Another Monday, another dive into comic history. This time we’re focusing on events that occurred in February.
The late thirties were an exciting time in comics, and it seems like there was some kind of innovation or important debut every month. Still, February 1937 has a unique kind of uniqueness because the award for First Comic Book Devoted to Westerns is shared by two books each from a different publisher. Their simultaneous release was almost certainly coincidence, as they were packaged by separate shops.
“Star Ranger” #1 was published by Harry Chesler in a larger-than-normal format. Chesler was usually in the business of packaging comics for other people, and he was probably just publishing this material himself as a springboard to selling it to someone else. If that was his intent, it bore fruit pretty quickly because the “Star Ranger” comic was bought by Ultem Publications so early that Lone Star Comics shows them as the publisher of the first issue.
The other first western comic book was “Western Picture Stories” from Comic Magazine Company. This 64-page gem featured ten short stories (One by Will Eisner), a pin-up centerfold, and a two-page prose story to qualify for cheaper postal rates. Unlike “Star Ranger”, it was printed in the standard comic book size. While this usually equated with better sales, “WPS” was canceled after only four issues. “Star Ranger”, which switched to standard dimensions after six issues, enjoyed a slightly longer run that involved two name changes.
Oddly enough, Ultem Publications bought Comic Magazine Company in September 1937 before being bought itself by Centaur Publications in January 1938. This game of publisher musical chairs can be confusing, leading some guides (and Wikipedia) to cite Centaur as the publisher of both titles.
In the beginning, kids bought comics and nearly all of them were worn out and discarded. A few survived, and now they’re worth several thousand dollars or more. Today, adult collectors routinely buy comics and have them preserved in sealed plastic wells hoping they’ll make a profit by selling them later. Somewhere between these two points in time, people realized comics could become valuable and began to play the speculation game, buying up new comics they thought might be sought after later. The first time this was done en masse was February 1973 when DC revived the original Captain Marvel in the pages of “Shazam!” #1.
Back in the 1940s, Captain Marvel had been the most popular comic character and the annual circulation of “Captain Marvel Adventures” surpassed 14 million copies. When DC recruited original creator CC Beck to bring the character back, fans saw no reason it couldn’t reach that peak again. And when it did, there would be a million readers wanting the first issue. Fully aware of how high early Superman and Batman appearances could fetch, comic readers across the nation thought they would be only one prepared when the demand hit. Some bought a few copies, some bought copies by the caseload.
Alas, the series did not set the world on fire a second time. Many young readers were completely unaware of the character or his history. The series languished through 35 issues over five years before being put to sleep during the DC implosion. The first comic to draw speculators turned out to be a dud. In 2010, Mark Waid joked that his 20 cent investment was now worth $3.50.
Given enough time, however, worthless graphite can become a priceless diamond. Less time, if you throw in a movie deal. Overstreet’s list price for “Shazam” #1 has risen from $75 to $135 over the last ten years. Online prices support that value. I wonder if Waid still has his extra copies…
The formation of Image Comics took place in stages spread out over several months, but a couple key stages occurred in February 1992. By this time, the founders had all walked away from their positions at Marvel and made their arrangements to publish as an imprint of Malibu. Malibu announced the plan in January, but it was pretty low key.Continued below
It’s surprising, then, to find out the founders hadn’t all been in a room at the same time until February 1, 1992. Marc Silvestri hosted the gathering at his house while they worked out the principals that would define and guide their company.
It’s also surprising, considering how hot Marvel was in the stock market at the time, that the news of Image didn’t penetrate outside the industry until Douglass Kass covered it in an article for “Barron’s” on February 17. Although the article was not entirely accurate (among other things, it claimed retailers were stuck with copies of “Cage” #1 when they were returnable), it highlighted how the departing talent would soon be competition for Marvel. Thanks to his revelations, Marvel’s stock price dropped $11.