Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Journey into Fandom: Hero # 1

My next few posts will focus on an early fanzine, Hero, sampling articles by comic book enthusiasts at the dawn of the superhero revival. Many fans, both teenagers who might not have experienced that era firsthand and adults who had actually grown up in the "Golden Age" - a period of time that began in the late 1930s with the debut of Superman in Action Comics # 1, and lasted into the early 1950s - yearned for a return to the fantastic characters that were in short supply for nearly a decade. 

By the 1950s comic book content was dominated by genre material, the most popular being war, western, humor, mystery and romance. The once unbeatable superheroes who dominated the newsstands in the 1940s faded from popularity in the following decade, although a few of National/DC's long-running characters survived, specifically Superman (and related characters), Batman and Wonder Woman. In a period of four years (1956-1960) DC's attempts to update/revise once popular characters such as The Flash, Green Lantern and the "Justice Society of America" (as the Justice League, a more contemporary name that resonated with baseball fans) were tested in anthology titles, met with impressive sales and went on to headline their own titles. Companies such as Archie, Gold Key and Atlas attempted to follow suit, with varying degrees of success. 



The cover to Hero # 1 (December 1962) spotlights DC, Marvel and Gold Key characters. Art is by Buddy Saunders, a prolific fanzine contributor and publisher who would go on to run his own profitable retail business, Lone Star Comics.  

When 28-year-old Jerry Bails published Alter-Ego in 1961, a fanzine celebrating the heroes of his youth and promoting their revival, others followed in his footsteps (fanzines devoted to comic books were inspired by earlier amateur publications devoted to science fiction). Hero was one such publication, crafted by Larry Herndon, who was described in Bill Schelly's intriguing book, The Golden Age of Comic Fandom:

"One of the beautiful things about fandom was that physically challenged individuals could become giants in the fan community. G.B. Love was one example, and so was Larry Herndon of the Texas Trio. Herndon had muscular dystrophy and was generally confined to a wheelchair (though he could get around on crutches). Small of frame, and possessing genuine humility, Larry was one of fandom's most prolific writers and organizers. Editor of Hero, Batwing and later The Nostalgia News, Herndon wrote hundreds of articles, letters and ama-strips."    


Herndon's editorial in Hero # 1 pointed to a growing interest in producing fanzines, which, according to Herndon, consisted of approximately 10 in 1962 - a number that would expand considerably in the years to come. Fanzines became an outlet for kids to share their knowledge and enthusiasm, but, perhaps of greater consideration, it gave them an opportunity to become part of a community. In the isolation of a small town, or the loneliness of a big city, comic book fans might never encounter another like-minded individual. The 1960s didn't have the technology of today's world; the "internet" was something you might read about in a science fiction tale (or superhero comic). Communication with fans outside your environment was problematic, particularly for many teenage fans with limited finances. Long distance phone calls could be quite expensive, so correspondence by mail was the cheapest way to go. Fanzines also provided an outlet for creativity; writing articles and drawing superhero adventures was a form of expression that helped many hone their skills for future professional work (editors such as Stan Lee and Julie Schwartz read and took notice of fanzines. Roy Thomas was one of many writers and artists who contributed to fanzines and later graduated to the pros). 

And, as Herndon succinctly stated, it was also a lot of fun.        

Herndon chose a long article by Harold Julian, "The Hero Boom", to open his debut issue (seen below in its entirety). I'll add a few observations afterward. 




                                         









Although it is only one fans' opinion, Julian represented a segment of the audience that was clearly passionate about comic books. The thoughts he expressed, while awkward in places, conveyed an intense devotion to the subject matter. Julian's article is a 54-year- old chronicle from a period when National/DC was king of the hill, but upstart Marvel Comics (then known as Atlas and barely two years into their burgeoning superhero line) was gaining traction every month, as an awareness of their atypical approach grew.

Like many fans who wrote about comics, Julian focused with razor sharpness on superheroes, claiming that other genres were in decline. When you look at the actual product being published at the time it's obvious that was not the case. (Hero # 1 is dated December 1962, the same month some of the titles it discusses, such as Tales of Suspense # 39 and Amazing Spider-Man # 1 hit the stands. The fanzine was likely mailed out at the end of the month, or perhaps in January of 1963). 

This link to Mike's Amazing World of Comics showcases a "virtual" comic book rack from December 1962:


One was as likely to encounter comics such as Adventures of Bob Hope as they were superhero adventures in a 1962 candy store rack. Cover to # 79, March 1963 cover date. Owen Fitzgerald art. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database http://www.comics.org/ 

It's evident that a wide variety of comics were published every month, including the long-running teen-humor oriented Archie line; Harvey's comic strip/animated output (Caspar, Mutt and Jeff, Sad Sack); Charlton's array of western, war, romance and mystery (Cheyenne Kid, Fightin' Navy, Strange Suspense Stories, Teen Confessions); Dell and Gold Key's humor and television/movie adaptations (Bonanza, Bugs Bunny, Thirteen), along with the considerable non-hero output from National and Atlas (Adventures of Bob Hope, House of Mystery, Our Army at War, Heart Throbs, Kid Colt Outlaw, Millie the Model, Patsy Walker). The total number of superhero and adventure related comics published in December 1962 amounts to 22, as opposed to the non-hero titles, which number 95.  

These comic books, often ignored by fans, were consistent sellers and appealed to the general public, including an important demographic: children. Superheroes and adventure/team titles were the order of the day for a majority of enthusiasts who put pen to paper, though, and their level of intensity will be explored next time out.  

11 comments:

Kid said...

Interesting stuff, Nick. It occurs to me that blogs like yours are the modern equivalent of fanzines of old. One day someone will be doing a post on your contributions to the world of comics and collecting.

Nick Caputo said...

That is a huge compliment Kid. Those guys were pioneers and started the serious discussion of comics. It is an honor to continue in their footsteps in a small way.

Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic find! Many thanks for posting it.

Bob Hughes said...

Super heroes were where the young kids heads were at. I confess at that time, I turned a blind eye to any comic that didn't have a superhero on the cover, except for a handful of Duck books that I acquired somewhere that had a peculiar unexplainable fascination of their own. But the older fans, working from memories of the real forties had wider interests, as shown in the Thompson's fanzines and in the All In Color for a Dime collection. Plus there was an actual war comic fandom separate from the superhero guys. Not sure if they did fanzines or not, but I can't think why they wouldn't.

Crimson said...

The flipside of this is that these more active fans of the superhero genre had an impact on the product, with one of their own even becoming EIC at Marvel within a decade. While that probably helped sell a lot of comic-books and build a kind of community akin to early science fiction fandom, it was also the beginning of the trend of mainstream comics becoming more and more self-referential and insular.

Russ said...

Superhero fans may have had the intensity, but those other genres existed because comics in general were more ubiquitous in the culture. Along with gum cards and monster magazines, comics were usually a part of a kid's landscape before the development of media like computer games and gaming in general, and various other higher tech diversions. Comics were cheap during a relatively affluent period, when home entertainment was limited to three broadcast networks and one had to plan to go out for anything else. If you were a fan of a TV show or film, the closest thing you could get to a record of it was a licensed comic. I remember even the least literate kids I knew had Mad magazines or Hot Rod Cartoons laying around with the rest of their kid junk. Comics are no longer a mass medium (you could almost say the same thing about video and news coverage because the audience has become so stratified) and so there is less variety and more expense as it's winnowed down to a specialty market.

Nick Caputo said...

Bob,

I agree with you that older fans often had wider interests, although a large contingent of fanzine producers focused on the current comics output and the latest titles/artists. This was emphasized a few years later when Neal Adams and Steranko received the most attention in popular fanzines such as Fantastic Fanzine and The Collector. Other fanzines, such as the Thompson's output, Graphic Story Magazine and others, had a larger landscape.

Crimson,

The insular nature of comics may well have marginalized their status, as more fans became part of the business and less interest was devoted in producing different types of material or embracing a younger audience.

Russ,

Well said. I'm of that period when comics were an aspect of kids lives that often included gum cards, magazines and other ephemera. Even those of us who didn't have a lot of spare change were able to purchase some of these items, and even kids that weren't obsessed with comics in the 60s bought Mad, Famous Monsters, romance, hot rod, Archie's and many other titles. Comics have, sadly, become a niche audience, but back in the 1960s it was much more part of the overall popular culture landscape.

Nick Caputo said...

I'd also add, for those new here, my own comics education began when I was 11 years old and read a paperback of All in Color for a Dime. Before that, like Bob Hughes and many fans, I was addicted to the monthly Marvel superhero line, some DC's and other related comics. After a while my older brother John (who was the cash cow that actually bought the comics) began to pick up other comics; mystery, western, etc, book collections of EC reprints and Segar's Popeye. You can read a more detailed account here:

http://nick-caputo.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-journey-begins.html

Dave Palmer said...

A fun article and one that holds up quite well today. Given its date of December 1962 and a mention of Magnus, Robot Fighter (#1 on sale in November as per Mike’s Amazing World of Comics) it had to be written about that time. Interestingly, it leaves off about four or five superhero/adventure series that were then being published by Dell. Mention is made of Kona, which in hindsight may fit more into the superhero/adventurer mold than it does jungle. Missing are Brain Boy, The Frogmen, Space Man, Voyage to the Deep, and, arguably Drift Marlo. Brain Boy, The Frogmen, and Space Man were each up to #3 by that time, and Drift Marlo had reached #2. With Dell’s quarterly schedule it may have been hard to tell if they were still being published, but reference was made to discontinued series (e.g., Captain Atom) so that shouldn’t have been much of a consideration. Possibly, the article gives us some insight into how far off everyone’s radar Dell’s output was at this point. Including Dell’s titles gives even more credibility to the claim of a “hero boom.”

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Dave,

Good point about the missing Dell titles. I wonder if they were left off deliberately or perhaps the author never found them on the comics racks in his neck of the woods?

Wokiki Uae said...

This one is fantastic!