IN THE BEGINNING...

    From 1934 to 1936, the “modern” comicbook was beginning to gain steam and popularity as titles such as Famous Funnies, Tip Top Comics, King Comics, Popular Comics and The Funnies filled the newsstands. These titles reprinted some of the most popular newspaper comic strips of the day.

    However, in 1935 a new phenomenon appeared in comicbooks. Due to the lack of available reprint material and the costs for the rights to same, some titles were printing “new”, original material. In February 1935 National Periodical/DC produced New Fun and in December 1935 released New Comics. It was clear that this story telling medium could be quite lucrative. Publishers barraged the marketplace with dozens of characters and themes ranging from jungle tales to sea adventures to detective ventures to western high jinks. Each tried to carve out its own niche. However, even the “new” material seemed repetitive and interchangeable. Publishers were looking for the next feature that could separate millions of children from their dimes. This nascent industry was to be jumpstarted by a character that was unlike any that had appeared before in comicbooks.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT


Superman
leaped into the comicbook world in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). Taking the world by storm, the potential lucrative nature of this type of character did not go unnoticed by Victor S. Fox. Fox, at the time, was the accountant for Detective Comics, Inc. and, “taking stock” of the numbers generated by this character, decided that there was money to be made with a “costumed” character. Leaving DC and setting up his own company (in the same building as DC, no less), he requested that the Eisner-Iger Shop create for him a “superman”.


        Wonder Comics #1 (May 1939)
Eisner cover for the first Fox comicbook
      which featured the one and only
         appearance of Wonderman.


The result was Wonderman, who appeared in Wonder Comics #1 (May 1939). Here was another guy running around in a brightly colored costume with incredible strength and was able to jump over many a tall building with a single bound.

Detective Comics, Inc. was not amused. Problem was that this was 1939, and no one else but Superman had this particular shtick. “Imitation”, it is said, “is the highest form of flattery.” However, in the cutthroat competition of funny books, imitation, flattering or not, was viewed as a monetary threat.
Accordingly, Detective Comics, Inc. moved quickly.

Cover dated May 1939 means that Wonder Comics #1 appeared in March 1939. DC obtained a preliminary injunction (a legal procedure to order a stop an act in order to prevent “irreparable harm”) March 16 followed by a permanent injunction hearing on April 6 which quashed there ever being a second appearance of Wonderman. As produced, Wonder Comics #2 contained no Wonderman, but Yarko the Great.
                                                            
                                                                     Wonder Comics
#2 (June 1939)
                                                                First of a string of magnificent covers
                                                               that Lou Fine produced for Victor Fox.

The court, in its decision of April 7, 1939 found, comparing Superman and Wonderman, that “there has been unfair use by [Fox] of [DC’s] copyrighted pictures and unfair paraphrase of [DC’s] text accompanying its pictures.” In language, not usually bantered among comicbook enthusiasts, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in upholding the decision, analyzed the issue as follows:

Each publication portrays a man of miraculous strength and speed called “Superman” in Action Comics” and “Wonderman” in the magazine of [Fox]. The attribute and antics of ‘Superman” and “Wonderman” are closely similar. Each at times conceals his strength beneath ordinary clothing but after removing his cloak stand revealed in full panoply in skintight acrobatic costume. The only real difference between them is that Superman wears a blue uniform and Wonderman a red one. Each is termed the champion of the oppressed. Each is shown running toward a full moon off into the night” and each is shown crushing a gun in his powerful hands. “Superman” is pictured as stopping a bullet with his person and “Wonderman” as arresting and throwing back shells. Each is depicted as shot at by three men, yet as wholly impervious to the missiles that strike him.

“Superman” is shown as leaping over a twenty story building, and “Wonderman” as leaping from building to building. “Superman” and “Wonderman” are each endowed with sufficient strength to rip open a steel door. Each is described as being the strongest man in the world and each as battling against “evil and injustice”.

          
       Action Comics
#7 (Dec. 1938)
  The lawsuit exhibit copy presented by
          DC in its case against Fox.


            For more about this case, see

THE TITLES

     Although Wonderman did not again appear, Fox was determined
(as many other publishers were) to create the next Superman. The
end of 1939 through 1942 saw a host of Superman pretenders. In
that competitive field, Fox Publications, for a time, was one of the
main players. Fox, an ex-stockbroker, anointed himself as the “King
of Comics
”.

     He had Eisner and company produce a number of titles for
him. Following the Wonderman litigation, without missing a step, Eisner created Wonderworld Comics #3(July 1939) with its
lead feature The Flame, Mystery Men Comics #1(August 1939, hitting the stands June 23) with
its lead characters The Green Mask, The Blue Beetle and Rex Dexter of Mars, Fantastic Comics #1(December 1939) with lead feature Samson, Science Comics #1 (January 1940) and Weird Comics #1(April 1940, originally scheduled for a cover date of March 1940).

                                                                     Fantastic Comics #1 (Dec. 1939)
                                                                         Lou Fine's smashing cover                                                                                introducing Samson.

The Fox production of pre-war books ran from May 1939 to March 1942:

      Wonder/Wonderworld Comics 1-33 (May 1939- January 1942)
      Mystery Men Comics
1-31 (August 1939- February 1942)
      Fantastic Comics
1-23 (December 1939- November 1941)
      Science Comics
1-8 (February 1940- September 1940)

      B
lue Beetle Comics 1-11 (March 1940- February 1942)
      Weird Comics
1-20 (April 1940- January 1942)
      The Green Mask
1-9 (Summer 1940- February 1942)
      The Flame
1-8 (Summer 1940- February 1942)
      Big 3
1-8 (Fall 1940- January 1942)
      Samson
1-6 (Fall 1940- September 1941)
      Rex Dexter of Mars
1 (Fall 1940)
      The Eagle
1-4 (July 1941- January 1942)
      U.S. Jones
1-2 (November 1941- January 1942)
      V….Comics
1-2 ( January 1942- March 1942)

     Although many of the features would not endure, it is the covers of these books as rendered from July 1939 to April 1940 that has made these early issues and the company a collecting favorite.

                                 to view these covers, see

     Under the direction of Will Eisner, Lou Fine created in this period some of the most beautifully rendered covers of the Golden Age. Fine was able to bring motion to the drawn page. His lyrical style was “aped” by artists of the day. (Compare Fine’s ape on the cover to Wonder Comics #2 with Bob Kane’s ape in Detective Comics #31.) Fine was admired by the comicbook buying public and fellow artists.

       For more about Lou Fine, see
                     


The covers to Wonderworld Comics #7 (with the hallmark Fine “ghoul drool”), Mystery Men Comics #3, Science Comics #2 and Fantastic Comics #3 are some of the key classic covers of the entire Golden Age of comics.

 
        
         Wonderworld
#7 (Nov. 1939)
       Ghouls and drool by Lou Fine.
       It does not get better than this.

WILL EISNER AND HIS SHOP ARTISTS

     Fine was not the only artist that graced the pages of these early Fox issues. Part of the Shop in this early period comprised of Klaus Nordling (freelance), Mort Meskin, Alex Blum (his daughter, Toni Blum and eventual husband, Bill Bossert, carried out much of the writings duties) and Bob Kane. Bob Powell drew D-13 (after the Eisner Shop left Chuck Cuidera drew the feature for a time) and Dr. Fung.

Dick Briefer produced Rex Dexter of Mars – an imaginative rollickingly space adventure strip. (Briefer and Eisner had worked on the short-lived title of Wow, What a Magazine! in 1936). Eisner himself drew some early features. Art Peddy contributed western and adventure features and the ubiquitous Fred Schwab drew humor strips for the early issues of Mystery Men Comics and other Fox titles.
                                                                   Rex Dexter of Mars #1 (July 1940)
                                                                Dick Briefer drew this cover and the                                                              early adventures of Rex Dexter, a highly                                                                imaginative space adventure feature.

     Even Jim Mooney, fresh from Los Angeles, worked briefly for Eisner producing several stories of The Moth. (Ironically, as Mooney relates, when interviewed by Whitney Ellsworth in the late 1940s to work on The Batman, Mooney used his work on The Moth as proof he could draw Batman- since he had been instructed to use The Batman image as a guide for drawing The Moth. He got the job, which started a long association of Mooney with DC.) Mooney did not enjoy his short stay in the Eisner bullpen because he lacked “freedom”. Interestingly, Eisner had put people on salary in his shop so he could exert more “control”.

                               For more about Will Eisner, see

George Tuska contributed Zanzibar starting in Mystery Men Comics #1 and Tom Barry in Wonderworld Comics #4. This was Tuska’s first work in comics. Tuska had no prior experience in comics and had to produce a comic story over night to convince Iger to hire him.

Tuska was part of the Eisner stable and contributed features for Fiction House such as Shark Brodie. His graceful and clean lines complimented his story telling powers. He drew the cover for Mystery Men Comics #6 (January 1940) and Weird Comics #1 (April 1940).

         Weird Comics #1 (April 1940)
  Long attributed to Lou Fine, this cover                                                 
    shows off the great drawing skills of
             a young George Tuska.


     However, as the demand grew on the Shop and turnovers persisted, the artists were required to take work home and the deadlines became more demanding. For payment of five dollars a page, it simply was not enough. As Tuska relates, he went out to lunch with the bullpen one day and said he had to “meet someone” and never returned. (Of interest is that the Zanzibar strip retained Tuska’s name- as did the Powell and Briefer strips- after he left. All of the strips retained the “original” artist name- whether real name or pen name.) Several weeks later he hooked up with Harry Chesler. He was soon joined there by Charlie Sultan who had quit the Eisner shop shortly after Tuska left for the same reason.

                        Fantastic Comics #5 (Dec. 1939)                 Punch Comics #1 (Dec. 1941)

The link of Sultan to the Eisner shop evinces his direct exposure to Lou Fine. Sultan obviously was heavily influenced by Fine. Compare not only the style of his art but the “derivative’ concepts of his covers as evidenced by his covers to Punch Comics #1 and Scoop Comics #2 with Fine’s covers to
Fantastic Comics
#5 and Hit Comics #5
.


VICTOR S. FOX- PUBLISHER

Who was Victor S. Fox? Hard to say in that very little is recorded about the man. It appears that Fox, even before his infamous behavior in comics, was a scoundrel. The report that Fox was an “ex-stockbroker” is an understatement. Fox was indicted on November 27,1929 for mail fraud and a “boiler room” “sell and switch” stock scheme- a scheme where good stocks were sold for bad and purchases made of “unissued” stocks which were not delivered. With this fine resume, somehow he wound up as an accountant/bookkeeper for Detective Comics, Inc. after which he set up his own comic business.

     To the extent that any contemporary commented about Fox, no one had anything nice to say. Fox clearly was interested strictly in making a buck from comics. Copying others work (hardly novel at the time), paying low rates or not paying at all appears to be his trademark. Ostentatious, surrounded by a large office, Fox proclaimed himself to all that would listen that he was “The King of Comics”. Eisner commented that “Fox was a very, very shifty, fast-footed business man who would create fictitious names because he was always afraid of being sued.” Joe Simon recounted, “The man was insane, absolutely insane. He would go off on a speech like, “I’m the King of the Comics, and I’m not playing school here with chalk on the blackboard, I’ve got millions of dollars tied up in this business!…The man was mad.” Simon described Fox as a “short, round, nattily dressed man in his late forties, with a rasping voice that would shrill to frightening crescendos when he was excited. And he was excited often.” Kirby described Fox as a “Edward G. Robinson” character. He was the ultimate promoter and huckster. He ran the business with associate Robert Farrell.
            

           Blue Beetle
#2 (May 1940)
Following the departure of the Eisner Shop,
  for a short period, Joe Simon produced
              all the covers for Fox.

The recollection of Al Feldstein, who was just a kid at the time when he worked briefly for Fox in the late 1940s, paints a remarkably similar (negative) picture of the man:

     "I remember doing art work for "The Blue Beetle" (1945-46) when I was at the Jerry Iger Studio. When I first started to "freelance", after leaving Jerry Iger's sweatshop (1946-47), one of the several people who gave me work was Bob Farrell.

     In fact, Bob also gave me a place to work...mainly his terraced apartment overlooking Gramercy Park...because my working at home had become rather difficult for me... what with a new baby in a 3-room apartment...and a doting mother-in-law living down the hall. Bob Farrell used to drive a convertible Cadillac, which, I thought, was the Cat's Meow! He was definitely a wheeler-dealer, and he did have some sort of business association with Fox.It was Bob Farrell who introduced me to Victor Fox- in return for a commission" on all moneys paid to me by the Fox outfit. Farrell was aware that I was re-writing his own scripts and doing a good job on his own art needs. Bob somehow knew that Victor Fox was looking for someone to "package" a teenage book for him, "Archie" being a hot-seller, and so he arranged the introduction and, in return, the agent fee.
     
                                                                           
Junior #14 (May 1948)
                                                                     Feldstein cover typical of later
                                                                     Fox comics that had less to do
                                                                       with the title character than
                                                                           scantily clad 'good girls'.
 

     Victor was short, round, bald and coarsely gruff, with horn-rimmed glasses and a permanent cigar clamped between his teeth. He was the personification of the typical exploiting comic book publisher of his day- grinding out shameless imitations of successful titles and trends, and treating his artists and editors like dirt.

Actually, I had very little contact with Victor Fox personally after the initial introduction by Bob Farrell. I was consequently hired by Fox Features to package first one...then two...and then a third "teenage" title: "Junior," "Sunny" and "Corliss Archer"...writing and drawing the first two complete books...and adapting the original radio scripts and doing the art for the third. As far as Victor was concerned, we ran into each other once or twice when I was delivering finished books...and he grudgingly complimented me on the job I was doing (but not too much, for fear I might ask for more money!).

    Meet Corliss Archer
#1 (March 1948)
     Feldstein's only cover on this title,
contrary to other sources. (per Feldstein)

     After a while, I learned from my letterer, Jim Wroten, that Fox was getting himself into financial trouble and that I should make sure that I was fully paid for each book I delivered before I started the next one. Seems Victor was associated (so the rumor had it) with the bent-nose guys in a business venture: the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Race Track... and that there were some monetary problems associated with getting it going.

     It was Jim, incidentally, who also recommended that I go see the Business Manager who was the young son of M.C. Gaines. He had just taken over his father's business when the old man was killed in a speed boat crash on Lake Placid where they had a summer home. Jim had heard that they were looking for someone to do a teenage book for them...and he thought it might be a good idea if I put some eggs into another basket.

     And, of course, my association with Bill Gaines, which started with that teenage book deal, is history."

TROUBLE IN FOXLAND


However, all was not well in Foxland. Fox had never been happy with Eisner’s performance at the Wonderman trial and, consequently, “payment issues” arose as to the work produced thereafter. As stated by Eisner:

"I refused to lie on the witness stand for Fox. So I told the truth: that he- Fox- set out to imitate “Superman”. His defense disappeared. As a result, Fox refused to pay Eisner & Iger about $3,000 he owed us, an absolute fortune at the time."


     Mystery Men Comics
#9 (April 1940)
      Lou Fine makes “green meanies”
               look almost friendly.

     Accordingly, Eisner-Iger Ltd. terminated its relationship with Fox. The last Eisner Shop Lou Fine covers were covered dated April 1940. Tracing the lead times involved, the ‘parting of the ways’ would have occurred toward the end of 1939, beginning of 1940. In fact, review of ads from this period confirms this timeframe.


Obviously, without the services of Eisner’s shop, Fox badly needed people to produce his books. In a direct attempted “raid” of the Eisner-Iger personnel, the following appeared in a New York Times ad on December 2, 1939:

                                                               

    
     These were back-up features for the core Fox titles. Fox obviously was not shy about trying to raid Eisner’s shop for artists to continue his features. In fact, Fox rented additional space effective December 29, 1939 presumably to handle the greater staff he would need now that Eisner-Iger Shop was gone.


According to Joe Simon, who responded to the Fox ad and immediately became the editor and cover artist for Fox following the departure of the Eisner Shop, there was no “Mr. Roberts”. Rather this individual would be whoever the editor d’jour was at the time (including Simon himself). Additional ads followed. For instance, the ad of April 7, 1940 read:



Open interviews were advertised for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 4-5 p.m. in room 912 480 Lexington Ave. Fox Feature Syndicate, Inc placed the ads. The ad in May read:

It was a continuing challenge for Simon to get the books out on time.


JACOB KURTZBERG AND JOE SIMON

     Fox had a number of artists who had worked through the Eisner Shop that continued to produce work for him. One was a young artist named Jacob Kurtzberg. Kurtzberg had worked briefly in the Eisner Shop freelancing a number of features for early issues of Jumbo Comics in 1938 under a variety of pen names- Diary of Dr. Hayward by Curt Davis; Wilton of the West by Fred Sande and The Count of Monte Cristo by Jack Curtiss. Kurtzberg was to legally change his name in 1942 to “Jack Kirby”. He very much admired the professionalism of Eisner and Iger and that “they knew what they were doing.” Kirby was driven to be the best of those engaging in this new industry. He would not accept being “mediocre”. He viewed himself as being in “show business”. As a “performer”, he wanted to provide the best entertainment that he could.

Kirby’s first work for Fox appeared in January 1940 on the syndicated (and short-lived) Blue Beetle newspaper strip. With the departure of the Eisner Shop, he had the opportunity to step in and work steadily on some back up stories such as Wing Turner in Mystery Men #10 (May 1940) and Cosmic Carson in Science Comics #4 (May 1940).

                                                         The Blue Beetle daily panel (Jan. 27, 1940)
                                                                by Jack Kirby (Charles Nicholas
                                                                     was a Fox 'house' name)


With Fine gone, the May 1940 Fox covers were drawn by newcomer, Joe Simon. Simon had been doing freelance work for a number of publishers, but his first covers were for Fox. It was with the May 1940 issues of Science Comics and Mystery Men Comics for Fox that (although not a collaboration) the future team of Simon and Kirby first converged- Simon cover and Kirby feature. Simon supplied two to three months of covers for the core Fox titles before moving on to other freelance ventures and to the start of his longtime collaboration with Kirby.

       Fantastic Comics #6 (May 1940)
       Joe Simon's first month as the
            primary Fox cover artist.
        

Although working as the editor for Fox, Simon did not stop freelancing other jobs. It was with these free-lancing assignments that he got Kirby involved. As bluntly stated by Simon, Kirby’s skills were wasted at Fox. Their collaboration grew as Simon and Kirby produced material for Blue Bolt Comics.

Although it took some urging for Kirby to give up his steady salary at Fox (earning him $15 a week in a Depression mentality marketplace), after several successful freelancing projects with Simon, Simon convinced Kirby to leave Fox and to come with him.                                              
       
                                                                            Blue Bolt
#3 (Aug. 1940)
                                                                     Key issue that not only features                                                                      a 
Joe Simon cover, but the first                                                                        Simon & Kirby collaboration.

They created little known, but classic cover masterpieces for issues 8 through 10 of Champion Comics (June-August 1940) for Worth Publishing. It is from their meeting at Fox that the collaborative powerhouse of Simon and Kirby started; a powerhouse that was to create dozens of characters, genres and books. Their greatest collaboration was the creation of Captain America in late 1940, which was their very next creation following Blue Bolt. They did several freelance jobs for other Novelty titles, such as Target Comics as well as Timely Comics’ Red Raven Comics.

      Champion Comics #8 (June 1940)
         Simon cover of The Champ,
  a forerunner of the action-packed work
  that was the hallmark of the S&K team.

              
           Red Raven #1 (Aug. 1940)                    Captain America #7 (Oct. 1941)
  Simon and Kirby arrived at Timely with Red Raven #1 and went on to create       their signature character, Captain America. Their explosive style fit the       superhero genre perfectly and altered the comic book medium forever.


Some of their early work was to help out ex-fellow Fox bullpen colleague, Alfred Harvey, who Simon had first hired to work at Fox. Harvey needed help in taking over some comic titles (Champ Comics, Speed Comics, Green Hornet Comics) and creating the small new title of Pocket Comics, featuring The Black Cat) and Spitfire Comics. (This “small-lived” format quickly ended as more comics were slipped into the “pockets” of shoplifting kids then dimes into the cash register.). The team of Simon and Kirby packaged many of these first Harvey titles from mid-1941 for a year or so.

                                                                      Speed Comics #19 (June 1942)
                                                                  Kirby cover for one of the S&K shop
                                                                            produced Harvey titles.


continue to...

© 2004
by Jon Berk
JBComicbox@aol.com

About the author:

Jon Berk, noted comic book historian and collector, originally wrote this fascinating, in-depth look at Victor Fox and his early comic empire for Comic Book Marketplace #107. It appears here with a wealth of additional rare comic covers, courtesy of Jon's amazing comic collection. His complete run of pre-WWII Fox comics can be viewed in its entirety at:

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