Friday, September 19, 2008

Volume Three, Number Eight

Back in E-DISPATCHES Vol. 3, No. 5, I tossed out a challenge to you readers as to which comics company that operated anywhere between the earliest days of the comics industry in the 1930s to around 1956 you thought was the most in innovative, diverse and overall the most creative in the types of material it published. So far no one's taken up my challenge so I thought I'd get the ball rolling by talking about my choice; Magazine Enterprises.

Started by Vincent Sullivan in late 1943, Magazine Enterprises (ME) was what many regarded as a second-tier comics publisher (with first-tier publishers being such companies as National/DC and Fawcett), but from its line up I'm not certain that's a fair description.

During ME's fifteen years of existence, the company's stable consisted of a wide range of genres-second only to perhaps Dell-including westerns, crime, humour, jungle, historical adventure, romance and of course, superheroes. Titles that appeared under the ME bullet included "Badmen of the West", "Straight Arrow", "The American Air Force", "Jet Powers", "Cave Girl" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Many of these titles appeared in a rotating anthology titled "A-1 Comics" that for reasons I've never been able to figure out used a dual numbering system. For example, "Hot Dog" #3 was also "A-1 Comics" #34 and "Undercover Girl" #7 was also "A-1 Comics" #118.

Sullivan-who entered the comics industry in the 1930s working as National Allied Publications (the forerunner of DC Comics, Inc.) and in 1940 teamed up with McNaught Newspaper Syndicate to create Columbia Comics-had a number of contacts in Hollywood and made use of them to produce comics starring actors such as Dick Powell and Tim Holt. Sullivan also had a superb bullpen of artists to chose from including Dick Ayers, Bob Powell, Wally Wood, Fred Guardeneer and Frank Frazetta. While most of ME's titles have faded from the collective memory of most of today's comics fans there are a few that continue to stand out; most notably "Ghost Rider" and Frank Frazetta's "Thun'da", the latter having the distinction of being adapted into what ended up being the last jungle movie serial (released by Columbia Pictures in 1952). ME was also the home of a nicely crafted but short-lived humourous comics series by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster titled "Funnyman".

So why, if Magazine Enterprises was such a great company, did it go out of business? The same reason so many other great companies went out of business between 1954 and 1958; a combination of lagging sales, the comic book witch hunt and the affects the Comics Code had on the quality of the material. (The supernaturally oriented Ghost Rider, for example, was replaced after the introduction of the Comics Code with the more pedestrian and rather lame Presto Kid; a western about a cowboy who used stage magic to win the day). All this combined resulted in Sullivan closing the doors of Magazine Enterprises in 1958.

I'm sure there's some of you out there who will question my choice of Magazine Enterprises and you are more than welcome to do so at . And don't forget to visit my buddy The Groovy Agent's blog about comics of the 1970s at . That's it for this week. See you in 7-days.

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