications.
Contrary to many well known books and articles, CMC originated the single theme comic book, including the first adventure (November 1936), the first detective (December 1936) and the first western comics (February 1937).
CMC comic books featured the very first episode of Siegel and Shuster’s incredible and historic Superman prototype, Dr. Occult in its second continuity of the five part “Koth and The Seven” story which actually began in The Comics Magazine Volume 1 #1 (May 1936) and concluded in NAP’s More Fun Comics Volume 2 #2 through Volume 2 #5 (October 1936 – January 1937). It is interesting to note that CMC used Siegel and Shuster’s real names in the one episode of Dr. Occult they printed while NAP used their pen names of Leger and Reuths in all of the episodes they printed.
The first appearance of Siegel and Shuster’s excellent strip Bart Regan first appeared in The Comics Magazine Volume 1 #2 (June 1936) a full nine months before it appeared in Detective Comics #1 (March 1937).
Legendary comic artist Will Eisner did a 2-page center-spread which appears in Funny Picture Stories Volume 1 #4 (February 1937).
Another fantastic artist who contributed 2-page center-spreads to CMC was Rodney Thompson.
CMC featured a Bob Kane detective story with a “Bruce Wayne look-alike” in the pages of Detective Picture Stories Volume 1 #5 (April 1937), two years before Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27.
Other early publishing companies reprinted CMC material. For example, Centaur’s Keen Detective Funnies Volume 1 #’s 8 through 11 and Volume 2 #1 consist almost entirely of CMC strips. Additionally, an Eisner story from Western Picture Stories Volume 1 #1 (February 1937)
even appears in Fox’s Wonder Comics #1 (May 1939) although it was redrawn and slightly rewritten.
Note: Eisner’s real name is used in Western Pictures Stories but a pen name is used in Wonder Comics.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning. In May 1936, when CMC published its first comic book (The Comics Magazine Volume 1 # 1), there were only two other titles on the stands which contained all original material. These two titles were (NAP’s) More Fun Comics and New Comics. On a side note, the first 6 issues of More Fun Comics were titled New Fun Comics. New Comics became New Adventure Comics with the 12th issue, and changed the title once again with the 32nd issue becoming Adventure Comics. See spreadsheet #2 for a listing of the early NAP titles by month and year.
Famous Funnies was published starting in 1933 and contained some original material, but mostly it consisted of newspaper reprints.
The Comics Magazine/Funny Pages was very nearly a clone of More Fun Comics and New Comics, and contained very similar (and sometimes even the same) characters as its NAP cousin. All three titles contained 30 to 40 features, mostly from 1 to 2 pages each (just like Famous Funnies, only with all original material). Some of the features were one-shot stories while others were serialized stories.
But then came The Comics Magazine Volume 1 #2 (June 1936), with “A thrilling, complete short story of Action and Adventure by Tom Cooper.”
This story is told entirely in pictures and records a new departure in narrative form. The publishers claimed their rightful spot in comic book history and polled the readers when they wrote “we are happy to be the 1st to offer this style of storytelling to our readers and ask all of you to write your opinion frankly. Do you want more stories told in this fashion?” (See note from editor).
The Comics Magazine Funny Pages Volume 1 #3 (July 1936) contained “a seven-page complete story of the West in beautifully graphic pictures….” entitled Frontier Justice by Wm. Allison and Buck Ringoe.
The editors again asked their readers to give their opinions on this story and promised that the letters would be published in the next issue. Readers were also asked what kind of stories they would like to see. (See note from editor).
In spite of this promise, The Comics Magazine Funny Pages Volume 1 #4 (August 1936) contained no letter column. Instead it asked its readers to comment on Victor Dowling’s “7-page complete story” titled Klondike Gold.
The editors went on to ask “what do you suggest in the matter of story types? Let us know! Do you like adventure best – or detective, western – or what?….” (See note from editor in above image).
Once again promises were broken. The Comics Magazine Funny Pages Volume 1 #5 (September 1936) did contain a “7-page complete story” (“The Floating Treasure”) but again no letter column.
But the readers must have responded very favorably to this kind of story because CMC decided to publish no less than three new titles beginning with Funny Picture Stories (November 1936), which actually contained many adventure stories, Detective Picture Stories (December 1936), which contained detective stories and Western Picture Stories (February 1937), you guessed it western stories.
Remember the question back in The Comics Magazine Funny Pages Volume 1 #4: (August 1936) “Do you like adventure…detective…western…?” in that order! Funny Picture Stories, Detective Picture Stories and Western Picture Stories were the first single-theme comic books, created from an experiment in The Comics Magazine/Funny Pages #’s Volume 1 #’s 2 through 4. The three new comics were literally pulp magazines in comic book form, complete with a table of contents page. Funny Picture Stories can arguably be called the first single-theme (adventure) comic book. Logically, it should have been called Adventure Picture Stories, which would have been more consistent with the titles Detective Picture Stories and Western Picture Stories. Major Wheeler-Nicholson’s third publication, Detective Comics (March 1937), which traditionally is credited with being the first single theme comic book, actually appeared four months after the first issue of Funny Picture Stories (November 1936) per the date on the cover (the original planned cover date for Detective Comics was December 1936 but it was delayed until March 1937). December 1936 issues of More Fun Comics Volume 2 #4 and New Comics Volume 1 #11 carried inside ½ page black and white ads for Detective Comics #1 with the facsimile showing a December cover date. The February 1937 issues of More Fun Comics Volume 2 #6 and New Comics Volume 2 #1 carried a full page back cover ad showing Detective Comics #1 with a March cover date. (See below images showing the facsimile and actual cover for Detective Comics #1) This probably accounts for the confusion regarding the credit for the first single theme comic book.
THEORIES? WE GOT THEORIES!
Now on to a few theories about the existence (or non-existence) of Funny Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 8 and 9 and Detective Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 6 and 7. Refer to spreadsheet #2 (a comparative chronology) as you consider the following data.
First, More Fun Comics Volume 1 #9 and New Comics Volume 1 #4 were each dated (March/April 1936), so there were no new NAP issues for the month of April. More Fun Comics Volume 1 #10 was dated (May 1936) and there was no June 1936 issue. There was no New Comics dated May 1936. Something definitely was happening at NAP from March 1936 through July 1936. William Cook and John Mahon, managing editor and business manager, respectively, at NAP resigned and formed their own company in March of 1936. February 1936 issues of More Fun Comics Volume 1 #8 and New Comics Volume 1 #3 both list Cook and Mahon in the Table of Contents (TOC). But March/April 1936 issues of More Fun Comics Volume 1 #9 and New Comics Volume 1 #4 do not list Cook and Mahon in the TOC.
See above to TOC’s. They called their independent publishing company CMC and their first publication was The Comics Magazine Volume 1 #1 (May 1936). Subsequent issues of The Comics Magazine/Funny Pages contained material from the NAP’s files – Dr. Mystic (actually Dr. Occult), Dickie Duck, J. Worthington Blimp, T’aint so! (it’s a Dern Lie), Cap’n Tripe (Cap’n Spinniker), Freddie Bell He Means Well, Chikko Chakko, Loonie Louie The Fire Chief (Like McGluke The Fireman), Captain Bill Of The Rangers/Further Adventures of Jane And Johnny, (Captain Bill of the Rangers), Federal Agent (Federal Men), and more. Since NAP was struggling financially at the time, it seems likely that Cook and Mahon took this material in lieu of their salaries. It’s interesting to note that both New Comics Volume 1 #4 and The Comics Magazine Volume 1 #1 have baseball-theme covers (both covers). Was the cover of The Comics Magazine Volume 1 #1 by Vincent Sullivan, originally intended for New Comics Volume 1 #4? It’s entirely possible!
Second, as CMC was drawing near to the end of their publishing run, there were no CMC books published May 1937. Three CMC titles were released June 1937. No issues of Funny Pages were published July or August 1937. From spreadsheet #2 previously above, one can interpolate that no issues of Funny Picture Stories were published July and August 1937, which would have been Funny Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 8 and 9. No issues of Western Picture Stories or Detective Picture Stories were published July or August 1937 either. If there had been a Detective Picture Stories Volume 1 #6 published June 1937 it may have had a “cartoony” cover rather than a “serious” cover (see the cover of Funny Picture Stories Volume 1 #7 and Western Picture Stories Volume 1 #4).
One of this collector’s dreams is to find either the books or covers to Detective Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 6 and 7 or Funny Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 8 and 9. (A possible parallel situation may be Motion Picture Funnies. The first issue of this famous Timely title exists, but only the covers to numbers two, three and four are known about).
And third, (stay with me cause this can get a bit confusing) I suspect the covers for Funny Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 8 and 9 and Detective Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 6 and 7 may have been printed but were never used. With the September issues of Funny Pages and Funny Picture Stories a new publishing company called Ultem Comic Company took over these titles. Hence, the strange and conflicting numbering of the September and October 1937 issues of Funny Picture Stories and Funny Pages. Here’s where it gets confusing so refer to spreadsheet #2 as you consider the following four facts:
(1) In the September 1937 issue of Funny Picture Stories the Table of Contents (TOC) shows Volume 2 #1 and Ultem as the publisher, while the Indicia on the inside front cover shows Volume 1 #10 and Comics Magazine Company (CMC) as the publisher.
(2) In the October 1937 issue of Funny Picture Stories the TOC shows Volume 2 #2 and Ultem as the publisher, while the Indicia on the inside front cover shows Volume 1 #11 and Comics Magazine Company (CMC) as the publisher.
(3) In the September 1937 issue of Funny Pages the TOC shows Volume 2 #1 and Ultem as the publisher, while the Indicia on the inside front cover shows Volume 2 #2 and Comics Magazine Company (CMC) as the publisher.
(4) In the October 1937 issue of Funny Pages the TOC shows Volume 2 #2 and Ultem as the publisher, while the Indicia on the inside front cover shows Volume 2 #3 and Comics Magazine Company (CMC) as the publisher.
With the November 1937 issues of Funny Pages and Funny Picture Stories, there was not an Indicia on the inside front covers while the TOC continues the volume and number sequencing from the September and October issues with Ultem as the publisher.
So the mystery of “did CMC ever publish issues 8 and 9 of Funny Picture Stories” stems from the fact that the indicia on the inside front cover of the September and October 1937 issues of Funny Picture Stories show Volume 1 #10 and Volume 1 #11 by CMC, which leads one to assume that at least the covers of issues 8 and 9 would have been created and printed by CMC.
As mentioned earlier, there was extensive reprinting of CMC material in other company’s books (including Ultem and Centaur). These CMC comics have been documented as the sources of many of the reprints. However, some of the 7-page stories in the Ultem and Centaur books were not in any of the CMC books (CMC was bought by I.W. Ullman and Frank Z. Temerson around April 1937, hence the name Ultem). It’s highly probable that many of these stories were originally intended for Funny Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 8 and 9 and Detective Picture Stories Volume 1 #’s 6 and 7. Note: Funny Pages and Funny Picture Stories were published by Ultem for 5 months, before being sold to Centaur Publications, where they continued to print these titles (see spreadsheet #3 – a comparative chronology).
After CMC sold Western Pictures Stories, no more issues were published. While Ultem did not publish any further issues of Detective Picture Stories, Centaur did continue the series but it was renamed to Keen Detective Funnies but wasn’t published again until July 1938. The first issue of Keen Detective Funnies published by Centaur was Volume 1 #8, which leads one to assume that at least the covers of issues 6 and 7 of Detective Picture Stories would have been created and printed by CMC.
As a side note – Ultem also bought two titles from the Harry Chesler Comic Company “Star Comics” and “Star Ranger.” When Centaur bought Ultem, they also kept printing these two titles as well, but that is a story for another article.
It is my hope that some of this data may clear up some of the misinformation surrounding this topic as well as create a new set of intriguing questions. At any rate, I look forward to hearing from other early NAP, DC, CMC, Ultem and Centaur collectors/historians for any additional information or corrections through Alex Grand of Comic Book Historians.
-Michael Sanchez, writer is one of the country’s foremost authorities on 1930’s comic books
-Jeff Kepley, editor is long time retail and comic sales professional
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Use of images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but merely used for academic purpose.