Ghosts of Comics’ Past: May in Comic History – War Comics, Neal Adams, Manga, and a Play

By | May 4th, 2020
Posted in Columns | % Comments

It’s the first Monday of the month, which means it’s time for another dive into the history archives. This time around, we’ll be looking at the first war anthology from May 1940, Neal Adam’s work on “X-Men” in May 1969, the first English translation of manga from May 1987, and a biographical play about a comic creator from May 2015.

May 1940
When Dell released “War Comics” #1 in May 1940, it was the first anthology dedicated to war stories. This was over a year before America joined World War II, but it wasn’t much of a trend setter. For one thing, it was merely playing on an existing zeitgeist – Will Eisner’s version of Uncle Sam appeared in a segment of Quality Comics’ “National Comics” #1 the same month. For another, the most popular comic genre at the time was superheroes – most publishers chose to introduce new patriot-themed heroes rather than tell straightforward war stories. Aside from a second war book from Dell (“War Heroes”) and Quality’s “Military Comics”, the war genre didn’t really gain traction until the Korean War started in 1950.

From its earliest roots, the comic industry had a tendency to treat creators poorly. In most cases, it started with a justifiable business decision before snowballing into a tradition that outlasted its purpose. For example, in the late 1930s there were lots of publishers and studios that hired staff creators to produce work exclusively for them. Sometimes the creators needed more money than the studio paid, so they’d freelance for other publishers using pseudonyms. If a publisher found out about the moonlighting, the creators were often fired – it’s the reason Martin Goodman gave for firing Simon and Kirby from “Captain America”.

As the industry matured and working for multiple publishers became an accepted practice, the pen name remained a standard. The only time a creator took his real name from one company to another was in the rare instance where he was “officially” moving companies, like when Gil Kane left DC to do “Hulk” at Marvel in 1967.

Then came Neal Adams, an artist with enough work outside the comic industry to realize how dumb the whole set up was. After having made his mark at DC, he learned about the Marvel Method of making comics and thought it sounded pretty cool. He met with Stan Lee to discuss giving it a try, and Lee was so excited he offered Adams any book he wanted.

It was all going well until Lee asked Adams what name he wanted to work under. Adams suggested that his real name would be fine, and Lee bristled a bit, saying they didn’t like their artists working for other companies. Adams indicated a pseudonym would be a deal breaker, and Lee gave in quickly. Adams was professional enough to tell DC in advance and promised his work for Marvel would not prevent him from hitting his deadlines for them.

In May 1969, the first issue of “X-Men” with Neal Adams artwork credited Neal Adams as the artist. The sky didn’t fall. The trains ran on time. Dogs continued chasing cats. Before long, pseudonym were out of style, used only when a creator chose to.

May 1987
The manga “Lone Wolf and Cub” by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima was published in Japan between 1970 and 1976, and the series developed a small cult following in America. Frank Miller happened to belong to the cult, and he cited it an an influence on his seminal 1986 work “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”. This drew a lot of attention to the manga, and the rights to an American edition of it were snatched up by First Comics. The first translated issue went on sale for May 1987.

Thus, “Lone Wolf and Cub” became the first ongoing American manga, and it was a smashing success. Other publishers saw opportunity and began importing other manga series. Alas, First Comics went bankrupt in early 1991 and the series was left unfinished for nearly a decade. In 2000, Dark Horse acquired the license and spent three years releasing the manga as a 28 volume set of trade paperbacks.

Continued below

May 2015
Long, long ago, two men came together and created Batman. One of the two was able to secure sole credit, and the other languished in obscurity. Even after fans uncovered the co-creator, he remained unacknowledged in ways that would benefit him financially. Even after the co-creator died, credit was publicly denied to him until the other creator passed away. This kind of tragedy is the stuff plays are written about. Plays like “Co-Creator: The Bill Finger Story” that was put on in Attleboro, Massachusetts over nine days in May 2015.

The play, written by Lenny Schwartz and directed by Jeanne Smith and Dave Almeida, had first been performed in West Warwick, Rhode Island in April. Schwartz had learned about Finger’s plight while working in comics in 1992 and wrote a screenplay before adapting it for the theater. The ending of the play is a bit ambiguous, but the ending of the story is much happier: Bill wins.

//TAGS | Ghosts of Comics' Past

Drew Bradley

Drew Bradley is a long time comic reader whose past contributions to Multiversity include the Minding MIND MGMT, Small Press Spotlight, and Tradewaiter columns, along with Lettering Week and Variant Coverage. He currently writes history-based articles. Feel free to email him about these things, or any other comic related topic.


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