The Timely Comics Story


Why am I devoting a whole page to Timely Comics? Why does anyone do anything? Because there are no good web resources for this sort of information, and I'm vain enough to think that I can provide...if not a definitive web resource for Timely Comics, then a darn good one; because I'm interested enough in the subject to make the effort to write this up; because something like this needs to be done; and because the Kirby Mafia is holding my dog hostage.

The real genesis of this page came about when I was writing my essays on the Timely characters (which you can find here). It's not enough, as a critic, to write about the characters themselves; the context in which they appeared is important, as well. It's one thing to say that the Thin Man was a one-shot character, done entertainingly by Klaus Nordling; it's quite another thing - and a more important thing, critically - to point out that the readers of the Thin Man would undoubtedly have been aware of the Thin Man movies, or that the Thin Man actually predates the more famous Plastic Man. A good critic should note these things.

However, finding out this information proved to be a bugger. I have a good reference library of information on Golden Age comics, but there was much information that proved to be impossible to find. And the web - the wondrous World Wide Web, about which so much hype has been written - provided shockingly little useful information. The resources out there are slim.

So I, ever-ambitious, decided to fill in this gap myself.

All of that said - what is "Timely Comics"? Well, the more accurate question is, "What were Timely Comics?" Way back in the late 1930s and 1940s, there was no "Marvel Comics." (For that matter, there was no "DC Comics," either, but that's not really relevant here) There was "Timely Publications." Timely was the predecessor to the Marvel Comics that we all know and love today. Timely was where Joe Simon & Jack Kirby created Captain America. Timely was where Bill Everett's Sub-Mariner became famous. Timely was where Carl Burgos' Human Torch became famous. Timely Publications was not as important, during the Golden Age, as All-American/National (the two companies that eventually became DC Comics), Fawcett, or (arguably) Quality, but they were the source from which Marvel Comics sprang, and so Timely has a place of historical importance.

There is a paucity of information on the World Wide Web on Timely Comics, as you may have noticed. There are a number of reasons for this.

In part, it's because the general level of quality of comics of that era were, to put it frankly, higher than Timely's. Timely had some very good books that everyone knows about (the Kirby/Simon Captain America Comics, the Everett Sub-Mariner Comics) and some very good strips that not many people know about (the Bob Hughes "Black Widow"), but generally speaking Timely's output was mediocre (albeit often with some redeeming qualities)

In part, it's because there just isn't that much information available about Timely. Many of those who were important in forming Timely, and who were central to its success, are dead. Those who are still alive are getting on in their years, and some of their memories of the Timely years are...well, unreliable. Not because they lie, but because memory plays tricks on the mind, and some of the things that the important Timely figures remember actually happened differently from the way they remember. And, finally, because comics scholarship is still a very young field, and good, accurate, reliable reference works are few and far between - and those tend not to concentrate on Timely.

The largest reason for this ignorance about a crucial part of comics' history, though, is that Marvel themselves have done very little to promote their own past.

Admittedly, Marvel has, of late, taken steps to rectify this. The Golden Age of Marvel Comics trade paperback is a good start, and the news that there's going to be a second one is even better. Roger Stern's The Marvel Universe comic is a nice introduction to Marvel's past, and Mr. Stern's use of old Timely characters and (in the first three issues) World War Two settings helps to spark and promote interest in Marvel's past. Better still, Marvel has (finally) shown some wisdom, and put writers and editors in place who not only respect the company's past, and their characters and history, but who know those characters and that history. People like Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, and Tom Brevoort have a certain amount of fanboy in them - but in the right way. They aren't obsessive geeks, but rather fans who have an affection for Marvel's diegetical history.

Which means that we get the obscure Citizen V, in Busiek's Thunderbolts, and the Dragon of Death in The Marvel Universe, and the Invaders in Captain America.

But there's very little out there on the company itself. Details such as the hiring date of Joe Simon or the importance of Red Raven Comics #1 will not be of interest to many people, but to those who are interested in it, I hope that they will find the following enlightening.

This page presupposes that you, Dear Reader, already know a bit about the history of superhero comic books, which is why I'm not going to go into the history of DC comic, or who the first Captain Marvel was.

I may, in what follows, sound vague about dates; that's because, 60 years later, it's impossible (with a couple of notable exceptions) to determine when, exactly, a certain issue appeared on the newsstands. Generally speaking (and this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule) the lag time, in the Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s, between creating a comic book, and it reaching the newstand, was approximately 3-4 months, and the comics themselves generally appeared on the newstands around two months before the cover date. So - and, again, this is a generalization - Marvel Mystery Comics #21, with a cover date of July 1941, would probably have been created in January or February of 1941, and appeared on the newstands in May 1941. Again, there are exceptions to this: Captain America Comics #1, cover dated March 1941, went on sale in December 1940, and the three issues (two issues and change, really) that made up the first Human Torch-Sub-Mariner fight were done over the space of one weekend. But generally speaking the lag times I've given here are correct.

I've relied heavily upon various sources in writing this; all errors, however, are my own.

All images and characters are copyright and trademark Marvel Comics 1998. Their use here is unauthorized. No infringement of Marvel's rights is intended; their use here is meant to promote an appreciation for the books and characters.

The text of this web page is copyright Jess Nevins 1998. This web page is free to distribute not-for-profit as long as this notice remains intact. No part of this publication may be reprinted, in whole or part, for profit or in hard printed form, without express written permission of the maintainer (Jess Nevins).

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