Meanwhile...

   At the same time St. John was experimenting with various comic formats, he was also branching out into other publishing ventures.

   In January of 1950, St. John purchased a venerable Canadian magazine entitled Magazine Digest. Similar in size and concept to the far more successful American Readers Digest, this became St. John's entry into "legitimate" publishing. Magazine Digest had little in common with the comic book side of Archer's company, except for a shared address and the presence of Marion McDermott as Art Director.


        Magazine Digest (Dec. 1950)                                 Trouble Shootin' Man (1950)
                                                                                    [Readers Choice Library #14]

   Hoping also to cash in on the burgeoning paperback market, St. John established the Readers Choice Library in the same year. This line specialized in three genres: mysteries, Westerns and sexy potboilers. Apparently, the line lasted until sometime in 1951 when it too met the fate of most of St. John's ventures and faded away. Archer, however, never gave up on either the digest size or the magazine market.

The Eagle and Banner

   A quick digression here, to consider the origin of the familiar St. John bald eagle with banner logo.
   Until 1951, the only corporate designation on the covers of St. John's publications were the letters ANC, which noted the distributor, American News Corporation. Late in that year, a diamond containing both the ANC and StJ monograms appeared briefly. (An even less used symbol of a 'swollen' St. John appeared on a few comics as well.) Finally, in the February 1952 dated comics, the eagle and banner flew for the first time.  

      
       Fightin' Marines #3                              Fightin' Marines #4 (Feb. 1952)
             (Dec. 1951)


   
Over time, the logo became simpler, more stylized. The choice of the eagle is symbolically understandable. Not only did it represent strength and American patriotism in a very patriotic era, but it also recalls that Archer St. John's first venture in comic book publishing was an aviation book.   

    I can't say for certain that Archer was a coin collector, but if so, it would confirm what was most likely the visual inspiration for St. John's symbol.

                  
             1839 'Gobrecht' silver dollar                  1856 'Flying Eagle' cent
         

   From 1856-58, the United States mint issued the classic 'Flying Eagle' cent. The eagle on It, in turn ,was a derivation on the bird found on the reverse of the 'Gobrecht' Silver Dollars of 1836 to 1839. While not an exact duplicate, the St. John eagle is a close kin.

 

Kate and Matt



Given Matt Baker’s identification with drawing beautiful women, It is somewhat ironic that his most enduring St. John character didn’t find ‘life’ in a romance comic, but in a war book.

The U.S. engagement in the newly declared Korean War police action spawned St. John’s anthology war comic, Fightin’ Marines #15 (#1)(Aug. 1951). That first issue had a Baker cover and artwork on Leatherneck Jack and Ralph Mayo illustrating a story of a heroic pilot. Over time, the comic would host artwork by Carmine Infantino, Mort Drucker and Gene Colan who would take over the art chores on “Jack”.

  Fightin' Marines
#15 [#1] (Aug. 1951)
               cover by Matt Baker

            
"Leatherneck Jack" page by Matt Baker          "Leatherneck Jack" page by Gene Colan
from Fightin' Marines #15 [#1] (Aug. 1951)            
from Fightin' Marines #7 (Aug. 1952) 



Interestingly, while St. John Publishing was going to war with the Red Chinese in the pages of Fightin' Marines, Archer's brother Robert was being accused of being a Communist sympathizer.

Robert was a high profile author and broadcaster by this time and had been named in the controversial and very influential 1950 publication, Red Channels, along with 150 other entertainers and writers.18  Many of those named in this pamphlet had become blacklisted and Robert himself moved to Switzerland as a consequence.


                                                                                    Click on above image to read
                                                                             Robert St. John's Red Channels entry.

   Fightin’ Marines #2 (Oct. 1951) featured the first story of a comely waitress/cook at a military base canteen, the aptly named Canteen Kate. Kate was the epitome of a “Baker girl”-- sassy, perky and wholesomely sexy.

        
                                    Panel from Fightin' Marines #2 (Oct. 1951)
                              First appearance of Canteen Kate by Matt Baker

   This well-meaning “Bombshell from Brooklyn” invariably became involved in situations that were rife for disaster. Frequently it involved her boyfriend, the hapless Private Al Brown.

Case in point was a story in Fightin’ Marines #4, “Tailor Maid”, in which Al complains to Kate that his issued uniform was too small. Kate resolves to fix that problem and after several attempts to get a new uniform legitimately, she ‘borrows’ some material from a chemical research laboratory and makes uniforms for her and Al both. Their attempts to hide from pursuing military police are foiled, though, when it turns out that Kate had used an experimental fluorescent material. Al ends up in the brig with Kate bringing him a sandwich and coffee. How Kate always managed to stay out of the brig herself was never entirely clear and in truth, it didn’t really matter.


       Fightin' Marines #4 (Feb. 1952)
[click on image to read the entire story]

Baker must have enjoyed drawing these madcap stories as it resulted in some of his best artwork. Unlike his earlier artwork at Fiction House and Fox, which frequently found Baker using awkward posturing in order to prominently display women’s ‘attributes’, his St. John work was far more subtle and naturalistic. Sure, Kate wore an improbable uniform made up of an apparent man’s khaki shirt cinched tightly at the waist with a web-belt and rolled up khaki shorts, but the cheesecake was lightly done and rarely inappropriate. Inexplicably, the other Marines were, for the most part, oblivious to the sexy bombshell in their midst. This underplayed hand was refreshing and added to the comedic aspect of the comic.

                                                                        Page from Fightin' Marines #3 (Dec. 1951)
                                                                                           art by Matt Baker

Canteen Kate had a brief, but busy, tour of duty. She appeared in Fightin’ Marines #2-9, Canteen Kate #1-3 and a final appearance in Anchors Andrews #1 (Feb. 1953). Additionally, versions of All-Picture Adventure #1 and All-Picture Comedy #1 contained remaindered issues of Fightin’ Marines with Canteen Kate appearances. When Charlton took over the Fightin’ Marines title in 1955, it reprinted the first couple of Canteen Kate stories.

Kate herself has become somewhat iconic, to the point that the cover of Canteen Kate #2 was appropriated, ala Lichtenstein, by pop artist John Sheridan for a 1994 painting.

         Canteen Kate #1 (June 1952)
               cover by Matt Baker


Joe Kubert in the World of 50 (plus) Years Ago

   Whether it was by plan or just a happy confluence of events, starting in 1952, St. John became one of the most innovative comic book publishers of its day. This burst of originality and creativity lasted less than two years, but resulted in a memorable legacy.

   The comic industry was in a constant state of flux and fortunately for St. John, they were the beneficiary of the Ziff-Davis company’s withdrawal (for the most part) from comic book publishing.


In what was apparently an effort to increase their newsstand presence, St. John purchased the majority of the Ziff-Davis inventory for the bargain price of $50,000. Late in 1952, former Ziff-Davis titles such as Kid Cowboy, The Hawk and Nightmare began appearing under the St. John imprint. Indeed, the only way a reader could tell that it was a St. John and not a Ziff-Davis comic is by the appearance of the eagle and banner emblem on the cover. To add to the confusion, St. John also published a (basically) reprint line under the blanket title of Approved Comics. Ziff-Davis had also used this name in 1951-52 as a surrogate company name on some of their own comics.

                                                                                   The Hawk #4 (Jan.-Feb. 1954)

   While this acquisition boosted the size of St. John’s comic line, the company (other than the Baker drawn/ McDermott edited comics) lacked an identity. Most comics of the major publishers had a similar look. St. John’s comics were a potpourri of styles and consistency.

   It is only speculation, but perhaps St. John had been watching the success of E.C. with its commitment to quality and the featured status it granted its artists. Treating the artists as individuals had allowed the readers to identify their favorites, resulting in a fanatical following and increased sales.

   Archer St. John surely realized this and welcomed with open arms the return of Joe Kubert from military service in 1952. Kubert was to provide the creative spark that the company lacked and most importantly, he left the Army with two concepts that would have a dramatic effect upon the direction and fortunes of St. John. Moreover, the company was doubly blessed: returning with Kubert was his talented partner, Norman Maurer.

   The September 1953 dated comics were to be the watershed moment when St. John comics began to develop a personality.

            
               Joe Kubert and Norman Maurer photo from 1,000,000 Years Ago! #1
             [with the cover artwork for Three Stooges #1 & 1,000,000 Years Ago! #1]

A Letter from the Publisher

   I'd like you, our readers, to meet Joe Kubert and Norman Maurer. Joe and Norm have been friends since childhood. They first met in New York, where they attended the High School of Music and Art together, in 1940. It was here, at the age of thirteen, that they became interested in cartooning. They got their first jobs working for comic books less than a year later. Yes, Norm and Joe have been drawing for comic books for more than thirteen years!

   When Joe was sixteen, his parents moved to New Jersey...and he along with them. But both boys remained in close contact with one another...both dreaming of the time when they could write, draw, and produce comic books themselves. They had a single goal: To create the kind of books that you, the reader, wants!

   It took World War II to separate them, Norm enlisted in the U. S. Navy. While stationed in Los Angeles, California, he was able to continue his work. Norm now makes his home in Hollywood, California.

   Joe, on the other hand, made his “new home“ in the U. S. Army. After spending some time in Germany, he came back to take up permanent residence in New Jersey.

   The 3,200 mile distance between them did not discourage their lifelong ambition. The years of experience...the hundreds of successful comic strips both had done...are paying off! Now, thirteen years after their first meeting, their aspirations have become reality.

   I think that Joe and Norm have created the kind of magazine that you, the reader, will like as much as I do. This magazine is the product of the combination of almost thirty years of experience in this business! But...it's still up to you! The only way they can produce the kind of magazines you want, is through your letters of constructive criticisms to them. Every letter will be screened and evaluated by both Norm and Joe. Consideration as to content in future issues will be based entirely on letters received from you. (Some of your letters will appear in these books, answered personally by Norm and/ or Joe.) Any and all questions concerning comic books, artists, or writers will be answered.

   Their product is in your hands. Norm and Joe have done their work...now...it's up to you!

Archer St. John
Publisher

With this introduction, which appeared in both 1,000,000 Years Ago! #1 and the revived The Three Stooges #1, St. John welcomed Kubert and Maurer back into the fold. Despite his enthusiasm, it’s interesting that he chose to overlook the previous brief tour of duty the duo had spent at his company. No matter, he apparently was giving them the freedom to spread their wings.

Kubert’s first big idea was a character he created while sailing to Germany on a troop ship in 1951.

 

                                                                              1,000,000 Years Ago! #1 (Sept. 1953)
                                                                                         cover by Joe Kubert

“… Tor, as I've said before several times, was my incarnation of Tarzan in a cave,” Kubert once told interviewer Bill Baker, ”When I was a kid, when I started having an interest in cartooning, the Tarzan strip by Hal Foster was one that really gave me the impetus to be a cartoonist.19

Another indirect, but undeniably important, influence was the artwork of Charles R. Knight. Knight was the premier illustrator of prehistoric life in the early part of the 20th Century and many of Kubert’s depictions recall Knight’s concepts.

Knight passed away on April 15, 1953, just months before 1,000,000 Years Ago! #1 hit the newsstands.
 
        Splash page by Joe Kubert          

        from 1,000,000 Years Ago! #1

 



          Detail of Tyrannosaurus Rex from
    Field Museum mural by Charles R. Knight
 [image property of Field Museum, Chicago, IL]

                                                                                  Page from 1,000,000 Years Ago! #1
                                                                                                    by Joe Kubert


Whatever the influences, Tor was a brilliant conception. The promise of Kubert’s earlier work was fully realized in this comic. Tor wasn’t merely a grunting caveman, his thoughts and actions were those of a modern man and put him at odds with the more ‘unsophisticated’ of his tribe. He was a Cro-Magnon among Neanderthals.

His first tale not only found him a lemur-like companion he named Chee-Chee, but also defined him as an outsider. A villainous rival named Klar plots to kill Tor, but in their ultimate battle, it is Tor who triumphs by killing Klar. Tor is banished from his tribe and the rest of the series follows him on his adventures. (Whether it was an in-joke or total coincidence, but Mickey Klar was a writer for St. John.)
                                                                                            
                                                                                             Tor
#3 (May 1954)
                                                                                           cover by Joe Kubert




The backup features in the rest of the comic were the Wizard of Ugghh by Maurer and Kubert’s Little Nemo homage, Danny’s Dreams. The protagonist Danny Wakely, named for Kubert’s newborn son, would ‘dream’ he was a caveman and awaken in a danger fraught, primordial world. Of course, at story’s end he would always find himself back in the modern world. The feature would enjoy the distinction not only of hosting Kubert’s art, but also that of his old studio-mate, the great Alex Toth in his only St. John work in issue #3 (May 1954).



      
    
"Danny Dreams" page from Tor #3
                    by Alex Toth

In keeping with St. John’s promise that the editors would listen to their readers, an interesting page in #3 finds Kubert and Maurer addressing the reader and the concern that there was “some consternation,“ that they, “had totally ignored the belief that an almighty being actually created all past, present and future.“ It’s fascinating to see a subject as controversial as evolution vs. creationism dealt with directly in the pages of a Golden Age comic book. The two assure the reader that they, “…are neither trying to prove or disprove…” any scientific theories about evolution and that, “…your Bible, standard of present-day civilization, is not contested or refuted in anyway.”


                                                                                  Kubert and Maurer deal with                                                                                  evolution controversy in Tor #3.

              
                Tor #4 (July 1954)                                                
Tor #4 (Oct.1954) 

   Making allowances for the typical incongruities such as placing cavemen and dinosaurs in the same era, Kubert’s Tor is a singular tour de force that stands with the greatest in comic book history.

   "This was a rich, yeasty time, " Kubert once told Will Eisner in one of his Shop Talks, "when comic books really instilled the kind of love that I have for this cartoon business." 20

   While Kubert was creating his primordial world, Maurer returned to familiar territory.

   The Three Stooges, in their latest incarnation, were Curly-less. Shemp Howard replaced the deceased (January 18, 1952) Curly not only in film, but also in the comic book. Maurer went with a new format for this series, eschewing the film adaptations as basis for the comic's stories. His drawing style had matured as well, looking more confident and polished.

           
        Three Stooges #1 (Sept. 1953)
               Splash page from "Bogus Takes a Beating"
           cover by Norman Maurer                     in Three Stooges #1, by Norman Maurer
   

   "I think that Norm was probably one of the few certifiable geniuses in our business," Kubert told Bill Baker in Comic Book Marketplace #92, "But I think one of the reasons we were able to work well together was because we helped each other -- like I say, like a marriage -- we helped each other with suggestions, advice, directions, rather than tear each other down, or to try to alter or change the things that we were doing. We kind of propped each other up, which I always appreciated. I miss him. I really miss him."21

 

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