Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Bill Everett Archives" Update: The Winding Road to Centaur

I've locked myself indoors all weekend to finish off work on the introduction to Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 that will be debuting at this year's San Diego Comicon. It reprints Everett's non-Marvel work from 1938-42; stories never before collected as such.

Many fascinating aspects of the comics themselves have bubbled up during my research for the introduction. Sure, the creators in the Golden Age of Comics were fascinating, but almost as unique are the publishers of the comics and how the industry operated, especially before the onset of the superheroes in 1938/39.

Case in point: Centaur Publications. This was the company that hired Bill Everett to do his first ever comic-book work. They published most famously Amazing-Man Comics and a host of other titles featuring Everett-drawn characters. To your left is the cover to 1938's only issue of Uncle Joe's Funnies. It doesn't have a month associated with its publication, but it's amongst the first ever comic book entries in Everett's canon of work, drawn a year before Marvel Comics #1 with the Sub-Mariner made its debut. What's interesting is how the history of Centaur's line of comics winds back before the company began even publishing comics.

The trail begins back in 1936, with the formation of the company Comics Magazine Company, Inc. by John Mahon and Bill Cook, former employees of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson who had formed National Allied Publications - the company that published the first all-original material comic book the year before, 1935's More Fun Comics (the company would eventually evolve into what we now know as DC Comics).

When Mahon and Cook left, they took some of NAP's inventory with them for issues 1 and 2 of The Comics Magazine (#1 cover-dated May '36). Issue #2 adds "Funny Pages" to the cover title, but the indicia remains The Comics Magazine.

With issue 6, however, only Funny Pages remains in the title, cover-dated Nov '38, which skips a month - Sep to Nov - from issue 5 of The Comics Magazine (Funny Pages). This is an important issue in comic-book history as it features the appearance of the first masked hero to appear in an American comic book, The Clock, by George E. Brenner. The publisher also debuted a new title that publication month - Funny Picture Stories v1 #1 which features The Clock for 7 pages and on the cover, another first.

What's also interesting to note is that The Comics Magazine + (Funny Pages) issues #1-5 all have a Chicago company address, but that changes to a St. Louis address for FPS v1 #1 and no mention of either in Funny Pages #6. The only consistency is the New York editorial office at 11 West 42nd Street.

Comics Magazine Company, Inc started publishing books with a May '36 cover date, but comes to an end as a company with their books that have a Jun '37 cover date, such as Funny Pages v1 #11. (Oddly enough, #8 has a Cleveland address for the company versus the original Chicago office that was then followed by the St. Louis office, even when the editorial offices are consistently in Manhattan? Perhaps Cook or Mahon used their home address for the company and keep moving!).

The Comics Magazine Company, Inc brand name comes to an end with the Jun '37 books because Cook and Mahon sell out to two gentleman, I.W. Ullman and Frank Temerson, who brand their company Ultem Publications. Ultem acquired two of their four titles from Mahon and Cook - Funny Pages and Funny Picture Stories - and two from the company Chesler Publications, Inc. - "Star Comics" and "Star Ranger" - which was run by Harry A Chesler, who would remain as editor of the books.

A quirk about Funny Pages v2 #1 published by Ultem. It has two different indicias. From the indicia on inside front cover: "FUNNY PAGES is published monthly at 404 N. Wesley Ave., Mount Morris, Ill., for Comics Magazine Company, Inc., 1213 W. 3rd St., Cleveland, Ohio. EDITORIAL OFFICE, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, N. Y." From the indicia on contents page: "FUNNY PAGES is published monthly by Ultem Publications, Inc., Mount Morris, Illinois. EDITORIAL OFFICE, 276 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK, N. Y."

Ultem, however, only holds out for five publishing months before the two men, Joe Hardie and Raymond Kelly, who have been publishing pulp magazines under the Centaur Publications banner, ride in and take over the four titles to start Centaur's line of comic books with the Mar '38 cover dates. (All four of Ultem's titles stop with Jan '38 and they then skip a month to start under Centaur with Mar '38).

Centaur's main thrust is humor books until they hire Lloyd Jacquet as editor who steers them towards the action-adventure genre. 1938 is the year Jacquet hires Bill Everett, who starts with his Skyrocket Steele strip in Amazing Mystery Funnies, the cover to issue one (seen above) and then Everett's first full story in issue two, cover-dated Aug and Sep '38 respectively.

And there you have the twisting road leading to Centaur's line of comics and the hiring of Bill Everett into the comic-book industry! Back now to fleshing out the introduction to Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1, where we go into greater detail about the early days of the Golden Age of Comics, and pick up the Centaur/Everett story as Jacquet, Everett and their band of creative anarchists break away from Centaur to form their own company that will ultimately package the contents for Marvel Comics #1 featuring Everett's the Sub-Mariner!


  1. Like many comics companies, the non-editorial office is often that of their printer. And of course, Ultem was publishing more than comic books at the time.

  2. Hey! That's my copy of "Uncle Joe's Funnies" up there!

  3. Thanks for the tidbits of info, Blake. Like Steve R sez, editorial offices were one thing back then, the other office was usually the printer corp office.