Comics Fans before Comics Fandom

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In the midst of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of what we call "comics fandom," a few folks now and then will announce (as if it were uncharted territory) that some people collected comics (and even published fanzines with comics commentaries) prior to 1961. (Most often cited are the E.C. fanzines of the 1950s.) The reason we're celebrating 50 years is that 1961 marked the start of a fandom that didn't go away; earlier endeavors did not grow and build into a long-term, ongoing community of hobbyists. But, especially among science-fiction fans (with a tradition of amateur self-publication), there were certainly people who shared their fondness for comics. A case in point was The Cricket, and I turned up a copy of the first issue (June 1949) recently.

The Cricket, self-described as "A periodical of culture and reefinement" with the epigraph "You plays cricket, drinks tea, and lifs the pinky when you holds the cup" (a Walt Kelly quote from Animal Comics), was a fanzine published by my mom and dad and edited by Betsy Curtis (aka Mom) "at their editorial offices, mimeograph salon, studio, dishwashing and ironing parlors, nursery and residence." Circulation of the mimeographed newsletter (judging from the published list of recipients) was 36, only 4 copies of which went to relatives. In the midst of book, magazine, and music recommendations is the following essay by Mom. (I shall not italicize it or put it in quotes; suffice to say the rest of this post is by her.):

Best Sellers

So many friends have asked me in grim or pathetic tones, "Do you approve of comic books?" that I feel I must make some public statement which I can hand out to such gals and run for cover while they are reading it. The question, of course, makes about as much sense as "Do you approve of books?" but it is hard to say this without being thought impertinent or irrelevant by the questioners.

Comic books are naturally appealing. Pictures, like stage drama, are more interesting than mere print. The rapid action of most of the plots and the excitement of adventure hold a child's attention in comics as they do in western movies. Passages of slow moving description are not necessary when the action is presented in pictures.

Many objections to comic books have to do with their subject matter. It is certainly not surprising that the children of avid whodunit readers should like detective comics and that children who are offered few fairy tales should satisfy their craving for fantasy with Superman and the Green Lantern (whose doings are in their way more moral than "Big Claus and Little Claus" and most of the contents of the Red, Violet, and Blue Fairy Books. And comics are cheaper than "good" fantasy - the Oz books are still retailing at $2. I wish I could afford to supply Judy [my nickname in 1949] with books which she would enjoy more (and there are plenty) than comics.

Some mothers object that their children bury themselves in comics and no longer spend time in active "fantasy play" with their friends. Cops and robbers are supposed to have given way to afternoons in the corners of the sofa with piles of comics. Comics are also supposed to have replaced "real literature" in the lives of our young. I can see no reason why there should not be a "real literature" in comic form. It is slow in taking shape, but the work of such artists as [Morris] Gollub, [Dan] Noonan, and Kelly give promise that comics can be good reading for children. Certainly these stories have been acted out by children - I've seen and heard it.

Comic art is a young art. When better comics are printed, kids will read them. I have considerable faith in the taste of children - they like good fiction better than bad; but as long as they are offered only mediocre, bad, and worse, in a form that is more appealing and cheaper than good stories, they will continue to read mediocre, etc.

I don't know how to get good comics on the market any more than I know how to encourage the writing and publishing of other good books for children - but I am hopeful that artists and publishers will come across in time for our grandchildren to have lots of fun at a very moderate cost.


The largest number of periodicals in our household seems, in spite of culture and reefinement, to be made up of comic books. Most of our collection are really intended to be comic - that is, funny. Most of them are published by the Dell Publishing Company and portray the doings of urban children (Little Lulu, Henry) or urban animal child-substitutes (Walter Lantz, Merrie Melodies, Walt Disney, Tom and Jerry, etc.) The cream of the crop were, in the recent past, Our Gang, Raggedy Ann, and Fairy Tale Parade (still Dell) with the excellent drawing, interesting stories and amusing dialogue of Walt Kelly, Dan Noonan, and Morris Gollub; but these three gentlemen seem to be deserting the comic book business and two of the publications are no longer in existence. The least painful comics still on the market other than the ones I have just mentioned seem to be the Disney ones. I should recommend a recent special, still on the stands in Canton - "Donald Duck in the Treasure of the Andes" [Dell Four Color #223, actually "Lost in the Andes" by Carl Barks] - as the best of the recent dime publications for the four-to-eight year old. We do seem to have accumulated a number of Superboy, Wonder Woman, and Bat Man opera, but these do not hold the attention of our six-year-old for more than five or six readings. Even Raggedy Ann can beat that.


Barry Alfonso March 15, 2011 at 1:55 PM  

Hi Maggie, While I do not remember the Cricket, I read Newfangles religiously around 1970-71. Shel
Dorf turned me on to your wonderful newsletter -- I was part of the original San Diego Comic-Con bunch. I love all the comics news and the spot illustrations. You guys were very inspiring. Thanks for all the enjoyable issues.

Maggie Thompson March 15, 2011 at 2:30 PM  

Great to hear from you! Of course, I remember you. Will you be part of the celebration of pioneering fans at this year's Comic-Con International: San Diego?

Barry Alfonso March 17, 2011 at 12:06 PM  

I don't know if I will make it out, Maggie. I live in Pittsburgh, PA at present, so it's a bit of a jog to get out there. But I wish all my old friends all the best. Any chance of a revived Newfangles, maybe a one-off? I would love to see it happen...

Post a Comment

  © Blogger template The Professional Template II by 2009

Back to TOP