In the mid-1930′s, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson created what has become one of the most enduring icons of modern American culture–the comic book featuring original scripts and artwork. Much of what has since been written about “the Major,” as he was called, has been based largely on hearsay and what we might call creative caricature, with a small amount of factual knowledge thrown into the mix.
Before the Major came along, such “comic books” as existed were nothing more than reprints from the daily newspapers. This changed in 1934 when the Major began publishing his innovative comic books, Fun Comics and New Fun Comics, which featured original artwork and stories. What could possibly motivate someone to launch an untested new idea at the height of the Great Depression when a staggering 25 per cent of the American populace was out of work, and furthermore to do so in a new and unfamiliar medium–comic books–that had yet to reveal its potential? It was an enormous risk, and it would take its toll on the Major and his family.
The Major’s inspiration to create the modern comic book was the result of the combination of a unique moment in history, his own natural gifts as a successful writer of adventure stories, his education and unconventional background, his early military exploits and his marriage to his aristocratic Swedish wife who encouraged and inspired him. All of these elements would come together in a fateful “aha!” moment. And just as the Major was lighting the spark, fate appeared in the form of a crude drawing of a male figure on brown paper, signed by two young men from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The drawing was the first appearance of a character who would go on to become one of the great fictional creations of the 20th century: Superman.
This was just one of the events that made up the life of this visionary man who was also one of the most popular pulp adventure writers of his day, started several publishing concerns including DC Comics, had a distinguished military career, wrote books and hundreds of articles on military strategy and politics and in the last years of his life taught himself basic chemistry and developed several patents for industrial applications that are in use today. Born in 1890 in Greeneville, Tennesse, MWN died in 1965 on Long Island, NY. “The Major” had a truly adventurous life.
In 2008 Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was awarded an Eisner for his contributions to the comic book industry and inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame.
In 2011 he was inducted into The Overstreet Hall of Fame in Robert Overstreet’s 41st Guide to Comic Books.
© 2008-2017 Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson