Welcome to the three hundredth and twentieth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, we examine the national “holiday” invented by a comic creator. Plus the bizarre story of the man who bilked the government for more than $100,000 so that he could…buy comics? Also, just when DID the Legion start having that pesky “no duplicate powers” rule?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and nineteen.
COMIC LEGEND: Sadie Hawkins Day was invented by Al Capp in his Li’l Abner comic strip.
Every so often, I will come across a legend that I have avoid because I think it might be too well known, and I am reminded each time that that is a dumb idea of mine, as a good comic legend is a good comic legend is a good comic legend. And this is a good comic legend, so here we go!
Alfred Gerald Caplin, better known as Al Capp, began his legendary comic strip, Li’l Abner in 1934. Written and drawn by Capp, the strip continued until 1977, when he retired (Capp passed away two years later). The series followed the misadventures of a group of hillbillies living in the poor town of Dogpatch, Kentucky.
While the strip was certainly an ensemble (Capp created many interesting characters over the years), the titular character was Li’l Abner himself (Abner was, in fact, quite a big guy). One of the recurring plots in the comic is how the beautiful local girl, Daisy Mae, desperately wants to marry Abner, but he is routinely either oblivious or downright not interested in committment.
In any event, in a 1937 strip, Capp introduced an interesting concept – Sadie Hawkins Day!
Clearly intended as a one-off bit, the idea was a massive hit. So much so that Capp, who hated any sort of structure to his stories (preferring to play things as they went) was “forced” to make Sadie Hawkins a regular occurrence in the strip (Sadie Hawkins Day takes place sometime in November).
Li’l Abner was a successful strip right out of the gate, but when Sadie Hawkins Day debuted in 1937, the strip was in the midst of a boom in popularity – all of these new readers soon got quite attached to the Sadie Hawkins idea.
Just two years after the original strip, Life Magazine had the following story about students at a Texas university…
Even after Capp had Abner and Daisy Mae get married in the early 1950s, the Sadie Hawkins Day strips continued. Here’s one from the mid 1950s, just a couple of years after Abner and Daisy Mae got married…
Nowadays, Sadie Hawkins Day mostly survives through the use of the term in relation to school dances where the girls are the ones who ask the boys to the dance. However, the “holiday” is also still celebrated by some, but not in November. Instead, February 29th (Leap Day) is chosen. Leap Day is part of a similar tradition, where, during Leap Years, women were “allowed” to propose to men instead of the other way around (this was the basic plot for a weak Amy Adams movie from a couple of years ago). I personally doubt Capp had Leap Year in mind when he conceived Sadie Hawkins Day.
Thanks to Life Magazine for the article and thanks to Stephen Worth for the mid-50s strips.
COMIC LEGEND: A worker for the Colorado Department of Revenue stole over $100,000 to spend on comic books.
Reader Jeff wrote in to ask if it was true that an IRS employee bilked the IRS out of a chunk of money to spend on comic books.
The story is true enough for a true, only the fellow in question was not an IRS agent.
You see, Aron Stubbs went to work for the Colorado Department of Revenue in the 1980s. Stubbs was a computer whiz and soon worked his way up the ladder until he was the chief computer programmer in 1990. However, Stubbs’ familiarity with the system turned out to be very bad for Colorado. You see, Stubbs made a notable discovery. The State frequently would have to send refunds to residents who overpaid on their estimated taxes. However, what if the person in question died before the refund could be sent? The State would not send the refund out (waiting for the estate to apply for the refund instead, which often would not happen since the estate would not know about it). So all of this money was sort of secretly floating around in a bank account somewhere.
This was too much for Stubbs, a longtime comic book fan and collector. He began having checks sent out from this account. Sometimes to himself, but typically he would have the money sent to the dead person’s address, only Stubbs would cut the letter off before it was opened and then endorse the check inside to himself. He didn’t take large chunks of money at first – just small amounts so as to not draw attention to himself.
And with the money, Stubbs would fill in the gaps in his extensive comic book collection.
However, after awhile, Stubbs – like most criminals – began to get sloppy. Earlier on he made the point of always cashing the checks and then paying for the comics with cash. Eventually, though, he would start to pay with the ACTUAL checks from the Colorado Department of Revenue! One dealer he bought some comics from got a little suspicious – not that Stubbs stole the money so much as the check possibly not being for real. So the dealer called up to see if the check WAS good and that quickly launched into an investigation (especially when it was discovered that the name on the check belonged to a person who had died!). The investigation was not a long one – only a certain amount of workers could have pulled off such a scam and only one of them would have used this scam to buy comics – Stubbs.
No one knows for sure how much Stubbs took, but it was likely over $150,000. Stubbs actually managed to avoid going to jail for his crimes – he was sentenced to four years probation and he had to give up his collection to help the Department of Revenue to recoup their losses. They sold off the collection all at once to the comic book dealer, RTS Unlimited.
RTS began selling the books complete with a certificate of authenticity to prove that it came from Stubbs’ collection. The collection has been mistakingly referred to as “the IRS collection” for years, despite the IRS not really being involved at all, and RTS refers to it as such, as well…
Thanks to Mike Richardson and Steve Duin’s book, Comics: Between the Panels, for the scoop! And thanks to Jeff for the question!
COMIC LEGEND: During the Silver Age, there was a rule against duplicate powers in the Legion of Super-Heroes.
As part of our When We First Met month, which features the first appearance of different parts of comic book lore, reader Michael C. asked to see when “the Legion’s ‘No Duplicate Superpowers’ rule begin.” Off the top of my head, I thought it was when Lightning Lad’s sister, Lightning Lass, got new gravity powers (and the new name, Light Lass). You will see as much written on a number of comic book sites about the Legion (including a number of really good sites).
This is untrue.
After serving by herself when Lightning Lad was “dead,” Lightning Lass served WITH her brother for a number of issues before she had her powers changed, and her powers were changed by Dream Girl not because duplicate powers were not allowed but as part of some convoluted scheme Dream Girl had to save the lives of a bunch of the Legion.
Dream Girl (who had precognitive powers) had seen a group of Legionnaires destined to die (her plan was to get them all kicked out of the Legion so that they could not have been killed – her task with Lightning Lass was to seemingly take away her powers so she couldn’t be a Legionnaire, but in actuallity just giving her new powers).
(This was back when Legionnaires constantly went through convoluted and sometimes cruel plans to save each other. Sort of like “the only way to save you from stubbing your toe is for me to stab you so you aren’t walking by that box where your toe would be stubbed”).
There is no doubt that Mort Weisinger and/or Edmond Hamilton made the change from Lightning Lass to Light Lass because THEY wanted to have diversity of powers, but it was not mentioned in the comic when she made the change (after all, she is Lightning Lass in the issue with no proble, so obviously there was not a rule against duplicate powers) and the duplicate powers rule was not mentioned at ALL until Superboy #195. And that was in 1973!!!
(eventually the Legion learns thar ERG-1 – later known as Wildfire – IS unique and he becomes a member of the team)
A little while later, they clarify what they mean by this rule…
So, surpisingly enough, there was not a “no duplicate powers” rule in the Legion until after the Silver Age.
I can’t hardly believe it myself – I was so sure that was why Lightning Lass made the change, but it was not. And there ya go, Michael – you have the answer to your “When We First Met” question!
EDITED TO ADD:
Reader The Crazed Spruce wrote in to argue:
I’m pretty sure the “no duplicate powers” rule first came up when Star Boy applied. At the time, he had powers identical to Superboy’s, except for “electrical vision”, which he used in the 20th century to jump-start an old truck.
Here’s when Star Boy joined in Adventure Comics #282….
So nope, they just let him in no problem.
Crazed Spruce wondered about Ultra Boy, as well, but no, when he debuted in Superboy #98, they made no mention of any duplicate power rule.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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