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When the first DC comic hit the stands

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

After writing about the considerations that went into figuring out when Marvel Comics #1 might have hit stands — including a look at the file copy from Jacquet Studios, which produced the comic book — I received some interesting material from Glen Cadigan relating to an even earlier title — the first DC publication.

Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson launched what would later become DC with New Fun, an oversized tabloid with black-and-white interiors not long after the monthly Famous Funnies began. "As most people have forgotten," Cadigan said, "not only was Lloyd Jacquet the original editor of the first Marvel comic ever published, but he was also the editor of the very first DC title, New Fun #1, which has a cover date of February 1935." Last year on eBay, he writes, a copy of New Fun was sold — depicted here — that included the following letter from Jacquet:

1-11-35
New FUN — hot off The Daily Eagle press — goes on sale today from coast to coast. Take this copy home — try it on the youngsters from 2 to 90 — and see them go through this live, modern idea of a kid's mag, filled with original comics and features!

Lloyd Jacquet, Editor
P.S. How do you like it?

Cadigan said he supposed the letter was written for retailers — but as he only saved the scans from the auction, he couldn't refer back to the listing to see if it was any more specific as to the issue's origin or its provenance. I would imagine Jacquet's likely audience might also include colleagues in the publishing community; there might also be advertisers and distributors in the potential audience, if those contacts were inside Jacquet's domain to handle for Wheeler-Nicholson.

"In any event," Cadigan wrote, "it gives a specific day for the shipping date of New Fun #1 (1-11-35), which is either less than a month or about a month-and-a-half from the cover date, depending upon whether February means the first or last day of the month." I would assume that is indeed January 11 and not the international November 1 — though both days would have been Fridays in 1935.

Another mystery is what's written on the cover of the issue — Cadigan made out words which might be "Better Boston" or "Batter Barton" on top, but the two words below are even less clear. It's not obvious that they're from the same hand as the accompanying letter.

So what does it say about when the issue hit the stands? Cadigan notes that something else to look at is that Timely may have had different business practises than National did in 1935, and five years later things may have been different across the board. "But in 1935, the same man that packaged Marvel Comics # 1 put a February cover date on a book that was printed in January, so it's something to consider."

It's a very interesting data point — if there's more information as to the background of thin interesting letter and issue, I'd love to hear it. And, just as with the Pay Copy of Marvel #1, it adds its own set of variables. Did the printing press send Jacquet his copy of New Fun at the same time it shipped to the newsstand? Or did it ship Jacquet his copy earlier, in which case we’re awful close to that February issue coming out in February, against known later newsstand practices. But maybe that logic hadn’t been established yet. Either way, yeah, were looking at a comic in his hand pretty close to the cover date.

The Marvel Pay Copy continues to be the real wild card in this. The July dates are payment dates; that’s pretty clear. But was Jacquet or his associate going through an issue they had in hand and marking checks as they sent them — meaning they had the comic book in July — or were they using the file copy later on as a double-check, just making sure once the issue is in hand that everyone’s gotten their money? Because those dates could have been written at any time, August, September, or October.

There is another concern that comes out of seeing a publisher start from a one-month gap and go to a two- or three-month gap, because it means we’re doubling up on issues at some point on the true monthlies. If we’ve got...

Jan ship, Feb cover
Feb ship, Mar cover
Mar ship, Apr cover

...and we somehow go to what we had later...

Jan ship, Apr cover
Feb ship, May cover
Mar ship, Jun cover

...then we’ve got months where two comic books coming out, and they just kept advancing the cover date. Now, this is common practice for magazine publishers, slipping a 13th issue into the year and advancing cover dates (as opposed to inserting a “Summer” issue” or whatever). The ship-date-to-cover-date gap grows, but you’d only know when the shift happened by recording every arrival date. Particularly if issues are released on a four-week system, an added 13th issue would be imperceptible.

But it does create challenges if we're trying to figure out when certain historic issues actually shipped. This is side project #24 here at Comichron, but there does seem to be enough information out there to at least sketch out a skeletal framework of the changing shipping-versus-cover date gaps for each publisher across time.

As Ron Goulart writes in Comic Book Culture, money was an issue for Major Wheeler-Nicholson on New Fun, and "he often didn't get around to paying his artists the small fees — usually five dollars per page — he'd promised them." Lloyd Jacquet himself quit after months of non-payment, as did his successors Sheldon Stark and cartoonist Whitney Ellsworth, Gerard Jones writes in Men of Tomorrow. Maybe a Pay Copy of New Fun would have come in handy for the major — especially if it were valued at today's prices!

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