Saturday, May 28, 2022

Classic Comics and the Illegal Paper Allotment Scheme


If you’re familiar with the history of Classics Illustrated, you know that the comic line, originally known as “Classic Comics,” was founded by Albert L. Kanter.  Kanter was an enterprising and visionary man whose ingenuity not only built a publishing institution but got him into trouble with the government and nearly drove him out of business - just as his new venture was picking up steam.

Initially an employee of Elliot Publishing, Kanter released the earliest Classic Comics under his employer’s name before forming his own company, which was dubbed Gilberton.  But if you look closely at the first post-Elliot issues, you’ll notice that rather than Gilberton, the indicia lists entities like “Long Island Independent” or “Richmond Hill Courier” as publisher.  If those sound to you like newspaper names, you’re not wrong.  It was all part of a clever scheme Kanter came up with to get around an inconvenient restriction.

Because the fledgling company’s early history coincided with World War II, it had to abide by wartime paper rationing rules.  Gilberton had enough of an allotment to print its new titles.  But unlike most of its competitors, Classic Comics frequently reprinted nearly all of its issues and offered them for sale as back order items.  Gilberton simply didn’t have enough of an allotment to print those ever-increasing back issues.  So Kanter came up with a novel solution: he acquired the allotments of various New York-based newspapers and used them for his reprints.

In the well-written Classics Illustrated: A CulturalHistory (2nd Edition, McFarland and Company, 2011) author William B. Jones, Jr. explains, “During the war years when paper restrictions were in force, Kanter was able to purchase paper allotments from New York-area publishers, whose company names – Elliot Publishing Co., Long Island Independent, Island Publishing Co., Nassau Bulletin, Queens Home News, Sunrise Times, The Courier, and Queens County Times, along with Raymond Haas’s Conray Products – appeared in various reprinted editions.”

 “The companies had nothing to do with CC [Classic Comics], but Gilberton had to list their name on the edition,” notes Dan Malan in his thorough and highly detailed The Complete Guide to Classics Illustrated, Volume 1 (Classics Central, 1996/2006).

This led to a confusing phenomenon, with different editions of the same title being published, at least nominally, by different publishers.  “For example,” writes Jones, “the third, fourth, and fifth printings of No. 7, Robin Hood, were produced in quick succession in March, June, and October 1944 by, respectively, the Long Island Independent, the Nassau Bulletin, and the Queens County Times.”

Robin Hood, 2nd Printing (HRN 12), Published by Elliot Publishing Company

Robin Hood, 3rd Printing (HRN 18), Published by the Long Island Independent

Robin Hood, 4th Printing (HRN 20), Published by the Nassau Bulletin

Robin Hood, 5th Printing (HRN 22), Published by the Queens County Times

Robin Hood, 6th Printing (HRN 28), Published by Gilberton Company

This arrangement was so successful that it enabled Gilberton to publish not only new, regular issues of Classic Comics but dozens of reprint editions throughout 1943 and 1944.  And it all came to an abrupt halt in late 1944.  Neither Jones nor Malan gives a clear answer to why this happened other than a vague “due to the paper shortage.”  What they fail to mention, and perhaps didn’t know, is that the paper allotment scheme wasn’t just effective - it was also illegal!

For an explanation of how the scheme worked and why the government took issue with it, it’s all laid out very clearly in The Federal Register dated August 31, 1945:


Friday, August 31, 1945



[Suspension Order S-895]


              Albert L. Kanter, Rose E. Kanter, Raymond N. Haas, and Myer Levy, partners doing business under the trade name of Gilberton Company, are engaged in the business of publishing comic magazines at 510 6th Avenue, New York City.  Among the magazines they publish is Classic Comics, a title which they own.  Philip Sparacino with offices at 24 Eldridge Avenue, Hempstead, Long Island, New York, is the owner and publisher of Long Island Independent and Nassau Bulletin, suburban weekly newspapers.  Island Publishing Company, Inc. is a corporation wholly owned by Eugene Blumenthal with offices at 351 W. Olive Street, Long Beach, Long Island, New York and is engaged in publishing Long Beach Life, a suburban weekly newpaper.  Howard Cummings with offices at 235 Braddock Avenue, Queens Village, Long Island, New York, is the owner and publisher of Queens County Times, Queens Home News, Sunrise Times and Richmond Hill Courier, suburban weekly newspapers.

              At the close of 1943, Gilberton Company had exceeded its permissible quota of paper for the publishing of Classic Comics, by approximately 96 tons.  Sparacino, Blumenthal and Cummings, who had no quotas for the publishing of magazines under Limitation Order L-244, contracted with Gilberton Company to publish reprints of Classic Comics to the extent of 90 tons annually for each of the newspapers published by each of them respectively, or 630 tons of newsprint for the seven newpapers.  Pursuant to this agreement, Gilberton Company arranged for the purchase of newsprint and the printing and distribution of Classic Comics, and performed all of the functions of publisher, assuming the ultimate risk of the publishing venture.  However, Sparacino, Blumenthal and Cummings lent the names of their newspapers, probably representing them to be the publishers of the various reprints of Classic Comics printed and published during the year 1944, and received financial benefits from the use of newsprint used to print and publish Classic Comics in violation of Limitation Order L-244.  During the year 1944, Philip Sparacino thus caused to be used illegally 180,779 tons of newsprint; Island Publishing Co., Inc. and Eugene Blumenthal thus caused to be used illegally a total of 89,845 tons; and Howard Cummings thus caused to be used illegally a total of 350,874 tons of newsprint.

              Sparacino, Blumenthal and Cummings also failed to furnish the printer with the certification required by Order L-244 but instead furnished certificates referring to Order L-241.

              The Gilberton Company, through its individual partners and through Eugene Blumenthal, Island Publishing Company, Inc., Philip Sparacino and Howard Cummings and each of them individually, violated one or the other of Limitation Orders L-240, L-241, L-244, and Priorities Regulation 7A.  Their actions were wilful and resulted in the diversion of critical materials to uses not authorized by the War Production Board.  In view of the foregoing, it is hereby ordered that:

              & 1010.895 Suspension Order No. S-895.  (a) Albert L. Kanter, Rose E. Kanter, Raymond N. Haas, and Myer Levy, partners doing business as Gilberton Company, Philip Sparacino, Island Publishing Co., Inc., and Eugene Blumenthal, and Howard Cummings, their respective publications, their successors, assigns, and persons or corporations acting for or on behalf of any of them, shall not cause or cause to be used any newsprint for the printing or publishing of magazines, newspapers, periodicals or books so long as the allocation of such newsprint or paper is governed and controlled by any order or regulation of the War Production Board.

              (b) Nothing contained in this order shall be deemed to relieve Albert L. Kanter, Rose E. Kanter, Raymond N. Haas, and Myer Levy, partners doing business as Gilberton Company, Philip Sparacino, Island Publishing Co., Inc., and Eugene Blumenthal, and Howard Cummings, their respective publications, their successors, assigns, persons or corporations acting for or on behalf of any of them, from any restriction, prohibition contained in any other order or regulation of the War Production Board, except insofar as the same may be inconsistent with the provisions hereof.

              (c) This order shall take effect on the 29th day of August 1945.

              Issued this 22nd day of August 1945.

                             WAR PRODUCTION BOARD

                             By J. Joseph Whelan,

                             Recording Secretary.

[F. R. Doc. 45-16234; Filed, Aug. 29, 1945; 4:41 p.m.]

Federal Register, August 31, 1945

And so, for their transgression – “the diversion of critical materials to uses not authorized by the War Production Board” - Kanter and his collaborators were delivered a sound spanking.  Classic Comics and the other publishers were prohibited from using any newsprint paper for the remainder of the time WPB oversaw paper rationing, effectively putting them out of business - at least temporarily.  (Though the suspension order is dated August 1945, it’s clear that Classic Comics’ publishing had ceased by the beginning of that year.)

This sad situation was such a big deal that at least a couple of newspapers picked up the story.


Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Thursday, August 30, 1945


Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman, Thursday, August 30, 1945


The effect of this must have been devasting for Kanter and his company.  Though there had been 49 reprint editions in 1944 and would be 27 in 1946 (according to Malan), there were none at all in 1945.  And while Classic Comics had managed an almost-monthly schedule of new issues in 1943 and the first half of 1944, there was only one published between July 1944 and July 1945.

Fortunately for Kanter et al, by the time of the suspension order the official end of the war was just days away, and rationing was already on the way out.  (The War Production Board was dissolved on November 3, 1945.)  Classic Comics was able to resume publishing new issues on a roughly bi-monthly basis, and reprints began again in June 1946.

The company prospered into the 1950s, but sadly the allotment brouhaha wasn’t the last time Gilberton would run afoul of government regulations.  In 1960, the Post Office denied the company second-class mailing privileges, setting in motion Classics Illustrated’s eventual demise.  But that’s another story.

One further note: It appears that Kanter’s former company, Elliot Publishing, was also involved in the paper allotment scheme.  The indicia for Elliot’s Bomber Comics #4 (Winter 1944-1945) indicates that it’s published by Sunrise Times, one of the same entities that took part in Classic Comics’ paper grab.  Ironically, this indicia is located directly below a comic strip encouraging readers to recycle paper to “save some boy’s life,” i.e., save a soldier’s life – while at the same time the company is flouting the paper rationing rules!

Inside front cover of Bomber Comics #4

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The 1966 Supergirl-Wonder Woman Team-Up: Anti-Feminist or Pro-Feminist?

In Comics Buyer’s Guide #1627 (April 2007), columnist Captain Comics (Andrew Smith) offered up capsule reviews of every issue of The Brave and the Bold, DC Comics's Silver Age superhero team-up series.  His review of issue #63 (January 1966), though, stuck in my craw.  That issue featured a team-up of Supergirl and Wonder Woman, DC's two biggest female super persons, in a story entitled "Revolt of the Super-Chicks."  It was one of my favorites of the era, but the good Captain declared, "There's nothing significant about 'Revolt of the Super-Chicks,' except how out of character (and amazingly sexist) I thought it was when I first read it - and even moreso now, as an adult."  I was so dismayed by the review that I ran to my computer and tapped out an impassioned response.  The Captain ran it in Comics Buyers Guide #1630 (July 2007), and here it is:

Dear Captain Comics,

Loved the overview of Brave & Bold teamups in CBG #1627, but man, you dissed one of my favorite comic books!  How could you say there was "nothing significant" about B&B #63 (January 1966)?  I mean, come on, it's gotta be one of the most entertaining and noteworthy stories of the entire Silver Age.  At least I think so.  Ever since my nine-year-old little hands first grasped it, I've loved that particular issue.  And my ardor has only deepened in the intervening 40+ years.  Here's why:

To begin with, it is, I believe, the first-ever teamup of two super heroines - at least in a book-length story.  That alone has to count for something.

Second, thanks to Bob Haney's delightful script, the characters reveal more personality than they were ever allowed in their own titles.  You complain about "how out of character" they are, but that's only because, as you well know, in the Silver Age, DC super types rarely had any character at all; the only thing that differentiated them was their super powers.  Haney took the company's top two gal guardians and gave them some life.  Sure, it was different, but how is that a bad thing?  If today's writers can use an Elseworlds format to express their own personal takes on a character, what's wrong with Haney using B&B for the same purpose?

I mean, where else will you see Supergirl as a rebellious teenager and Superman a befuddled father figure.  "Oh, you sound like a stuffed shirt, Superman!" the girl of steel exclaims.  "What do you know about women...How they feel--what they really need?  You may be a great hero...But in the romance department--Well, just ask Lois Lane!"  To which Superman bumblingly replies, "Why...uh...ulp...I--I'm very fond of girls...I...uh..."  Come on, admit it.  This is a lot more fun than the stolid stuff then being served up in the regular Super-titles.

Third, and most important, the story says a lot about its era.  Here's the picture: Supergirl feels boxed in by the limited role imposed on her by society and decides to run off and find her own identity.  (Okay, so that "limited" role happens to be mega powerful protector of the universe, but you get the idea.)  A puzzled Superman just doesn't get it, and can't figure out why his wife - excuse me, cousin - doesn't want to stay home and in his shadow where she belongs.  Remember this was a scant three years since Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and America's women and their husbands were pondering this very same question.  (Albeit, without the super powers and tights, but come on, work with me here!)

That Haney and editor George Kashdan had feminism in mind when they came up with this tale is supported by the fact that the issue's accompanying text story is about accomplished women like founding feminist Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Blackwell (the first woman doctor in the U.S.), and Emma Willard (a pioneer of education for girls).

Now, granted, there is the admittedly sexist sequence where Supergirl and Wonder Woman, threatened by the villain of the moment, have to save their respective boyfriends surreptitiously, so as not to reveal their super abilities.  Because, let's face it, what self-respecting mid-sixties type guy would find a gal feminine who could bench press ten times his weight?  (Though I doubt Friedan ever read B&B #63, she does weigh in on the issue when she decries a McCall's story in which the heroine is "a nineteen-year-old girl sent to a charm school to learn how to bat her eyelashes and lose at tennis.")

So is this story anti-feminist or pro-feminist?  The answer is both.  And that's what makes it interesting - and so very much "of it's time."  Just as men and women during this time of transition were confused about gender roles, so is this story.

Now, the idea of Supergirl becoming a Paris model, and Wonder Woman being swept up in the glamour of it all, sounds like it was pulled from the pages of a romance comic book.  Diana, head spinning from a kiss expertly administered by French suitor Andre, stammers, "What...What's happening to me?  Steve Trevor never kissed me like that!"  Considering Andre's nationality, it was undoubtedly a "French" kiss - something our amorous amazon hadn't experienced before in her own title.  (Which explains the effect it has on her.)

So what we have here is an interesting mix of genres - part superhero, part romance, and very much mid-sixties.  And with gorgeous art by John Rosenberger (a mainstay of DC's romance line), it's a wonderful thing to behold.

B&B #63 is definitely different - but in a good way.  I think it deserves a second look.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

My Encounters With Neal Adams

Neal Adams is one of the all-time greats of comic book history.  Since his passing a few days ago (April 28, 2022, to be exact), tributes and reminiscences have been pouring in.  My own encounters with him were brief and probably not too remarkable or much different than those of his many fans.  But having grown up enjoying and being amazed by his groundbreaking work on Deadman, The Spectre, The Brave and the Bold, X-Men, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and of course, Batman, I feel the need to share some of those experiences here.

I first encountered Mr. Adams at WonderCon in Oakland, California, probably somewhere around the year 2000.  After waiting in line for an autograph, I was met by a jovial fellow with a disarming smile, who asked my name and shook my hand.  He seemed open to conversation, so I ventured a question, wondering what he was thinking when he drew the cover on the copy of The Spectre #2 I had handed him to sign.  He said he didn’t know but that he probably worked on it at night.  Whenever a drawing had a lot of detail in it, he saved it for nighttime when he knew he wouldn’t be interrupted by phone calls.

At the Big Wow Comic Fest in San Jose in 2015, I purchased a Conan poster from Mr. Adams, and paid to have my picture taken with him.  It was his usual convention pose of clasping hands with the fan, seated side-by-side at the table.  You’ve undoubtedly seen many of these on Facebook.

But perhaps my most interesting encounter was a couple of years later (2017).
  At the time, I worked in the Market Research department at a sorta big corporation.  I’m sure you’ve heard of some of their products.  One of my responsibilities was to oversee the department’s repository of market research documents and other content.  One day, I came across some storyboards that I was pretty sure were drawn by Neal Adams.  (The company used storyboards to test consumers’ reactions to TV commercial ideas to avoid spending large amounts of money on producing a commercial that tanked with its audience.)  Fortunately for me, Neal was a special guest at the upcoming San Francisco Comic Con.  So I marched up to his table, showed him the storyboards, and he confirmed that he had drawn them.  He also said something like, “It’s funny how you can recognize your own work.”  I replied that he had a very recognizable style.  Then he did a very curious thing.  He started philosophizing about style as if it were a bad thing.  I didn’t get what he was saying at the time, and he seemed a bit impatient with me for not understanding.  On further reflection a bit later, I concluded that perhaps he meant that there are certain tricks an artist learns that are easy to fall back on, rather than forging ahead with something new, and that it’s the artist's job to resist the temptation to take the easy path.  And maybe that’s the difference between a great master like Neal Adams and a highly competent journeyman (or woman).  In any case, he certainly gave me something to think about, and for that I’m grateful.