Sunday, December 5, 2010

January-November 1935: New Fun #1-6; New Comics #1

Covers by W.C. Brigham

I'm off to a bad start with this project, because I couldn't find copies of New Fun #1, #3-4 or #6.  But I did read issues #2 and #5, so I can start there and barrel on gamely ahead.  No time to stop and look back, I'm afraid, those comics are lost to the winds of history.

New Fun is almost more of a magazine than a comic book.  Yes, it has a lot of comic strips, but it also has a bunch of articles and text pieces.  The strips are mostly of the action-adventure type, with some humour comics mixed in.  I like the variety.  The articles cover short stories, sport, magic tricks, stamps and coins, aviation, and everything else that I suppose was all the rage with young folks at the time.  It's a surreal experience to even think about it.  The first two issues of New Fun were totally black and white, but from issue #3 on they're in colour.

Most of the action-adventure strips are serialised, being one-page affairs that continue from one issue to the next.  I gather that this is much in the same vein as the strips that appeared in the newspapers at the time.  The range is broad, with westerns, sci-fi, spy thrillers, and pulp-style adventure.  But I think this is a format that probably worked better in the papers, in presumably weekly installments, than it would here in monthly installments.  I'm already having trouble remembering what happened in most of them, and it's only been a couple of days.  There were a few stand-outs, though.  Don Drake is a fun sort of Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers inter-planetary romp.  Super-Police is pretty gonzo, almost Grant Morrison-esque in its pseudo-science.  And props to the opening strip in issue #2, Sandra of the Secret Service, for mentioning a death ray early on.  I knew I was in familiar territory.  And credit to Wing Brady for the best line in the issue: "Let them come!! We have the machine gun!!!"

The humour strips I find very enjoyable.  Sure, the jokes are often obvious or inscrutable from my modern perspective, but they're short and they don't rely on me having read the previous issue to know what's going on.  They're a really good change of pace.

As for creators I recognised, they were absent in New Fun #2.  Vin Sullivan does some work in issue #5, and he's an ubiquitous presence at early DC - he's also the guy who bought Superman from Siegel and Shuster, which makes him a noteworthy figure on its own.  His cartooning is very enjoyable.

I read the text pieces for issue #2, but they were far too blurry in issue #5 - no way am I going to strain my eyes reading this nonsense.  I anxiously await the disappearance of this stuff, because it really does stretch out my reading time immensely, for little entertainment value.  Although there was a laughable article in issue #2 in which the author expresses his opinion that America and Japan will never go to war, because they both love baseball.  Bet he was eating his words in seven years time.

At this point I should mention racism.  It's not as prevalent as it will become once World War II gets started, but it is here.  One of the text stories is a Western murder mystery, and one of the clues the hero uses to solve the mystery is that the culprit is Mexican.  Another comedy strip has a black girl falling for a white boy after his face gets covered in soot.  That sort of thing.  I'm not offended at all, I think it's an interesting window into the culture at the time, but it has to be said.  It's pretty awful stuff.

Cover by Vin Sullivan
New Comics #1 is more of the same, although the emphasis seems to be on humour strips as opposed to the adventures (though they are still there).  It still has the text pieces, and I was mystified at the one that feels the need to explain what a hobby is, in depth.  It's kind of depressing to think that people didn't have hobbies back then, and need the concept explained.  Vin Sullivan is all over this series as well.  Whitney Ellsworth, a DC editor, also does some work.  Sheldon Mayer is there.  Even Walt Kelly of Pogo fame does an adaptation of Gulliver's Travels.  I actually found this one more enjoyable than New Fun, probably because there are more humour strips.  Perhaps once I get a head of steam on the adventure strips I'll start getting into them, but so far it's the lighter stuff I'm getting more out of.

I also wasn't able to read More Fun Comics #7 or Big Book of Fun Comics #1.  The former is the continuation of New Fun, and the latter is reprint book featuring New Fun #1-4.

So I'm enjoying it thus far, I'm just hoping this format doesn't last too long.  I'd like the text pieces to disappear pronto, and the adventure strips to get longer and meatier.  But at the moment the novelty is keeping me entertained.

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