Tuesday, September 27, 2011

She's Josie #9

Archie Comics had initially started out in the 1940s as MLJ, and their early features were superhero characters like the Shield (the first patriotic superhero) and the Hangman.  Archie himself didn't come along until Pep Comics #22, and wasn't featured on a cover until #36.  But he rapidly eclipsed the other characters in MLJ's line, which proved fortunate as the superheros began dying out shortly after the war for almost all the publishers.  Archie even got the rare tribute of having a radio series, which popularized the character even more.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, the Archie brand exploded.  Archie's buddy Jughead got his own magazine, as did his girlfriends Betty and Veronica.  The character proved so popular that they even started publishing Little Archie, the adventures of our hero as a tyke.

But at the same time, the publisher wanted to diversify.  In 1959, Jack Kirby was between his short-term gig at DC Comics (where he created Challengers of the Unknown) and his famed period at Marvel.  Archie Comics commissioned Joe Simon and him to create a new superhero, initially known as The Fly (later redubbed Flyman).  For the next several years Archie Comics labored to create a superhero universe with The Jaguar, a resurrected Shield, Steel Sterling and other superheroes, collectively known as the Mighty Crusaders.

Ironically, nothing worked except a female version of Archie named Josie. Josie had pretty much the standard backup cast for a teen comic. There's Josie's ditzy blonde friend Melody, her (initially beatnik) boyfriend Albert, wealthy Alexander, and brainy (but plain-looking) Pepper. The comic does not appear to have been a big success at first; I don't remember ever seeing these in the spinner rack in my hometown. But it got lucky. In 1968-1969, a Saturday Morning show featuring Archie in the inevitable rock band was picked up by CBS. It was a huge success, and the group who recorded under the name The Archies came up with a smash hit in the song Sugar, Sugar. Josie quickly became a rock star too, her comic was renamed Josie and the Pussycats, and their Saturday morning cartoon debuted in 1970.

All that was far in the future at the time this issue came out. As you can probably guess, this issue featured Josie and her pals going to the New York World's Fair of 1964-65. Comics often did tie-ins to major events like this, although I confess this is one of the only ones that I can remember for that World's Fair. Which is remarkable, because Marvel's characters were all set in the New York metropolitan area at that time. The story starts out with Josie announcing that she and her pals are going to enter a contest:
And so the goal becomes to amass a horde of Crispy Crunchy boxtops. Josie gets two from her house. Albert contributes three, but only after getting sick from eating all those boxes of the cereal. Melody uses her charm:
And Alexander just buys up a warehouse of Crispy Crunchies. They're certain to win, right?
Fortunately for the story, Alexander decides to simply foot the bill for the trip to New York:
I believe the only structure still remaining at the site is that globe known as the Unisphere:
But Alex loses his wallet while riding the monorail. A kid in a cowboy hat picks it up, and the next several pages are consumed with the teens chasing him around the fair.
That's pretty interesting, because as you may recall, Alan Shepard did hit a few golf balls on the moon:
Melody eventually turns up with the kid in tow; he's apparently been following her. Unfortunately, he gave the wallet to his mom, and now he's lost. They suggest putting him on the TV at the fair, but:
Nice mom! So now they go chasing after the mother, but it turns out that she gave it to a policeman. Fortunately she immediately spots the officer in question, and he actually has the wallet. Unfortunately, they are all so worn out from chasing around the fair that they decide to go home. But it turns out that their escapades with the Crispy Crunchies caused a flurry of publicity for the company, and so:
Comments: Entertaining fluff.  Incidentally, there was a guest cameo:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Matt Murdock's Other Great Idea

I've talked in the past about his silly notion of convincing Foggy and Karen that his hitherto-unseen brother Mike was actually Daredevil.  That was ludicrous enough (although reasonably entertaining), but things got really bizarre when he came up with an even wilder idea of how to protect his secret identity:

See, he fakes a pilot's license and hires a plane, and then blows it up:

Resulting in this headline:

So now DD's problems are over.

Well, except for one thing; Matt Murdock's cane which doubles as Daredevil's billy club, is at the office. So he heads over there, but:

Despite his understanding, he follows her home and steals the cane.  No, I am not kidding:

Okay, so at least he feels guilty about it, eh?

Now remember, Matt's not just a lawyer; he's supposed to be one of the best in the business.  And what is it lawyers are supposed to be good at?  Figuring out all the ramifications of a possible decision, right?  I mean, that's why we hire them to look over our contracts, and why our contracts get more and more detailed over time.

But Matt hasn't thought this idea through.  It's not half-baked--it isn't even defrosted!  For example, there are the little things, like, oh, a place to sleep.  And bigger things, like putting the girl whom he supposedly loves through the agony of believing that he's dead.  And even the idea that he should not have blown up an airplane that didn't belong to him.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inflation Since the Silver Age

Longtime reader Mike F sent this analysis along and I thought it was interesting enough to post.  I will append my own thoughts at the end.

At the start of the Silver Age, DC comic books were 10 cents and had 24-25 pages of story, plus filler (gag strips, letter pages, etc.). Then in 1962 the price went up to 12 cents.

Today, a typical DC comic is 2.99 with only 20 pages of story (and maybe 1-2 pages of filler).

The analysis at the end of this e-mail is an attempt to do an apples-to-apples cost comparison (using a CPI calculator.) The CPI calculator is probably not 100% accurate but it is probably in the ballpark enough for this purpose.

What it shows is that we are paying more than 4-5 times as much for comics as we were in the Silver Age.

I believe there are several factors that may explain this.

1)      Writers and artists are paid more, including residuals
2)      Paper used is slick, not pulp.
3)      Printing quality is higher
4)      Sales figures are 1/5 to 1/10 the size meaning production costs are spread across fewer sales
5)      Most comics are sold through comics shops which need a higher sales price to stay in business (see lower sales figures)

Now to make things worse, most comics in the Silver Age had 1-3 stories per issue with considerably more text (dialogue and captions).

All in all, todays comics are vastly more expensive than they were in the Silver Age.

And of course, there is no comparison with the Golden Age when comics were ten cents and had around 60 pages of story and art.

$ Value
1956    2010
$0.10   $0.80

1962    2010
$0.12   $0.87

We will  multiply each number by 20/25 (80%) to account for the drop in story pages.

$ Value
1956    2010
$0.08    $0.64

1962    2010
$0.096  $0.69

DC Price Today Vs. CPI

Un-Normalized Percentage Difference
1956  ($2.99/.80) x 100 = 373.75%
1962 ($2.99/.87) x 100 =  343.68%

Normalized for page count difference
1956 ($2.99/.64) x 100 = 467.19%
1962 ($2.99/.69) x 100 = 433.33%

What do you think?

Thoughts by Pat:  Not sure I get all the math here, but this analysis does comport with an observation I came up with independently.  Back in 1968, when I first started collecting comics, I earned money for at least part of the year by mowing lawns.  I could make about $2.00 per hour whacking the grass, and with comics running 12 cents apiece, that means that I could translate my efforts into about 16.5 comics per hour.  I'm not sure what the going rate is for yard work these days, but in order to afford 16.5 comics kids today would have to be earning around $50.00 per hour, and I suspect strongly that they'd be more likely to get $10-$12, which would mean an effective price increase of 300-400% or more.

Another thought: Do you remember how DC used to fiddle with the comic sizes every time they pushed through a price increase after 1969's jump to 15 cents?  For example, look at Batman #214, the first issue with the new pricetag.  Batman #234 saw a jump to a quarter, but DC confused the issue by increasing the total page count to 52.  You can slice and dice that a lot of ways, but at least the price increase was accompanied by a value increase.  The new size and price lasted until #243 (1972), when the comics returned to the old size and the price "dropped" by a nickel.  Of course, the net effect was actually a nickel increase, hidden by the brief 52-page period.  The price jumped all the way to 50 cents with Batman #253 (1974), but they also bumped the page count to 100 (with most of the new pages coming from reprints).  Then the old size returned in Batman #263 (1975), but not the old price, which was now a full quarter.  Along the way, real page counts dropped as well; Batman #214 had a 23-page story, while Batman #263 only featured 18 pages of story and art.  So from 1969-1975, the cover price increased by 67%, but the price per page more than doubled.  And this was fairly well-concealed by the brief period of bigger issues.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wagon Train #13

Comics have long looked to movies, TV and (in the 1940s and 1950s) to radio for inspiration for new series.  Back in the 1950s, DC had many titles that were ported over from TV, including Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners, Sgt Bilko, Big Town, Mr District Attorney, A Date with Judy, as well as two long-running series featuring the movie stars Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis.

Dell Comics, in particular, went in for licensed features from other media.  The appeal is obvious; TV shows and movies have existing fan bases who may be influenced to buy the comics based on their familiarity with the characters and storylines.  Of course, one of the ironies today is that the licenses often go the other way, with old-time comic characters making the transition to the big and small screens.

Wagon Train was a hugely successful TV show which ran from 1957-1965.  The show featured the adventures of a group of covered wagons crossing the prairies from Missouri to California, shortly after the Civil War.  The stories mostly revolved around newcomers to the Wagon Train, and/or the local citizens whom they encountered along the way.  This is a common theme in TV, with shows such as Route 66 and Star Trek having many similarities (in fact, Gene Roddenberry reportedly pitched TV executives that Star Trek would be Wagon Train in space).  Wagon Train had two main characters; the wagon master Christopher Hale (played by John McIntire) and the scout Flint McCullough (played by Robert Horton).

Note the 15-cent price tag.  Dell tried to lead the comics to break the 10-cent barrier on several occasions, starting as early as 1958, but were always frustrated by the reluctance of the other publishers to go along.  Finally in late 1961 Marvel and DC raised their prices to 12 cents, while Dell tried to make the higher price stick into 1962 (this comic bears an indicia date of April-June of that year).

The story starts in typical fashion:
It turns out that a renegade Indian and his tribe have been attacking lone wagons along this route, and McCullough strongly advises that they join up with his group.  They agree reluctantly, but their stand-offish behavior soon causes problems.  In addition, it appears that the man is abusing the "hired man":
When another group mentions that the young man, Jack, had been pistol whipped for talking with another youngster, the wagon master insists that he get medical help for the lad.  While they are way from the husband and wife, he tries to draw Jack out on what happened, but is unsuccessful.

Word reaches the wagon train that marshals are looking for a young man and an accomplice who robbed a Wells Fargo stagecoach of $50,000 and killed three people.  The description fits Jack.  Later, while passing through some mountainous country, the new wagon disappears.  They have decided to strike out on their own.  Fortunately, the scout comes along just as the renegade Indians attack, and saves them.  When the battle is over, the older man shows little gratitude:
Eventually we learn the real secret.  Jack's brother and Reed had been responsible for the Wells Fargo robbery, but the brother had gotten away.  Reed was holding Jack hostage to force the brother to give him his half of the swag.  As the story ends, Reed and Jack's brother have been captured and Jack will be staying behind to testify against them at the trial.

Comments: An interesting and unusually sophisticated tale; I can't help wondering if it's an adaptation of an actual episode of Wagon Train.

The backup tale is of a former circus acrobat and his son.  It turns out that the father had lost his grip on his wife and she fell to her death.  While the Wagon Train is stopped for a dust storm, the boy wanders off to recapture his pet calf.  He is attacked by a mountain lion, and escapes onto an old wooden bridge:
The boy falls onto a rock ledge, where he is stuck.  Can the father overcome his fear of heights and save his son from the fate that befell his wife?
Comments: An excellent, well-constructed story.  The concept of a character having to overcome his personal phobia in order to save a family member is pretty common in TV and movies.

Overall, this was an excellent comic.  Incidentally, the last page includes a circulation statement:
Not too shabby; 314,000 copies per issue was a little more than what the Flash was selling in 1961.  As it happens, however, this was the final issue under the Dell imprint; a year and a half later Wagon Train (the comic) appeared as a Gold Key title, but by then the TV show had passed its prime and the comic only lasted four issues.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our Army At War #175

Here's a cover that gives only a hint as to the innards.  As I have discussed in the past, Sgt. Rock scorned thoughts of romance as interfering with the business of killing Germans. This is not atypical in heroes for adolescent boys; Sherlock Holmes and Doc Savage, for instance, were notably uncomfortable in the presence of the fairer sex.

Well, in this story we learn that Rock had indeed been a red-blooded American boy before his induction into the armed forces:

They made plans to marry after his service was over.  But, no particular surprise, after insiring him through several battles, Mary sent him a "Dear Rock" letter:

So he goes off to ponder the cruelties of fate when:

They take him off in a German jeep, where Rock rebels, giving us the cover image.  He kayos two of the Germans but the third one shoots him in the back as he flees.  Fortunately he makes it to a cabin, and passes out.  When he comes to:
You've gotta love that last panel.  Around this time, the comics used to advertise these posters of sad-eyed kittens:
The resemblance is unmistakable.  Well, as you can probably guess, Rock finds it impossible to shake little Mignon.  And she turns out to be quite brave:

So Rock goes charging towards the nearest Germans, not to seek revenge, but to get help for the youngster. Of course, they don't see it his way, so he's got to fight his way through to the medical supplies:
After getting back to the allied lines, he turns her over to a medic.  But she has one last request:
Yes, you can say that it seems a little creepy, but Rock's no molester.  It's just a sweet little story about how Rock found something to fight for once Mary left him.  When I was a much younger man, there were a couple of younger sisters of girlfriends who quite obviously had crushes on me.  And I always tried to treat them as special, not out of some nefarious intent but because I could remember what it was like to be a kid and have a crush on an adult.

The backup story is an interesting tale about a young American who had tried on several occasions to swim the English Channel, but each time he was forced to abandon his quest due to the elements. A year later he is a volunteer fighter in the RAF, when he is shot down on a return flight from France.  So the story is about him fighting his way back across the channel:

When he makes it back to England, he gains the confidence that the invasion of Normandy will succeed.

Overall, I loved this comic.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Don't Be A Wimp!

Comics advertisers knew that most comics buyers were young boys and adolescents, and they tailored their ads accordingly.  This particular ad would be appealing to kids who really didn't want to put in the effort to actually build their bodies.  Just think: No exercise at all!

Probably the most famous ad of this type was the Charles Atlas pitch:
If I recall correctly, there was a later, extended version of the ad that had Mac remarking ruefully that he noticed how his girlfriend had referred to the bully as "that man", while scornfully calling him "little boy".

Of course, in the all-too real world of childhood and adolescence, bullies were a regular problem, and so this fantasy presentation of getting even was quite powerful and, I suspect, effective.

Sports heroes were often used to push these body-building courses:

Although often the personal testimonial of a normal guy who had been turned into a hunk was favored:
Before and after pictures were often featured. I believe this one is probably my favorite:
They made sure to specify that you would be a hit with the gals if you followed the regimen:
Not to mention successful in "all sports":
Incidentally, the George Jowett books that were marketed using the last few ads are all available online here.