Friday, January 24, 2014

Gems in early Fanzines - The Comic Reader

The early fanzines had a charm, enthusiasm and energy that continues to fascinate me. So many of the pioneers produced work that is historically important and filled with the essence of youth, a wide-eyed spirit that filled many ink stained pages. There are many gems sprinkled throughout the aging, small-press fanzines (some with a print run of 300 or less) and I thought one of the most important, The Comic Reader, would be a good place to start.

The father of fanzines, Jerry Bails is worthy of praise for producing Alter- Ego alone, but his accomplishments are many and varied. After passing AE to Roy Thomas, Bails produced the Comicollector and On The Drawing Board, which included comic book news and information of the pros. Bails discussed his early contributions in Bill Schelly's exceptional book, Comic Fandom Reader:

"My initial conception of Alter-Ego turned out to be unrealistic. I wanted well-researched articles and features, comic strips, news, and ads. Each of these features demanded different deadlines. The Comicollector was the first spin-off in September 1961. Eventually the "On The Drawing Board" news feature became a separate newsletter, which later evolved into The Comic Reader. All of these publications had a life long after my tenure, each becoming more and more professional over the years."       

A page from an early issue of The Comic Reader, possibly # 25, has two pages of news items on Marvel, DC, Dell and Charlton, as well as magazine related comic book articles. George Tuska's announcement as new artist on the Human Torch was premature - although he drew a few stories for Marvel early on, he would not return full  time until 1967, as inker and soon long-time artist on Iron-Man. Dick Rockwell also never went on to Giant-Man, replaced by a Steve Ditko fill-in (Tales to Astonish # 61, Nov 1964)    

TCR had many interesting features and often contacted creators, many of whom were surprised and flattered by the attention. On this page from TCR # 27 July 1964 (now taken over by Glen Johnson), aside from items on Frank Thorne, DC's Phantom Stranger and Curt Swan, there is background info by Chuck Cuidera and Joe Certa, both solid artists who had long careers in comic books. It's a pleasure to discover a little about Certa's career. In later years many of the old pros were ignored, with emphasis on the latest fan favorite, an opportunity missed that, in many cases, can never be rectified.    

In addition to his work for DC on a variety of features, notably John Jones, Manhunter from Mars, Joe Certa drew a variety of features for Gold Key over the years, including a long run on Dark Shadows, based on the popular ABC daytime soap opera.Don Arneson script, Ben Oda letters, from Dark Shadows # 5, May 1970.

With contacts throughout the industry, including Nelson Bridwell, Julie Schwartz, Jack Schiff, Murray Boltinoff, Pat Masulli, Ray Miller and Russ Manning, TCR had a good deal of accurate information and the ability to report on much of the industry. We're still waiting for that Harlan Ellison Hawkman story, though! From The Comic Reader # 30, October 1964

 Displaying a fair-minded and thoughtful personality even when he was a fan, Roy Thomas makes his case in a letter from TCR # 30    

These two pages from TCR # 32, Dec 1964, are one of the most important facets of early fandom. Where else could one find information on the Dell creators, who were rarely credited in the comics? Here we get information on not only the artists, but writers, cover painters, letterers and colorists. I've discovered much while perusing through the early fanzines, and it is a credit to those early fans that they were interested in the diversity of writers, artists and companies.

Not only were editors generous with their time, many artists were too, taking the time out of their busy schedules to draw for a small press publication. Steve Ditko was one of the most generous and here he does an excellent rendition of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, from the Comic Reader # 33, January 1965. There will be more Ditko and more on The Comic Reader, coming soon. 


Kid said...

Fascinating, Nick. Are theses fanzines from your own collection? Talking of Ditko fanzine art, I seem to recall that he once berated the producer of one fanzine for the way he had printed some drawing of his, and expressed regret at trying to help people in this way because he always got 'burned'. He could be quite prickly, could Mr D.

Steven Thompson said...

I love this kind of stuff, Nick. Thanks.

Fred Hembeck wrote extensively on the NON-appearance of the Rockwell story a few years ago.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Kid,

Yes, all from my collection, gathered over many years. I believe Ditko had some issues over how one of his stories (not sketches) was printed, and another instance where his original art was not returned to him. This was after years of doing sketches and having his stories published in fanzines, though.


More to come soon. I recall reading some background info on Rockwell's non-appearance, although I thought it was Evanier who discussed it. Have to check that out again.

Kid said...

According to Bill Schelly in his 'Sense of Wonder - A Life in Comic Fandom', Ditko took exception to him printing (in a fanzine) a drawing of Doctor Strange he'd sent him without first asking permission. Ditko's rebuke: "You should not have assumed that the drawing I had sent you was for publication. You should have asked my permission. This isn't the first time I've been treated inconsiderately by members of fandom, which is why I've stopped sending out drawings to fans."

It wouldn't have helped that Bill used a mimeograph machine with less than perfect results. I'm sure that Ditko was just as prickly over his stories 'though, just like you say.

C. Elam said...

Well, the Harlan Ellison Hawkman story *did* surface - sorta. It served as the basis for AVENGERS #101 (July 1972). There is an article about it, with a revised version of the Hawkman script in an issue of ALTER EGO. I don't remember the exact number, but it looks like it is #31.

Nick Caputo said...


Thanks for reminding me of that bit of info that I had forgotten about.

Captain Blog said...

The guys producing these were so young and it does show at times, but the enthusiasm shows more. Love this stuff! Keep it up!
(and visit my fanzine blog-

Nick Caputo said...


There is certainly a rawness to these early fanzines, but I think that's one of the charms.

Thanks for the kind words. I look forward to checking out your blog.