Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quality Comics

Since the Sixties people have been accustomed to think of there being only two monolithic comic book companies: DC and Marvel. During the Golden Age of Comics (roughly 1938 to 1949), however, this was not the case. There were several prominent comic book publishers during those early years. The forerunner of DC Comics, National Comics, was the giant even then, owning as they did both Superman and Batman. Their sister company, All-American, may well have been the second biggest, owning as they did The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and the Justice Society of America. I am not sure who the number three comic book publisher was. It could have been Fawcett Publications, whose Captain Marvel even outsold the Man of Steel at times. That having been said, it is also possible that it could well have been a long defunct publisher known as the Quality Comics Group.

If the name "Quality Comics" doesn't sound familiar, then perhaps some of the characters it published will. Quality Comics was the home of such big names as Blackhawk, Plastic Man, Doll Man, and reprints of The Spirit. All four characters were so popular that they outlasted the Golden Age. Indeed, Plastic Man would barely survive into the Silver Age. The last issue of Plastic Man was cover dated November 1956, one month after the Barry Allen version of The Flash had debuted in Showcase #4, October 1956. Blackhawk would survive into the Silver Age, National Periodical Publications (AKA DC Comics) continuing to publish it until November 1968.

Quality Comics was founded by printer Everett "Busy" Arnold in 1937. Arnold had received his nickname "Busy" as a boy because he talked so much in class that his teachers were always calling him a "busybody." Receiving a degree in economics from Brown University in 1921, Arnold entered the printing business when he became a sales representative for printing press manufacturer Goss Printing Company. He would sell presses to both Eastern Color Printing (who would later publish Famous Funnies #1, May 1934--the first American comic book) and the McClure Syndicate. It was in the Twenties that Arnold learned about colour printing.

Around 1930 Arnold would become the vice president of Greater Buffalo Press after its president Walter Koessler invested in a colour press so as to print Sunday newspaper comics sections. It would be in 1936 that Arnold would have his first brush with the comic book industry. That year he helped John Mahon and Bill Cook, both of whom had worked for National Allied Publications (the ancestor of DC Comics), set up Comics Magazine Inc. Their first comic book, The Comics Magazine, published in May 1936, included both reprints and original features such as Dr. Mystic (the work of Jerry Schuster and Joe Siegel, creators of Superman--Dr. Mystic was essentially the same character as Dr. Occult at DC). The Comics Magazine was renamed The Funny Pages in September of that year. In its November 1936 issue it would featured the first appearance of The Clock, the first masked comic book character.

By 1937 Busy Arnold realised that comic books were a medium which could soon be making a good deal of money. To this end he founded Comic Favorites, Inc in conjunction with the newspaper syndicates the McNaught Syndicate, the Frank J. Markey Syndicate and the Register and Tribune Syndicate in October 1937. That month the company published their first comic book, a collection of reprinted newspaper strips called Feature Funnies. Initially, Harry "A" Chelser would provide the magazine with original material, although eventually Arnold would turn to the famous Eisner-Iger shop for his original material.

Arnold's entry into the world of comic book publishing would not be without its battles. Almost immediately he found himself sued by Eastern Color Printing over the name Feature Funnies, which they maintained infringed upon their own Famous Funnies. Arnold successfully defeated the lawsuit by proving that the word "funnies" had been used for comic strips long before Eastern Color Printing's initial publication of Famous Funnies. Despite the lawsuit from Eastern Color, Comic Favorites Inc. was doing well. The company would acquire The Clock, who made his first appearance in Feature Funnies #3, December 1937. This made The Clock the first masked hero published by what would become Quality Comics. The company would continue to publish him until Crack Comics #35, Autumn, 1944.

Nineteen thirty nine would be a historic year for Arnold's company. Busy Arnold and the Cowles Brothers (who owned the Register and Tribune Syndicate) bought out the shares of both the McNaught and Markey syndicates in Comic Favorites, Inc. Renamed Comic Magazines, Inc., the company would go through a few other changes as well. Feature Funnies was renamed Feature Comics with its twenty first issue, June 1939. It was two months later that the company published Smash Comics #1, August 1939, its first magazine with all new material. In December 1939 the company would also have one of its first big hits, a character who may have also been the company's first superhero. Debuting in Feature Comics #27, December 1939, Doll Man was the creation of Will Eisner, although the character would be most closely associated with artist Reed Crandall. Doll Man was the first hero with the ability to shrink in size, although he kept the strength of a full grown man even at his doll size. Doll Man proved to be very popular, getting his own title, the first issue cover dated autumn 1941. He was published until 1953.

As historic as 1939 would be for Comic Magazines, Inc., 1940 would be even more so. Late in 1939 and early in 1940 Everett Arnold began exploring the idea of a Sunday supplement for newspapers roughly in comic book form. He used his connections with the Greater Buffalo Press to make contact with various editor and showed them a presentation using features already published by Comics Magazines Inc. While nearly all the editors liked the idea, it was an editor from the Washington Star who stated that while he liked The Clock by George Brenner, he did not like the art. He much preferred the art in Lou Fine's comic strip in the presentation. For his part, Busy Arnold was concerned about that Lou Fine might work too slow to meet newspaper deadlines. It was then that Arnold turned to Will Eisner. Eisner then developed The Spirit. The Spirit was a detective named Denny Colt, who was presumed dead. It was with the blessing of his friend the police commissioner that Colt became The Spirit, a masked vigilante operating out of Wildwood Cemetery. Arnold and Eisner worked out an agreement whereby Eisner would essentially retain ownership of The Spirit. The same agreement would apply to the eventual backup features, Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic. "The Spirit Section," as it came to be called, was first published on June 2 1940. "The Spirit Section" proved very popular, lasting until October 5, 1952. From October 1941 to March 1944 there was a daily Spirit strip. The Spirit would also be reprinted in Quality comics titles, including Police Comics starting with #11, October 1942 and running in that title until #42, May 1950, and in his own title from its first issue in 1944 until its twenty second and final issue in August 1950. He has been revived frequently since then, and next year he will have his own major motion picture.

It was in February of 1940 that Comic Magazines Inc. moved from New York City to the Gurley Building in Stamford, Connecticut. It was perhaps because of the move to that city that the company and Arnold's other companies and imprints (such as E.M. Arnold Publications) would become known collectively as "the Quality Comics Group," the Connecticut Historical Society theorising that he perhaps drew the name from Stamford's nickname of the "Quality City." The "Quality Comics Group" imprint would first appear on Crack Comics #5, September 1940. The year would also see the debut of some of Quality's most popular superheroes: Uncle Sam (created by Will Eisner and debuting in National Comics #1, July 1940), The Ray (created by Lou Fine, debuting in Smash Comics #14, September 1940), and Quicksilver (created by Jack Cole and Chuck Mazoujian, first appearing in National Comics #5, November 1940).

By the end of 1940 Quality Comics was established as one of the most successful comic book companies in the industry, with popular characters such as Doll Man and Uncle Sam to its name. Much of the company's success was no doubt due to Everett M. Arnold himself. Busy Arnold could be a bit of a curmudgeon with his artists, alternating between flattering his artists and delivering them stinging criticisms. At the same time, however, Arnold was widely considered the fairest publisher in the industry at the time. He was well known for frequently giving his artists bonuses when he felt that they had done particularly good work. For all his strengths and weaknesses, Arnold attracted the best artists to Quality Comics and most of them worked for him for years. Eisner himself worked with Arnold from 1939 to 1950. Jack Cole worked for him from 1940 to 1953.

It was in August 1941 that two comic books would debut which would insure that Quality Comics would be one of the top companies in the industry during the Golden Age. That month was the cover date for Military Comics #1, which featured the premiere of Blackhawk. Blackhawk was created by Will Eisner, Chuck Cuidera, and Bob Powell. Blackhawk was the otherwise unnamed leader of the Blackhawk Squadron, also called the Blackhawks, a team of ace pilots of several different nationalities (Andre was French, Olaf was Norwegian, Chuck was Texan, and so on). The group appeared in Military Comics until that book became Modern Comics in November 1945. They received their own title in 1944 when Uncle Sam Quarterly became Blackhawk. Blackhawk was popular enough that his title not only survived the Golden Age, but would continue to be published until November 1968 (although after December 1956 it was published by DC, not Quality). Blackhawk would be licensed for publication in the United Kingdom and Australia. It would also inspire a short lived radio show on ABC that ran from September 1950 to December 1950, and a 1952 Columbia serial with Kirk Alyn in the lead role.

Of course, August 1941 also saw the publication of Police Comics #1, which featured the debut of Plastic Man. Plastic Man was the creation of Jack Cole. Cole initially wanted to call the character "India Rubber Man." Busy Arnold disagreed, suggesting that he should name the character after a substance that brought to mind the future--he should call him "Plastic Man." Plastic Man was not the first stretching hero, but he was certainly the most versatile Golden Age character of the type and the only one who lasted beyond an issue or two. He was also strikingly original, as one would expect from Jack Cole. Plas (as he was called for short) started out as "Eel" O'Brian, a petty hoodlum. He and his gang were robbing a a chemical plant when they were surprised by the night watchman. O'Brien escaped, but only after he had been wounded and covered in chemicals. Realising that his fellow gang members had abandoned him, he turned his back on crime and used his new powers (to stretch into any shape) to fight it. The following issue he received a sidekick in the form of Woozy Winks, who was bumbling and overweight, but blessed by a gypsy so no harm would ever become him. Together the two fought some of the most bizarre supervillains ever. Cole wrote Plastic Man in a half serious, half humorous style with a completely off the wall visual sense. Plastic Man could literally become anything. Plastic Man proved to be very popular. He received his own title in 1943. He lasted in Police Comics until it became a crime comic book with #102, October 1950. His own title would survive exactly one month into the Silver Age, ending with issue #64, November 1956. Strangely, despite the character's popularity, it would take DC ten years before they revived him. Despite this fact, he would influence such Silver Age characters as Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four and the Elongated Man of DC Comics.

Already owning such popular characters as Doll Man and Uncle Sam, the addition of Blackhawk, Plastic Man, and The Spirit only added to the company's success. Quality would add one more successful character to its roster before the end of World War II. Kid Eternity debuted in Hit Comics #25, December 1942, a book which, despite its title, was in much need of a hit. Created by Otto Binder and Sheldon Moldoff, Kid Eternity proved to be the hit the title needed. He was an unnamed kid who died when Germans sunk the ship he was on. About to enter the afterlife, the Gatekeeper decided that he must have died by mistake and so Mr. Keeper, the entity who had made the clerical error, was charged with the responsibility for the kid. It was Mr. Keeper who gave him a unique superpower. Using the word "Eternity" he could summon any historical or mythological figure to come to his aid. Kid Eternity proved popular. He starred in Hit Comics until it ended its run with #60, September 1949. He received his own magazine in Spring 1946. It lasted until November 1949. He has been revived by DC Comics from time to time since then.

The end of World War II also saw superheroes begin a slow decline in popularity. Quality then began to expand into other genres. Among those genres was humour. Tall, leggy, blonde Torchy had been created by artist Bill Ward while in the military and her strip had been carried by Army newspapers around the world. When Ward returned from the war, it was Quality Comics who published Torchy. She started as a backup in Doll Man with issue #8, Spring 1946. She appeared there until #28, May 1950. She also appeared in Modern Comics from issue #53, September 1946 to September 1949 and her own title from November 1949 to September 1950. Another enduring humour character at Quality was Marmaduke Mouse. The chief lackey of King Louie (a lion), he first appeared in Hit Comics #35, Spring 1944. He received his own title in Spring 1946. Ultimately, it would last until #65, December 1956, making it the last comic book ever published by Quality. In the end, Marmaduke Mouse would be Quality Comic's fourth longest lasting feature, after Blackhawk, Plastic Man, and Doll Man. Quality had other humour titles as well, including All-Humor Comics, which ran from 1946 to 1949. Candy was their teen humour feature. She debuted in Police Comics #37, December 1944. She received her own title in Autumn 1947. She lasted in Police Comics until it became a crime title in 1950. Her own title lasted until #64, July 1956. Other humour titles included Gabby and Jonesy.

Like many comic book companies at the time, Quality Comics would also take to publishing Westerns. Crack Comics became Crack Western with #63, November 1949. Quality Comics would take an even bigger leap into the burgeoning romance genre. Starting in 1949, they published such titles as Campus Loves and Flaming Love. In all, the Quality Comics Group would publish over 15 different romance titles before it closed its doors. Its most successful romance title would be Heart Throbs first published in August 1949. The final issue published by Quality was #46, December 1956, making it one of the last titles published by the company. DC published it thereafter, until #146, October 1972. It was then retitled Love Stories and lasted until #152, November 1973. This makes it one of Quality's longest running titles (alongside Blackhawk) when its DC run is counted as well--over 24 years.

Quality also expanded into crime comic books, although their titles were always much tamer than those published by Lev Gleason (Crime Does Not Pay) and E.C. Comics (Crime SuspenStories). Police Comics became a crime anthology with #103, December 1950. It would last in that format until its cancellation with #127, October 1953. One of the characters featured in its new format, private eye Ken Shannon, would receive his own title in October 1951. It lasted until April 1952. Another character, Treasury Agent Trask, appeared in Police Comics with #103, December 1950 as well. His feature was renamed "T-Man" after two issues. Trask received his own title, T-Man #1, in September 1951. T-Man #38, December 1956, was among the last titles Quality ever published. Oddly enough, despite the popularity of T-Man, DC Comics did not pick up the title. Quality Comics' other crime features never received their own books, but included Inspector Denver and Dan Leary, State Trooper.

Quality Comics would also expand into, for lack of any better term, the adventure genre. These were titles that might be set in different time periods, but can be more or less classified together because of their emphasis on derring-do. In some ways such swashbuckling adventures were nothing new for Quality Comics. The Gallant Knight was featured in early issues of Feature Comics. Abdul the Arab had a home in Smash Comics. The Fifties would see Quality Comics publish titles that specialised in swashbuckling adventure. Buccaneers lasted for eight issues from 1950 to 1951. A much more successful title was Robin Hood Tales, beginning with #1, February 1956. In fact, Robin Hood Tales would last until the very end of the Quality Comics Group, #6, December 1956 being among the last magazines published by the company. It became one of the few titles that was continued by National Periodical Publications. who published it for seven more issues, until #14, April 1958. It may have been possibly cancelled due to sales, although it is also possible that it was discontinued becuase National Periodical Publications had already been publishing its own Robin Hood stories in the pages of The Brave and the Bold (its own adventure title) since #5, April-May 1956. Quality Comics also published The Exploits of Daniel Boone from #1, November 1955 to #6, October 1956, nine years before the Fess Parker TV show debuted.

Quality Comics would also publish war comics. Of course during World War II Military Comics included such features as Blackhawk, The Death Patrol, and The Sniper. And Blackhawk had been published for years. The Fifties would see an important new war title. G.I. Combat debuted in October 1952. It had started out with an anti-Communist bent, but moved more towards World War II stories as time wore on. It proved popular enough that after Quality published its last issue with #43, December 1956, DC Comics picked it right up, publishing it until #281, January 1986. Counting in its run under DC Comics, G.I. Combat would be the longest running Quality title of all time, surviving a full 34 years. While at DC Comics, G.I. Combat would see the debut of some of its most popular war features, including Sgt. Rock and The Haunted Tank. Quality also published Yanks in Battle for a mere four issues in 1956. It was not picked up by DC Comics.

In 1950 Busy Arnold would buy out the Cowles Brothers shares in Quality, making him the sole owner. Sadly, for Arnold there were dark days ahead for comic books. The late Forties saw the beginning of the outcry over violence in comic books. Such protests would only become more pronounced as the Fifties progressed. The loudest voice in this anti-comic book hysteria was Dr. Frederic Wertham, a liberally leaning psychiatrist who was convinced sex and violence in comic books caused delinquency in children. Quality was much more responsible than many other comic book companies of the time. In fact, Dr. Wertham's notorious book Seduction of the Innocent, only refers to one Quality title. Even DC Comics, whose magazines of the time are generally considered the tamest outside of Archie Comics, were mentioned more!

Still, even Quality Comics would come under attack. Torchy had been one of Quality Comics' most popular features. Sadly, while the feature was totally innocent (Torchy Todd was guilty of no more than being pretty), Torchy was listed by Dr. Frederic Wertham in 1950 as being among the comic book titles that was unacceptable for children to read. Quality Comics stopped publishing Torchy for that reason. Another attack upon another Quality title would come a few years later. With Web of Evil #1, November 1952, the company would make its only entry in the horror genre. Web of Evil was tamer than other horror titles of the time, but even it would be mentioned in Seduction of the Innocent. Web of Evil would not be a success at any rate. It only lasted until #21, December 1954. Supposedly, the final issue of The Spirit, #22, August 1951, was mentioned in the New York State Joint Legislative Committee to Study Comic Books as well. Other than those three titles, the only time Quality Comics came under attack was when an ad appearing in their magazines for books called How to Hypnotize--A Master Key to Hypnotism was mentioned by Wertham in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

Regardless, in the end the anti-comic book hysteria would hurt the sales of all comic book titles, particularly from 1954 to 1956. And in many respects Quality Comics was not the powerhouse it had been in the Golden Age of comic books. Their greatest strength was always their superhero line. When the superhero craze began to fade away after 1945, Quality would lose what were once some of their most popular characters. It was a perhaps a sign of the times that in 1950 Quality Comics published 153 titles, but by 1951 they were down to publishing only 84 titles (the bulk of cancelled titles were from their romance line). Even the two juggernauts the company published, Blackhawk and Plastic Man did not sell as they once did. Blackhawk had started out as tied to World War II. When the Blackhawk Squadron no longer had Nazis to fight, the series lost something of its former glory. Jack Cole had left Plastic Man in 1950. While such talents as Alex Kotzky and John Spranger took over in his stead, no one could truly replace Jack Cole on Plastic Man. The title suffered in comparison to what it had once been with Cole on the book, and this was reflected in its sales.

Other matters would make it even more difficult for comic book companies to survive in 1956. The American News Company was the largest and oldest magazine distributor in the United States. With the exception of National Periodical Publications (AKA DC Comics), which was distributed by Independent News (owned by DC itself), the vast majority of comic book publishers were carried by the American News Company. It was in 1956 that the Department of Justice found the American News Company guilty of restraint of trade. As a result, it had to divest itself of every newsstand it owned. The effect on the comic book companies was devastating. Some companies simply went out of business. What would become Marvel Comics nearly did; they had to cut back on the number of titles they published and go to DC Comics and Independent News for distribution. I have never read if Quality Comics was among the companies affected by the collapse of the American News Company, but it would not surprise me in the least.

With sales in decline, Everett M. "Busy" Arnold decided to leave the comic book industry. He sold Quality Comics--lock, stock, and barrel--to National Periodical Publications (DC Comics). Quality Comics published its last magazines in December 1956, surviving only two months into the Silver Age. DC Comics continued to publish Blackhawk, G.I. Combat, and Heart Throbs for years. They would revive Plastic Man in 1966 and yet more times over the years. In the Seventies they would bring back many of the other Quality Comics characters, from Kid Eternity to Doll Man. But sadly, Quality Comics was gone after 19 years of existence.

As to Busy Arnold, having sold Quality Comics, he founded Arnold Magazines Inc. and entered the Men's Adventure field. He published such titles as Homicide Detective Story Magazine and Crime and Justice Detective Story Magazine. Arnold's magazine, Classic Photography, would be deemed obscene by the U.S. Postal Service in 1957, innocuous as it would seem now.

Of course, the question remains, how different would comic book history be if Busy Arnold had not closed the Quality Comics Group in 1956? It is possible that Arnold could have sought another solution other than selling his titles and characters to National Periodical Publications. What would become Marvel survived by cutting back on titles and going to Independent News for distribution. The American Comics Group, the small company known for Herbie and Adventures into the Unknown, cut back on their titles after 1956 and editor Richard Hughes wrote nearly every story from that time forward. Charlton, a small publisher also based out of Connecticut, survived because they kept their operating costs exceedingly low (it was notorious as the company which paid its artists the lowest rates in the industry). It is then conceivable that Quality Comics could have survived.

Indeed, as of 1956, the Quality Comics Group was still publishing several titles. Candy, Marmaduke Mouse, Plastic Man, T-Man, and several romance titles survived to the very end. Blackhawk, G.I. Combat, Heart Throbs, and Robin Hood Tales would survive the demise of the company, published by National Periodical Publications (although Robin Hood Tales only lasted another year). Quality Comics could have survived, especially if they had cut back on titles (a few of the romance titles could have easily have gone). Indeed, it was in October 1956 that an event occurred that turned the fortunes of comic books around for the next decade. That month was the cover date of Showcase #4, the comic book which launched the Silver Age with the debut of the Barry Allen version of The Flash. With a staple of Golden Age characters much richer than most companies, the Quality Comics Group could have eventually joined the new rush for superheroes. Plastic Man was still being published at the end of 1956. They could have revived such classic heroes as Doll Man, Kid Eternity, Quicksilver, The Ray, and Uncle Sam. And with the roster of artists that Busy Arnold always employed, the company could have easily produced brand new superheroes. In the end, with National Periodical Publications publishing new superheroes, Quality Comics could have made the industry too crowded for Marvel Comics to have risen from the ashes. Today we might still speak of two monolithic comic book companies, but instead it would be DC Comics and the Quality Comics Group.

Even though the Quality Comics Group did not survive the year 1956, it would be Quality Comics that would be Busy Arnold's greatest legacy. The Spirit is one of the most famous characters to emerge from the Golden Age of comics, and has been published on and off ever since. Both Blackhawk and Plastic Man survived the Golden Age and are still relatively well known characters. G. I. Combat became one of the longest running war titles in the history of comics, although it spent the vast majority of its years at DC. Although few today would recognise its name, Quality Comics was a giant in the comic book field in the Golden Age, and its influence continues to be felt even today.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy July 4th, 2008!

This is a holiday, so I thought I would keep this post to a short simple message for my American readers!

I want you to have a Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Larry Harmon, Long Time Bozo the Clown, Passes On

Larry Harmon, who took Bozo the Clown and turned him into a licensing phenomenon, died from congestive heart failure. He was 83 years old.

Larry Harmon was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1925. It was while he was studying at the University of Southern California that he became interested in theatre. He went into acting, with little success. He appeared in an uncredited parts in Too Young to Kiss in 1951 and Invitation and Because You're Mine, both in 1952. In 1952 he bought the robot Gort from the classic When the Earth Stood Still, with the intent of using the prop in a pilot called General Universe. The pilot was never made, although Harmon found himself hosting a space oriented children's show called Commander Comet on KNBC in Los Angeles (he did use Gort on that show).

While Larry Harmon long played Bozo the Clown and was responsible for making the character famous, he was not the clown's creator. Bozo was created in 1946 at Capitol Records by producer Alan Livingston. Livingston developed the idea of a record which would come with a book. Children could read the book as the record played. It would essentially be the first "read along" book and record. The narrator of the record was Bozo the Clown. As the voice of Bozo Livingston hired Pinto Colvig, the voice of Goofy and other voices for Disney, as well as being an animator at the studio. The success of the read along book, Bozo at the Circus, was such that Capitol would make even more read along books, fifteen of them featuring Bozo. It was in 1949 on KTLA that Bozo made his television debut in Bozo's Circus, with Pinto Colvig playing the role. The series lasted a year. A syndicated version, released a year later, lasted but briefly as well. Dell Comics would even release a Bozo the Clown comic book in 1950. He would get a regular, quarterly title in 1951, which would last until 1954.

Bozo's popularity naturally created demand for personal appearances by the clown. To keep up with that demand, Alan Livingston then hired several actors in different cities to portray the clown. Among them was young, struggling actor Larry Harmon. Harmon immediately recogised the marketing potential of the character of Bozo. It was in 1956 that Larry Harmon and a group of investors bought the rights to the character (he would not get the rights to Capitol Record's recordings until 1971). It was Harmon who came up with the revolutionary idea of franchising the character to television stations across the United States. Eventually, many cities across the country would have their own Bozo the Clown. Future Today weatherman (and also the first man to play Ronald McDonald) Willard Scott was the Bozo for Washington D.C. Bob Bell was the long running Bozo at WGN in Chicago (actor Dan Castellaneta credits Bell's Bozo as the inspiration for the voice of Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons.

Larry Harmon would not stop with simply licensing Bozo to many stations across the U.S. He also produced a series of cartoon shorts for television under the title Bozo, the World's Most Famous Clown, in 1958, 1959, and 1962. Harmon would also produce a nationally syndicated show, Bozo's Big Top, with Frank Avruch as Bozo, from 1965 to 1967.

Larry Harmons' empire would not end with Bozo. He bought the rights to the likenesses of comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in 1961,.With Laurel's blessing, Harmon's intent was not only to make Laurel and Hardy cartoons, but to also sell Laurel and Hardy merchandise. In 1966, with Hanna-Barbera, Harmon produced a series of Laurel and Hardy cartoons for television. His animated versions of Laurel and Hardy would later guest star on The New Scooby-Doo Movies in the Seventies. He would also produce a live action, direct to video movie, The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy in For Love or Mummy in 1999.

Harmon was also responsible for many of the Popeye cartoons of the Sixties. From 1960 to 1962, Larry Harmon Studios was among the studios hired by King Features Syndicate to produce the 220 new Popeye cartoons. Larry Harmon Studios would also work on The Dick Tracy Show and Mister Magoo cartoons made specifically for television for UPA in 1960. He would also be the announcer in the English dubbed versions of the Tintin cartoons and animated feature films released here from 1959 to 1962. Larry Harmon Studios would produce one live action, TV movie, It's Good to Be Alive (based on the life of Brooklyn Dodger Roy Campanella).

Although Larry Harmon did not create Bozo, as he sometimes claimed, he was certainly responsible for making the character popular. Had Harmon not bought the rights to Bozo and franchised the character across the United States (something previously done with the show Romper Room), it was quite possible that the character may have been forgotten by the Fifties. As it was, WGN's version of the show lasted until 2001. Versions in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Philadelphia lasted nearly as long--circa 1993 and 1999 respectively. The character would appear in scores of merchandise, as well as 163 animated shorts. And while Harmon hardly created Laurel and Hardy, he was responsible for creating new, official Laurel and Hardy merchandise for the team's new audience of fans raised on their classic shorts rerun on television. Harmon may never have become an actor as he originally wanted to be, but he was very successful as a merchandiser.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Actor Henry Beckman Passes On

Canadian actor Henry Beckman passed on June 17, 2008. He starred in literally hundreds of hours of film, TV shows, and stage plays.

Henry Beckman was born November 21, 1921 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before he turned 18 he lied about his age to enter the Canadian military in 1939. He was among the troops to go ashore during the Invasion of Normandy. Following World War II he ran the Dukes Oak Theatre in Cooperstown, New York and appeared in various stage plays. He made his Broadway debut in 1950 in the comedy The Golden State. He would appear twice more on Broadway, in the plays Darkness at Noon in 1951 and The Deep Blue Sea in 1953.

Beckman made his television debut in a guest shot on The Philco Television Playhouse in 1951. He made his first appearance on the big screen in Niagra in 1953 in an uncredited role as a motorcycle cop. Beckman was a regular on the Fifties Flash Gordon TV series, playing Commander Paul Richards. In the Fifties he made guest appearances on such shows as Decoy, Police Station, and Peter Gunn. He also appeared in the film So Lovely... So Deadly in 1957, in his first credited movie role.

It was in the Sixties that Beckman's career went into full swing. He played George Anderson on Peyton Place from 1964 to 1965. He was also a regular on the series Here Come the Brides later in the decade. He guest starred on such diverse shows as Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Route 66, The Twilight Zone, My Living Doll (where he played Dr. Carl Miller, the man who developed the android Rhoda), Combat, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Perry Mason, The Monkees, The Wild Wild West, and Bonanza. He appeared in such films as Breakfast in Tiffany's (in an uncredited part), Kiss Me, Stupid, The Satan Bug, and Madigan.

Beckman's career continued unabated in the Seventies. He guest starred on such shows as Night Gallery, Love, American Style, The Sixth Sense, Columbo, Ironside, Happy Days, and Welcome Back, Kotter. He appeard in the movies Between Friends, Devil Times Five, and The Brood. From the Eighties into the Nineties Beckman guest starred on such shows as Quincy, Matt Houston, Fame, Ray Bradbury Theatre, The Commish, and The X-Files. He appeared in the films Death Hunt, Family Reunion, and I Love You to Death.

Beckman had also wrote scripts and was a member of the Writers Guild of America. He wrote the book How to Sell your Film Project.

Henry Beckman was a prolific and versatile actor whose name is probably not recognised by many people, but whose face is probably instantly recognisable to everyone due to his many television and film roles. He was capable of playing a wide array of parts, from a hard edged prosecutor on The Monkees to a laudanum addict on Gunsmoke. And he performed in all of these parts equally well. He was last of a dying breed, a great character actor who largely made his living through many guest shots on television.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Answers to the Marvel Comics Quiz

Here are the answers of the Marvel Comics Quiz of June 23.

1. What was the first Marvel comic book ever published (clue, it dates all the way back to 1939)?

Marvel Comics #1, October 1939.

2. What classic characters appeared in that first Marvel comic book?

The original Human Torch. It would techicnally be the second appearance of The Sub-Mariner, who debuted in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly (only a few sample copies were published).

3. Captain America debuted in what issue of what comic book?

Captain America Comics #1, March 1941. Captain America would be the first comic book character to debut in his own magazine.

4. What was the first character ever created by Stan Lee?

The Destroyer, in Mystic Comics #6, August 1941.

5. When did The Fantastic Four debut?

In November 1961, the cover date of The Fantastic Four #1.

6. Following The Fantastic Four, what was the next important Marvel Comics character to debut?

The Hulk, in The Incredible Hulk #1, May 1962.

7. Spider-Man debuted in the final issue of what obscure Marvel title?

It was Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962.

8. Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, was based on what famous millionaire industrialist?

Howard Hughes

9. Who were the original members of The Avengers?

Ant-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and The Wasp

10. What is Dr. Strange's full name?

Dr. Stephen Vincent Strange

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Should Analog Become Astounding?

Analog Science Fiction and Fact is not simply the oldest science fiction magazine around. It is also one of the few remnants from the era of the pulps, alongside the few remaining confessional and mystery magazines. Of course, it wasn't always called Analog Science Fiction and Fact. When it was first published in January 1930, it was called Astounding Stories.

Astounding Stories of Super-Science was originally published by Clayton Magazines (which also published such titles as Jungle Stories, Cowboy Stories, and Ace-High Magazine). Astounding Stories of Super-Science paid much better than its rival, Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories and soon attracted the best pulp writers, among them Paul Ernst, Murray Leinster, and Jack Williams. Even so, in the beginning its primary focus was on action-adventure with just enough science to add plausibility. It was while the magazine was still published by Clayton that it underwent its first change in title. In February 1931 it was shortened from Astounding Stories of Super-Science to Astounding Stories.

While Astounding Stories was very successful, Clayton Magazines was not. At first the company tried to make up for its financial problems by changing its publication schedules. With the June 1932 issue, Astounding Stories went from monthly to bimonthly. Unfortunately, this helped very little. An attempt by Clayton Magazines to simply buy their printer proved disastrous, as they hadn't the money to complete the transaction. In October 1932 Clayton Magazines decided to stop publishing Astounding Stories, with January 1933 planned as the last issue. When it was found that there were more than enough stories in their inventory, they decided to make the March 1933 issue the last issue. That April Clayton Magazines went bankrupt and sold their titles to Street and Smith, the legendary giant of pulp magazine publishing. Street and Smith published their first issue of Astounding Stories in October 1933.

Street and Smith was easily the largest pulp magazine publisher on the market. Their magazines included some of the most popular titles, many of which are still well known today (The Shadow and Doc Savage among them). Street and Smith was able to take Astounding Stories where Clayton Magazines never would have been able to. By the mid-1934, the circulation for Astounding Stories was 50,000, twice that of rival Amazing Stories. Street and Smith also brought other changes to Astounding Stories. The first editor Street and Smith appointed, F. Orlin Tremaine, took the magazine in a much more serious vein. Rather than simply writing adventure stories with a bit of science, he encouraged writers to write more purely science fiction stories.

Other editors would continue on the course set by Tremaine, but it would be John W. Campbell (perhaps best known as the author of Who Goes There, the novella upon which both versions of The Thing were based) who would take Astounding Stories into its Golden Age. Campbell renamed the magazine again in March 1938, giving it the name Astounding Science-Fiction. He also made Astounding Science-Fiction much more of a hard science fiction publication, encouraging writers to consider how technology and science would develop in times to come and how such technology and science would change society. It was while Campbell was editor that Lester del Rey, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt were all first published in the magazine.

It was while Campbell was editor that Astounding Science-Fiction underwent one of its biggest changes. Costs rose for pulp magazine publishers so that by 1941 many magazines would make the change from the standard pulp size to a digest size (5 1/2 by 8 1/4 inches). Starting with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 1941, many pulp magazines would follow suit. It was in 1943 that Astounding Science-Fiction went to the digest size, becoming the first science fiction magazine to do so. In a much more minor change, Astounding Science Fiction would lose the hyphen between "science" and "fiction" with the November 1946 issue.

Astounding Science Fiction would only undergo minor title changes until 1960. It was that year that Joseph W.Campbell finally changed the magazine's title. Campbell has always thought that the name Astounding was both too juvenile and too sensational. As early as 1946 he has started printing "Astounding" in a smaller script than the words "science fiction," effectively deemphasising it. In 1960, then Campbell changed the magazine's title to Analog. From February to September 1960 the logo changed, with the letters "A" remaining the same but the letters "stounding" fading while the letters "nalog" became more and more visible.

While I disagree with John W. Campbell regarding the name Astounding, given his dislike of the name I can understand why he fell upon the word "analogue." It resembles the word "astounding" to a very small degree. And at the time the word probably seemed very futuristic. It brings to mind analogue signals, analogue computers, and the term "analogue" from chemistry. But in these days of the digital revolution, the word "analogue" sounds old fashioned. After all, all broadcast television stations in the United States will cease broadcasting in analogue after February 17, 2009, after which they will only broadcast in digital. And most of us know that when it comes to cell phones, a digital signal is far better than analogue (You can't even text using analogue!). The term "analogue" now sounds antiquated and even quaint. It is hardly the name one would expect of a premiere science fiction magazine.

It then seems to me that the time may be right for Analog to return to its original name of Astounding. Joseph W. Campbell may have thought the name was juvenile and sensational, but I think instead it has a more timeless appeal. It certainly brings to mind the magazine's Golden Age, when men such as Heinlein and van Vogt were writing for it. At the same time, however, it is an adjective signifying astonishment, amazement, wonder...reactions one might reasonably expect to the miracles of science. This gives the term "astounding" a much more timeless quality than "analogue," which now sounds very old fashioned. Maybe it is time for Analog Science Fiction and Fact to become Astounding Science Fiction again.