Oskar Lebeck of Dell's Golden Age

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In the course of researching the origins of the term "graphic novel," I came across information I'd internalized long ago, forgetting where it had originated. Bill Spicer edited a groundbreaking fanzine Back In The Day. Born as Fantasy Illustrated, it morphed into Graphic Story Magazine with #8. In #9 (Summer 1968), Spicer and Vince Davis interviewed creator Dan Noonan (whose work I'd admired since seeing it in the 1940s).

I've been rummaging through Internet postings in search of information about the man who owned personal copyrights to the non-licensed comic books he edited for Western Printing & Lithographing Co. (distributed by Dell) - rummaging without success.

But here, in the Noonan interview, was that information about Oskar Lebeck. In fact, it opened the interview:

"At the time I was working for Oskar, he'd been the prime mover for the Western line of comics; before the war, Lebeck, through association with the Disney Studio and Western, started the Mickey Mouse Magazine and several others. And of course, they met with almost instantaneous success. At the conclusion of the war there was a terrific market for comics, and they were doing a million-dollar business in it. Lebeck then became editor-in-chief for the Western comics division; he was responsible for delivering the package - the material that'd be printed - to George Delacorte, the publisher and distributor.

"Lebeck was a wonderful man to work for, and he was really the only comic book impresario that, in my opinion, ever deserved the name. He was a German, who'd come here from Berlin and had worked with Max Reinhardt and with a number of stage people. He had also done a good deal of design work in New York. Lebeck had quite a flair for design; the Bauhaus was still not so distant in people's minds that it wasn't acceptable, and I think that's where his work might have been influenced.

"He had a wide open mind for ideas; he initiated Animal Comics, a fairy story comic book, and these Raggedy Ann comics at the end of the war. And many other titles that were one-shots. Just about everything he did turned out rather well. He insisted on good stories; he'd buy a good story, and then he'd try to pick the best artist he had for it. But if an artist wrote a story himself, and he liked it, you could go right ahead and illustrate it, if he felt you were capable of doing so. With Oskar the story was the thing, and it didn't make too much difference to him who did the writing. Just so it was good."

Asked about the Lebeck copyrights, Noonan responded:

"I'd imagine that it was some understanding they had - Oskar was responsible for bringing up the sales of their comic book division, and I think this might have been part of his reward; he held these copyrights. And if there was any re-use of the material, he'd receive royalties.

"Anyway, that's my interpretation of it. It wasn't talked about too generally; most companies wouldn't discuss finances with you outside of your own, and I can't say they were unusual in that respect."

He said Lebeck had died the previous year "at his home in La Jolla."

The full fascinating interview (copyright 1968 William W. Spicer) ran six pages and is well worth tracking down. I've not found more information on Lebeck anywhere else.


Dana Gabbard March 11, 2010 at 3:52 PM  

This was very useful in compiling a Wikipedia entry on Lebeck. He was quite an interesting man of many talents.

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