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Offline Yoc

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Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« on: November 12, 2015, 02:39:49 PM »
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-An introduction to Jumbo Comics #1-8
Debuting on Digitalcomicmuseum.com
November 12, 2015 -


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The Dreamers
By Edward 'Josh' Petrie

The uncertainty and fear of the Great Depression era was all-pervasive, particularly in the lives of the world's lower economic classes.  Their already scant hopes were rapidly being eaten away, spawning nothing but more and more despair.  After a time, it seemed to most as though any light at the end of the tunnel could only be the headlight of an oncoming train.  But the human spirit often rises to a challenge.  A great many who had lost everything fought with every skill they still possessed to survive and even thrive, working to make their dreams a reality.  Of course, the biggest dreamers are always the young.

Eisner and Iger…

One of the bigger dreamers of that time turned out to be a teenager by the name of William Erwin "Will" Eisner.  Eisner had started out at a very young age in the art and printing business, becoming a Jack-of-All-Trades for a small printing company, doing everything from cleaning presses to handling the illustration assignments required for their clients.  In his pseudo-autobiographical tale The Dreamer, Eisner explains that he lost that job by refusing to do dirty little eight page comics for a low-level gangster type, thus costing his boss the printing jobs for those books.  

This story about the reasons for Eisner's job loss at this time may or may not be true.  The Dreamer is, after all, a fictionalized account of Eisner's early professional life.  However, the time line seems true enough, and it is known that during this earliest period he meets Jerry Iger and helps in the creation of Henle Publications' "Wow – What a Magazine!," an early comic book that Iger edited.  [To read more on Wow use this link]

The Henle Publications title had a short four-issue run before it folded, after which both Eisner and Iger found themselves unemployed once more.  Eisner remembers forming a partnership with Iger after Henle Publications' collapse, sometime in late 1936.  He reported several times in interviews that he used his own limited funds to pay for the first few months of rent on a one-room office, and that he handled the creative end while Iger handled the sales and marketing.  Iger's memories differ, placing the date of the partnership's creation to mid-1938.  He also has reported that he took Eisner in as a partner at his existing company because Eisner's page rate was too high for him to pay otherwise.  Eisner's memories seem to be the more reliable though, as can be seen from the publication dating of their joint venture's first products.

Both men would have preferred to have been publishers of their own comic book line, but neither had the needed capital to make that happen.  So they went another route, becoming a packaging house for both their own works and the works of others, supplying fledgling comic book companies with material to fill their books.  They were seemingly the first of three main studios to go this route, creating a market where none really existed before.

"Wags" and the true debut of Sheena…

Initially there really weren't any comic houses to which the new packaging house could sell.  The main publishers still hadn't run out of syndicated comic strip material to reprint, and the principal company to publish new material, National Periodicals, had a staff of its own.  Therefore, the Eisner and Iger partnership had to look beyond the domestic market for their first big account.  The first big customer they found was Editors Press Service, and it would be through that company's publications that "Sheena," "Hawks of the Seas," "The Count of Monte Cristo," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and many other memorable strips would debut.  

This new client had been founded in the 1930's to market syndicated American newspaper materials to accounts overseas and in Central and South American countries.  Their first publication was a weekly comic strip reprint publication called "Wags," distributed in Australia, New Zealand, and the surrounding English-speaking areas.  The debut issue for this new title appeared with a September 8, 1936 cover date.  Then a second version of "Wags" with new numbering would appear about four months later in Great Britain, displaying an April 23, 1937 cover date.  It is suspected that both publications carried the same material, but it's probable that they published it at different rates because of page count variations and the six and a half month gap between their respective start-ups.

Eventually, due to a split between the partners at EPS, "Wags" found itself in sudden need of new material to fill the gap left by departing strips.  Replacements were found in the form of the new works from Universal Phoenix Features, the syndicate name used by Eisner and Iger's newly formed outfit.  

The first Eisner and Iger material saw print in both versions of "Wags," beginning in early 1937.  But to save money these "filler" strips appeared as a seven or eight page black and white section that was quite in contrast with the full color American strip reprints of each "Wags" issue.  The final issue of the British version of "Wags" came with the November 4, 1938 issue, just a few months after "Jumbo Comics" #1 appeared on the stands, carrying reprints of the early Eisner and Iger material that had first run in "Wags."  The Australian version of the title would continue for almost another two years, as its smaller page count used up the material at a slower rate.

The "Wags" researchers…

Much of this early foreign publication history was largely unknown until about five years ago when Ken Quattro detailed what he had discovered in his great blog, "the comics detective" (Click to see his Wags posts).  Quattro opened the door to the topic with one insightful installment, then received a wealth of information from other helpful, equally dedicated researchers, most notably British comic historian Peter Hansen.  Hansen's more detailed history of the topic was included in Quattro's blog for the following month.  

There is still much to be discovered about the publishing history of the Eisner and Iger material, but the "Wags" issues are quite hard to acquire and often are undated when found, making verification of details frustratingly difficult.  Actually, those issues are downright rare, particularly those of the earlier Australian version which may have carried the Eisner and Iger material first.  But the research continues.

The Jumbo Comics reprints…

When the British version of "Wags" was winding down, Eisner approached his former customer and bought back many of the printing plates that were still available.  Those plates would make up the content for the first 8 issues of what would become Fiction House's new "Jumbo Comics" title.  Because the plates were created in the oversized British format of 10.5" by 14.5", the name "Jumbo Comics" became the obvious choice for the fledgling publication.  And the fact that only a black plate was ever created for each page easily explains why the new magazine's interiors were all done only in black and white.

Selling the Fiction House owners on the idea of entering the comic book field, Eisner and Iger went on to use almost every plate that they had acquired to produce the first eight issues of what would be Fiction House's flagship title. After those first eight installments, new material was introduced in the succeeding issues, and the magazine was reduced to the standard size of the comic books of the day. Color was also added to the interiors as well, and sales picked up notably. The book soon became a major presence on the newsstands, and everyone would point to Sheena as the main reason for it.
 
Unfortunately the plates that Eisner was able to buy did not represent the earliest plates used for "Sheena" (begins with the strip's 11th installment) or his own "Hawks of the Seas" (begins with it's 41st installment), but each feature does tend to start at a logical point for telling a story.  Some strips had available plates to enable their reprinting from their very beginning, most notably the four strips with Kirby art that are reprinted in "Jumbo Comics" #1 ("The Diary of Dr. Hayward," "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Inspector Dayton," and "Wilton of the West") plus Dick Briefer's extremely loose adaptation of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

The beginning points for each of those strips are easy to determine for their pages were sequentially numbered with tiny inscriptions at the bottom of each page, and this numbering continued in logical format throughout much of the early part of each major strip's run.  (For instance, pages 1 through 4 of "Inspector Dayton" appear in "Jumbo Comics" #1 while pages 5 through 8 of the same strip appear in "Jumbo Comics" #2, etc.)
 
However, you have to treat later numberings somewhat skeptically.  For instance, if you study the numbering notations that are displayed in the big Kitchen Sink Will Eisner's Hawks of the Seas reprint volume, you will be amazed at how the numbering pattern becomes disjointed from installment to installment.  

Part of this is because the Kitchen Sink book was printed from the printer's proofs for the strip's Spanish language market.  (These were strip proofs that Al Williamson salvaged from the EPS company files that were still being stored in New York when he first returned home from his years spent in Bogota, Columbia.)  The numbering system for the Spanish language strips may have involved a whole different approach from the original system that Eisner and Iger had originally developed, and it is very obvious that they were not at all consistent throughout the strip's run.  Still, enough of the original numbering notations remained intact to make it relatively easy to restore the strip to proper order.

A couple of other points about the reprinting of these strips should also be mentioned.  Not only were many never reprinted at all, but dating is quite impossible for many of them, and it will undoubtedly remain impossible until a complete run of "Wags" becomes available.  We can only hope that one day we can all log onto DCM and see the entire run in scan form.  It would be a researcher's dream, certainly!

Secondly, it is evident on some that they were done to resemble newspaper dailies, including a Universal Phoenix Features copyright paste-up slug and hand dating, just like you would find on a daily strip in U. S. newspapers.  Only there's something a little odd about those dates.  Almost 100% of them used in the "Jumbo Comics" run are dated for a Monday.  The first issue of the Australian "Wags" #1 was dated for a Tuesday, so was this done to make the strips appear as though they were just completed?  While it’s a curiosity, it's obviously not terribly important…just another unsolved mystery from the Eisner and Iger studio's history.

Why these books are so important…

After having a solid foundation built on the works of such greats as Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Dick Briefer, Mort Meskin, Bernard Baily, Bob Powell, and a host of lesser known talents, Fiction House went on to become one of the most important publishers of the Golden Age.  The publisher would present some of the most memorable covers of the era, promote the first long-running science fiction title for the industry, and treat the world to almost 16 full years of adventures of the most memorable female adventurer that the comics have ever known…Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.  It all starts here with these eight books.

Each of these early samples provides a wonderful window into the developmental period of comic books as we know them.  Fully imbued with the primitive energy of comics' formative period, even a quick study of one of these offerings will provide a view into the thoughts of the creators and the entertainment expectations of their time.  That same quick overview will also reveal that these kids, and they were just that, weren't quite sure how to develop their techniques, but it doesn't matter.  Their demonstrated passion for their new craft easily makes up for any technical gaffs or insufficiencies that these works may demonstrate, and their eagerness to realize their dreams of making it in this exciting new medium is almost palpable in these seminal works.  

None of these young creators could ever have imagined how much their efforts would mean to so many of us today, years after they have all finally left us.  They were just making the best of whatever opportunity came their way as they were reaching for their dreams.  A number of those young talents now stand as giants in our minds, and many of their dreams have inspired our own wild imaginings.  Their large bodies of work have all left their respective marks upon us, as well as upon their chosen industry.  Now come and see their beginnings.

-Edward 'Josh' Petrie
DCM member 'ejpetrie'


**********************

The scans are now up!
-Yoc

Digital Comic Museum

Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« on: November 12, 2015, 02:39:49 PM »

Offline Soothsayr

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2015, 05:41:49 PM »
Awesome writeup!  Many thanks to everybody involved in this. :)

Online OtherEric

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2015, 10:16:31 PM »
I think this is probably the single most important find we've gotten on this site yet.  Certainly nothing else comes to mind of this scale.  My enormous thanks to everybody involved.

The intro does remind me how much I would love to see the Wow! What a magazine issues...

Offline erwin-k

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2015, 07:25:49 AM »
Have not had time to look at these Jumbo Comics, yet.

But, there is more very early Eisner on the way via a Kickstarter project. And from the original printing plates!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1576907254/the-lost-work-of-will-eisner?ref=NewsNov1215&utm_campaign=Nov+12&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter

The Kickstarter still has 27 days to, as of this writing, but is already fully funded!

Offline Yoc

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2015, 09:45:44 AM »
Glad to know these books are making an impression!
Wow, that's an interesting book being funded there Bob.  I recall an old post somewhere here where someone asked about a printing plate he had.

-Yoc

Offline churnworks

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2015, 01:44:15 PM »
I echo the comments of others here. It is great to see these scans, and to recognize one of the seminal points in the development of the comic book. From a U.S.-centric viewpoint, it is also nice yo read about the history as it involves South America, Australia, and the United Kingdom, as it highlights the emergence of the comic book in other countries as well. The history of comics should rightly be world-wide.

Offline Henry Peters

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2015, 02:42:00 PM »
wOw.  Thanks to all involved.

Offline Poztron

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2015, 10:30:01 PM »
An exemplary intro, to my mind. Many thanks to ejpetrie. And thanks to the scanners and comic owners involved.

Just when I begin to think that we are down to the romance and funny animal comic tail ends, DCM comes up with a series like this!  ;D

Offline doccomix

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #8 on: November 14, 2015, 06:34:27 PM »
Great guns! What a terrific (and unexpected!) batch of incredibly rare comics. Historically important, and beautifully scanned overall. My thanks to the comics owners, the scanners and (of course!) the Digital Comic Museum!
Doccomix

Offline Yoc

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Re: Announcing Jumbo Comics #1 to 8 - an Introduction!
« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2015, 07:42:52 PM »
Thanks guys.
I had a feeling these might be a pleasant surprise to the gang.
:)