The Timely Comics Story


Martin Goodman, in the late 1930s, was a publisher of pulp magazines, including Complete Western Book, Star Detective, Uncanny Stories, Ka-Zar, and Mystery Tales. He was, like most publishers in the 1930s, looking for a new trend in the public's buying habits; Goodman was particularly desperate because his pulps were not successful. In August 1938 he started Marvel Science Stories, as a way to make money off of the boom, in the late 1930s, in science fiction pulp magazines, such as the now-legendary Astounding Science Fiction.

In the summer of 1939 Goodman was, as usual, looking for something new to publish. At this time he was approached by Frank Torpey, the salesman of the Funnies, Incorporated shop, who had a new idea for him.

The history of Funnies, Incorporated is inextricably linked with the early history of Timely Comics (which is why I'm giving them space here). In the summer of 1939 Centaur Publishing was a familiar name in superhero comics, publishing Skyrocket Steele ("from the Year X"), Dirk the Demon, the Arrow, and the Fantom of the Fair, in Amazing Mystery Funnies & Funny Pages. Centaur Publishing, in that halcyon summer, saw that Superman was successful (in not one but two comic books) and that Batman was becoming popular, and set about creating and publishing their own "-Man" hero.

In July or August of 1939 they published Amazing-Man Comics. Bill Everett - a name we will run into again - and Lloyd Jacquet created the hero Amazing Man for the book; Carl Burgos (another name with which we will become familiar) created the Iron Skull; and Mighty Man and Minimidget filled out the book's cast.

During the creation of Amazing-Man Comics #1 Lloyd Jacquet, Centaur's art director, decided to break away from Centaur Publishing and create his own comic book company; Jacquet, no fool, saw that there was money to be made in the field of superhero comics, and decided that he'd rather work for himself (he was also far from content with the way that he was treated by the owner of Centaur). So Jacquet left Centaur, and took some of Centaur's staff with him: writers (Ray Gill & John Compton), artists (Bill Everett, Carl Burgos, Paul Gustavson, and Ben Thompson), a former publisher (John Mahon, who had worked at Centaur in 1937 and 1938, when it was called the Comics Magazine Company), a business manager (Jim Fitzsimmons), and a salesman (Frank Torpey). This group formed Funnies Incorporated.

The original plan of this talented group was to be a comic book publisher - to write, draw, publish and market their own material. But Jacquet and the others lacked the money for so (relatively) ambitious a goal, and resorted to becoming what today would be thought of as a work-for-hire studio for other comic book publishers; the Funnies, Inc. talents would create the characters and write and draw the stories, and then sell them, and all rights to the characters and stories, to whichever comic book publishers would buy the story.

In late summer 1939, however, Funnies, Inc. was competing with two other studios - the Harry "A" Chesler studio and the Will Eisner-S.M. "Jerry" Iger studio - for the attention of the four companies who were publishing comics at that time: All-American Comics & National Periodicals (the two publishers who would later become DC Comics), Fox Features Syndicate, and Centaur Publishers. The Funnies, Inc. staff needed a new outlet to whom to sell their work.

Enter Martin Goodman, and his interest in publishing something new. The story goes that Torpey showed Goodman copies of Superman, Amazing-Man Comics, and Amazing Mystery Funnies, told Goodman about the low cost of producing a page of comic book art, and then sold Goodman on publishing a comic book called "Marvel Comics," after Goodman's Marvel Science Stories magazine.

Goodman ordered a group of stories from Funnies, Inc., stories starring new and original heroes. (Bill Everett is quoted as saying that this was the first sale of Funnies, Inc.) Jacquet called on the Funnies, Incorporated staff members with the most experience in writing and drawing superheroes. Paul Gustavson created the Angel. Carl Burgos created the Human Torch. And Bill Everett used his creation, the Sub-Mariner, who had originally been developed for and appeared in First Funnies' Motion Picture Funnies Weekly, a promotional magazine designed to be given away at movie theatres. (Another character that first appeared in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly, the American Ace, also reappeared later in a Timely book - Marvel Mystery Comics #3). These three, along with Ka-Zar the Great (a holdover from Goodman's pulps), the Jungle Terror, and the Masked Raider (and his horse Lightning), made up the cast of Marvel Comics #1 (cover dated October 1939), a book that is a landmark, for a number of reasons, in the history of superhero comics.

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