New Fun Magazine–The Birth of an Industry by Jon Berk

Of the short-lived titles of the 1930s and 1940s, none is as rare nor as important to the history of comic books as New Fun, subtitled “The Big Comic Magazine.” Although New Fun was to continue as More Fun Comics with the seventh issue and then to continue on to issue 127, New Fun deserves to qualify as a “short-lived” title, due to its tabloid size and retained name throughout its six-issue run. This title was the first venture of National Allied Publishing, which, as it later combined with All-American Publishing, was to evolve into the comic book empire better known as DC Comics.

New Fun was the inaugural title of the company, which was soon to produce comic book titles such as New Comics/New Adventure/Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, and, Action Comics, which featured the most significant comic book character of all time- “Superman.” The series ran from February 1935 monthly for the first four issues then in August for the fifth issue and in October 1935 for the sixth issue. (The reincarnation as More Fun 7 did not take place until January 1936.) Rounding out the run is the Big Book of Fun Comics. This was a forty-eight page “annual” with cardboard covers that reprinted-in no particular order- various strips from the first four issues. It was advertised in the sixth issue as follows:

“If you want to follow the antics and adventures of the comic characters that have appeared in previous issues of New Fun, you will find them in that book.”

Although the ad indicated the book could be found at the local 5¢ and 10¢ store, the book, as produced, had no price on it nor any advertising, leading to speculation that, perhaps, it was some sort of premium.

newfungroupwithbigAll of the books in this series are extremely rare. Probably for any one issue no more than ten, maybe fifteen copies exist, if that. Of those that do exist, most grade in the Good to Very Good category due to the oversized structure of the book.  Pre-eminent DCologists, Gary M. Carter and Lane Carter have opined that New Fun 2 is the rarest of the series followed by Big Book of Fun Comics. My observations are that the sixth issue, along with Big Book are the rarest of the series. However, at this rarity level, one is splitting hairs. The number count for these issues probably is in the range of five to ten.

At the time of its first issue (February 1935) the only other “comic book” on the newsstand was Famous Funnies 7. Famous Funnies reprinted newspaper strips of the day. As legend goes, the format of Famous Funnies was conceived by Harry Wildenberg, sales manager of Eastern Color Company of Waterbury Connecticut, to take up some of the slack time available on the presses. Eastern Color produced many of the Sunday comic funnies for the New York newspapers. Wildenberg noted that the standard tabloid comic pages when folded in half yielded an appealing sized book which could be run on Eastern’s presses. Adding a glossy cover, Wildenberg, together with M.C. Gaines, a salesman for Eastern Color, came up with the idea in 1933 of reprinting comic strips and giving away the books as premiums. After the initial success of the give-aways of Funnies on Parade, Carnival of Comics and Century of Comics, financial backing was obtained to “experiment” and try to sell a comic book. This resulted in the production of Famous Funnies Series 1 (which was distributed only in the greater New York area) in early 1934.  Apparently, this experiment was successful enough so that Famous Funnies 1 was released under cover of July 1934. This was the first newsstand comic book series of the “modern” format.

New Fun represented the next step in the evolution of this entertainment medium in that the book contained original- not reprint-material. Actually, the idea of all original material had been tried in 1929 with the introduction of The Funnies by George Delacorte. Oversized like the Sunday funnies, the series never caught on.

It was obvious that this periodical was intended to compete directly with the Sunday funnies. It was issued on a weekly basis, each Saturday.  This was an obvious attempt to pre-empt the Sunday funnies by satisfying the customer demand for this medium a day early. The waning demand is evinced by the fact that as the series wound down, its latter issues only cost 5 cents. (Delacorte was to return in 1936 with Popular Comics and The Funnies-now as a “standard” sized comic book. Note the similarity of the logos. Such were the foundational titles for a company, which would be soon known as Dell Comics.)

However, this publication had to have served as a template for New Fun. Not only was the shape of the latter patterned after The Funnies, but the contents also were similar to the extent that text pieces, games, puzzles and chummy news was produced in the interior.  The Funnies had a page for children to submit jokes and cartoons. In other words, the book was “interactive” attempting to spur a dialogue between book and reader. On the other hand, The Funnies was totally newsprint on its cover (not heavier or coated stock). Additionally, most of the interior features actually were in full color unlike New Fun. Clearly, The Funnies are a critical, but little known, evolutionary link in the development of the “comic book.” Additionally, evidencing this ”linkage,” please note that most of the covers were drawn by VEP (Victor E. Pazmino), the same artist who drew many of the earliest covers for Famous Funnies.

Gulf Oil Company also had produced original material in tabloid size beginning in the early 1930s to be given away as premiums at its gas stations. Also appearing in 1933 with original material and sold on the newsstand was Detective Dan and Adventures of Ace King. Although not of the exact format of the modern comic books, these books are important in the developmental history of comics as spotlighted in CBM 36.

New Fun went beyond the predecessor tabloid titles and presented original adventure strips as well as the traditional “funny pages”.

Although greatness was in store for this title and the company that produced it, New Fun had, at best, a shaky start. New Fun was produced at the initiative of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, a retired major. Wheeler-Nicholson had tried his hand at writing adventure stories for pulp publications. In 1934 he ventured into producing original comic magazine material. According to his auto-biography, as quoted by Ron Goulart, Wheeler-Nicholson was

“born in the South, raised on a western ranch, worked for a while as a cub reporter, became a second lieutenant of cavalry in the regular army, chased bandits on the Mexican border, fought fevers and played polo in the Philippines, led a battalion of infantry against the Bolsheviki in Siberia, helped straighten out the affairs of the army in France, commanded the headquarters cavalry of the American force in the Rhine and left the army as a major equipped with a select assortment of racing and polo cups, a sabre, and a busted typewriter.” [Editor’s note: See AlterEgo August 2009 and Fall 2008 IJCA for more info.]

Cover of AlterEgo magazine, August 2009.

Cover of AlterEgo magazine, August 2009.

Although it was obviously intended to compete with Famous Funnies, New Fun was, apparently, a tight budget product. Famous Funnies was all in color and sixty-four pages in length. Although New Fun contained a liberal mix of adventure and humor strips, none of these strips, until the third issue, were produced in color (and then only about half were in color- a common occurrence of early original comic books such as New Fun, New Comics, Detective Picture Stories, Funny Picture Stories, etc.) Additionally, the first four issues were only thirty-two pages long. Issues five and six were “expanded” to forty pages. However, many of those pages were taken up with text pieces, puzzles and articles about various topics. Only the first three issues had “slick” covers, while the remaining covers were on uncoated paper stock.

Nonetheless, although lacking in page count and color, it was clear from the outset that something “New” was indeed underway. Right from the first issue the editor, through a character called “Fun the Fantastic,” attempted to establish a dialogue with its readership. Reader reaction to the features was solicited. The letters were summarized at length in the magazines on a page called “Fun Mail.” The results of favorite features were listed (“Don Drake of the Planet Saro,” “2023 Super-Police” and “Sandra of the Secret Police”-two science fiction and an adventure strip- rounded out the top three fan favorites as reported in the second issue. Certainly, this poll reflected the genre of strips from where the early original comic books were to garner their strength.) A fan club was formed called the “Fun Club.” Club membership came with a “Fun Club” pinback-another first for a comic book.

newfun6pageThe features were diverse and set the standard for anthology titles that were soon to abound in the marketplace. Spy thrillers were represented by “Sandra of the Secret Service” by Bringham, westerns by “Jack Woods” by Lyman Anderson, science fiction by “Don Drake on the Planet Saro” and “2023 Super-Police” by Clemens Gretter, sea-faring features by “In the Wake of the Wander” and “Mid-Shipman Dewey”, an assortment of adventure and humor strips and horror/supernatural by “Dr. Occult, the Ghost Detective.”

The adventure/science fiction stories were the most important benchmark of the title. These types of stories would form the foundation of  original comic book material as other titles began to proliferate in the late 1930s. However, it is within the last issue of New Fun that the seed of a character is found that was to cause the comic book business to erupt into the lucrative industry it was to become in the 1940s. For the sixth issue (October 1935) ran a strip called “Dr. Occult the Ghost Detective” by Leger and Reuths. This was a pen name for two young men from Cleveland Ohio- Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. (This pen name was used because Siegel and Shuster had contributed another strip in this sixth issue, “Henri Duval.” It became a common practice among comic companies to use aliases for individuals who contributed more than one strip per title to make it appear that their staff was large.) Dr. Occult, in one story arc, incorporated several elements that were the prototypal for “Superman.” For this reason, the historical importance and value of New Fun 6 cannot be overestimated. It is only recently that the Overstreet Price Guide has begun to recognize the relative value of this book compared to its sister issues of New Fun. And it is only recently that collectors have realized the true rarity of this historical gem.

Dr. Occult in his first stories was kept busy fighting the vampire master. At this point the development of the character takes a short detour. Early in 1936 William Cook (National’s managing editor and story contributor) and John Mahon (National’s business manager) left National to form their own short-lived comic company, Comic Magazine Co. Their first title was The Comic Magazine. This title contained slight variations of continuing characters that were appearing in National’s titles. It has been hypothesized that these inventory stories served as payment for monies Cook and Mahon were owed by the financially strapped National. Anyway, in the first issue of this title (May 1936), Dr. Occult became, “Dr. Mystic, the Occult Detective.” (Note, in More Fun 11 (July 1936) he was “Dr. Occult, the Mystic Detective.”) In this story, he joins up with the Seven to battle the evil of Koth. This feature did not continue in the second issue of The Comic Magazine. However, the story continued without missing a beat in the fourteenth issue of More Fun (October 1936). As the story continues, Dr. Occult is given a uniform with a triangular chest emblem and a red cape to fight Koth. After donning the uniform and cape, off he flies…. The elements of costume design were obviously influenced by the character which Siegel and Shuster had tried for years to get off the ground.

Many names that were soon to play dominant and not so dominant roles in the success of the comic book industry were associated with this title:

Lloyd Jacquet was the editor of this title. After leaving National, Jacquet would form one of the key comic book shops of the 1930s and 1940s- Funnies, Inc. With artists such as Bill Everett and Carl Burgos, Funnies Inc. would package material for several golden age companies such as Centaur Publications, Timely Publications (including Marvel Comics 1), etc.

Vincent Sullivan contributed several humor strips for the title such as “Spike Spaulding” and “Charlie Fish.”  He was to be a prominent editor for DC in the 1930s and go on to be the editor for Columbia Publications and ME Comics. He was the cover artist for one of the classic golden age covers of all time- Detective Comics 1.

Ken Fitch wrote several text pieces for New Fun, as well as writing the science fiction strips in the title of “Don Drake” and “2023 Super Police.” He was a prolific contributor to many golden age companies ranging from Chesler and Centaur to Fawcett and Holyoke.

Bert Whitman contributed “Judge Perkins” under the name “Burt.” He had a small comic shop in the early 1940s which produced Whirlwind Comics, Crash Comics and early issues of Green Hornet Comics.

Whitney Ellsworth contributed “Little Linda” starting with the second issue. He became a key editor for the early DC titles.

Leo O’Melia took over the art chores, as of issue 4, on “Barry O’Neil” which was an adventure strip set in the Far East. His towering draftsmanship made the strip a standout. Although overshadowed by the fame of “Superman,” his early Action Comics covers are highly coveted by golden age fans.

Tom Cooper contributed several strips. Although of no lasting notoriety, Cooper is credited with the first “complete short story” appearing in comics. This was the seven-page thriller, “The Golden Idol,” which appeared in Comic Magazine 2 (June 1936). (But compare early “Radio Squad” four page stories in New Comics.) Walter Lantz produced “Oswald the Rabbit,” forerunner of his many funny animal creations such as “Woody Woodpecker.”newcomics1

Henry Kiefer drew “Wing Brady.” Kiefer produced material for many golden age companies through his association with the Chesler Shop and Iger Shop. He drew many esoteric features, such as “Dr. Nerod” for Green Giant Comics, “Liberty Lads” for Champion Comics and mainstream stories for Classics Illustrated. Jack Warren, who drew the humorous western strip “Loco Luke,” continued in this vein by drawing a variety of humor and  humorous western strips for Novelty Publications, Hillman and others.

Although by modern standards- and even golden age standards- many of the features were hum-drum, the importance of this title to the whole comic book industry cannot be stressed enough. By December 1935, National added New Comics, which was of standard size. The following month New Fun changed its name and size so to more effectively compete in the comic book marketplace. Other publishers, such as the Comic Magazine Company and Henle Publications (Wow! What a Magazine), featuring original material, soon joined these two titles on the newsstand. The seeds sown by New Fun were slowly growing. Soon they would be in full bloom. However, as with any concept/creation that becomes taken for granted, there always has to be a first step, and that first step for the comic book industry is represented by the six ground-breaking issues of New Fun.

[Editor NBrown’s note: You can also join the discussion on the Major’s fan page on Facebook.]

About Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson

Writer/Editor and Publisher for over 20 years with a Master's Degree in Classical Greek Mythology and Theatre. Perfect for writing about Comics!
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5 Responses to New Fun Magazine–The Birth of an Industry by Jon Berk

  1. Harry J. Alpert says:

    Hi Nicky,

    Great to see you the other night. You look beautiful!

    This Major Malcom info is great! Congrats on the Eisner Award! That is so exciting. Definitely forward more me info on it.

    As you know I a huge comic book enthusiast. It’s what originally got me into the animation business then onto the VFX business.

    Hey, let me know if there is anyway I can help you with any of this. More research perhaps, legwork?

    Very best,

    Harry

    413 429-5614

    • nickybrown says:

      Harry, thanks for your kind words. It’s not so easy to do something like this but it is slowly paying off in that my grandfather’s life and work are starting to get a bit more recognition and that is what it’s all about. Best, Nicky

  2. Great article. It’s always good to see info on the early days of the comic book industry. I loved the scans of the covers and the Dr. Occult page. It would be great to see more interior scans if they could be made available (pending permissions, I suppose, irony of ironies). Thanks for the great site!

  3. With all due respect to Jon, New Fun was not inspired by Famous Funnies. Rather, it was a near-continuation of a 1934 comics tabloid named Comic Cuts

    More info in my “Origins of the Modern Comic Book” which has been running and expanding every year in Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide since #27 1997. The newest incarnation is in #39 2009 which begins on page 381.


    Robert Beerbohm Comic Art PO Box 507 Fremont NE 68026
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    Member: Grand Comics Database : http://www.comics.org
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  4. nickybrown says:

    Robert, I appreciate your comments especially as you are very knowledgeable about comics. My knowledge is limited to my grandfather so I am always interested in new information. I did not know about Comic Cuts but will certainly pursue it further. Are you aware that my grandparents lived in Europe in the early ’20′s and again from about 1927-1930? They were in London, Paris and Germany, living for the longest period in France. Thus it is quite possible that the Major came into contact with this material. I’ll look forward to hearing more from you. Thanks again for your participation. Nicky

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