One of the most interesting things about the comic books we read today is that they were born ENTIRELY of the desire to reprint material from comic strips. Your Major Spoilers Retro Review of Popular Comics #1 awaits!
POPULAR COMICS #1
Writer: Frank Willard/Chester Gould/Percy Crosby/Fontaine Fox/Walter Berndt/Hal Forrest/Robert L. Ripley/Al Smith/Martin Branner/Sidney Smith/Frank V. Martinek/Harold Gray/Carl Ed/Ferd Johnson/Al Posen/Edwin Alger/Chet Grant/Fred Harman/Gaar Williams/A.W. Nugent/Milton Caniff/A.W. Brewerton/Frank King/Ed Leffingwell/Bill Holman/Tack Knight/Frank King
Penciler: Frank Willard/Chester Gould/Percy Crosby/Fontaine Fox/Walter Berndt/Hal Forrest/Robert L. Ripley/Al Smith/Martin Branner/Sidney Smith/Leon Beroth/Wally Walker/Harold Gray/Carl Ed/Ferd Johnson/Al Posen/Edwin Alger/Fred Harman/Gaar Williams/A.W. Nugent/Milton Caniff/A.W. Brewerton/Frank King/Ed Lefingwell/Bill Holman/Tack Knight/Frank King
Editor: G. T. Delacorte Jr.
Publisher: Dell Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing:
Release Date: January 2, 1936
Previously in Popular Comics: As early as 1929, Dell Comics was experimenting with the comic strip form with The Funnies, a four-color pamphlet that wasn’t quite a comic book, but was a step in that direction. A few years later, Dell distributed Famous Funnies #1, in conjunction with Eastern Color Printing, a volume that historians have named the first actual American comic book. It’s not clear whether that volume was sold or just given away at Woolworth’s department stores, but by 1936, it was clear that there was money to be made in selling comic books. Those who have read our previous Dell Retro Reviews may recall that while they were one of the most prolific publishers in comic history, they didn’t produce their own content, notably teaming with Western Publishing for many years. In the modern age of individual streaming platforms, it’s a bit remarkable to see this comic presenting work from multiple comic strip syndicates. Old school roughneck Moon Mullins opens the issue, followed by another Chicago Tribune/N.Y. News Syndicate stalwart, Dick Tracy.
Tracy gets four reprinted Sunday strips to deal with the prison escape of Boris Arson, and the resulting political fallout. Tracy actually gets busted down to beat cop briefly, and the Tracy segments end on a cliffhanger that gets picked up next time around. I found it a bit maddening that a 64-page comic only gave us four pages of the big headliner, but as the kids say today, “1936 gonna 1936.” Two comedy strips from King Features Syndicate follow Tracy’s exciting crime-fighting time, which feels awkward by modern reading standards. The anthology comics of the Golden Age, on the other hand, didn’t worry about such things, taking their cues from the funny pages of the day, where The Spirit rubbed elbows with Gasoline Alley and Barney Google stood right next to Rex Morgan, M.D. One of the more noteworthy appearances here is the first comic book bow of Don Winslow of the Navy, a radio and comic strip star who later headlined his own long-running comic book at Fawcett Comics.
Seeing King Features, McNaught, Bell, and Tribune Syndicate strips back-to-back like this feels very odd, especially when you consider that syndication worked a lot like the Hollywood Studio system, where each entity was its own little fiefdom of properties. Thematically, though, it makes sense to see Don’s Naval adventures are accompanied by Bell Syndicate’s Tailspin Tommy, an incredibly delicate and detailed strip involving aerial action and the occasional kidnapping.And no collection of popular strips from the era would be complete without a few entries from the files of Robert L. Ripley, in King Features Syndicate’s Believe It Or Not. (Like everyone over the age of 45 or so, I can’t type or read those words without hearing them in the breathy baritone cadence of Jack Palance, with the pregnant pause before “or not.”)
There are actually four full-page Believe It Or Not comics in this issue, all featuring the clearly haunted art of Wally Walker. Don’t make eye contact with Phil Gully, by the way, or he’ll slowly control your mind and consume your immortal soul. I sometimes feel ashamed, as a fan of comics and sequential art, to say that I’ve never had a great deal of love for Terry and the Pirates, but Milt Caniff’s adventure strip is here, as well as comedy pages like Harold Teen, Smokey Stover, and Looie, a strip about a less-than-scrupulous attorney
You can also mail away for a pellet gun OR a repeating slingshot, both of which seem like a good way to shoot out one’s eye, as a wise mall Santa once said. All in all, Popular Comics #1 took its inspiration from the Sunday newspaper comic pages, which in turn seemed to be derived from the theater experiences of the era, with news, cartoons, comedy, adventure, and romance all agglomerated together into a smorgasbord, earning 3 out of 5 stars overall. When it comes to these almost century-old comics, it’s hard to imagine that they have anything in common with a modern Spider-Man or Saga, but it is fascinating to see where the comic books that we love began.
Dear Spoilerite,At Major Spoilers, we strive to create original content that you find interesting and entertaining. Producing, writing, recording, editing, and researching requires significant resources. We pay writers, podcast hosts, and other staff members who work tirelessly to provide you with insights into the comic book, gaming, and pop culture industries. Help us keep MajorSpoilers.com strong. Become a Patron (and our superhero) today.
POPULAR COMICS #1
Popular Comics reprinted strips from multiple press syndicates, all in color for a dime, and does so in a way that reminds us that the comic page was once a vibrant marketplace of genres and ideas.