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When Captain America Became a Horror Comic!

This is a "Gonna Make a Change," which takes a look at the odd evolution that comic book series used to make. You see, nowadays, when a comic book series wants to re-tool, comic book companies simply cancel the book and start a brand-new series (heck, change a creative team and books will often reboot). In the old days, however, comic book companies felt that they had too much capital invested in the higher numbers and wanted to avoid starting over with a new #1. So we got to see some weird changes over the years.

Today, based on a suggestion from my pal Fraser S., we take a look at the odd journey that Captain America Comics took when superhero comics went out of vogue in the late 1940s/early 1950s.

In 1939, Martin Goodman, a publisher of pulp magazines, decided to dip his toes in the world of comic book publishing. Back in those days, comic books were exploding in popularity after the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938. So a lot of comic book companies were springing up to take a crack at the suddenly large pie of comic book sales. In an answer to this sudden demand for comic books, an interesting type of business popped up. Called "packaging studios," there were a number of artist groups that would create an entire comic book for any given publisher. They would write and draw enough stories to fill up a comic book (which tended to be roughly 68 pages back in those days) and then they would hand their work over to the publisher who would then print the comic book under the name of their new comic book company. The two most successful packaging studios were Eisner and Iger (where Will Eisner was putting out so much content that he had to use multiple pseudonyms to make it look like his company had much more people working for it than it really did) and Funnies, Inc.

Funnies, Inc. is who Goodman hired to try out a comic book for him. Marvel Comics #1 quickly sold through its initial print run and so Goodman printed out another 800,000 copies and those sold out, which must have been just insane for Goodman at the time. I mean, can you even imagine just trying out a new idea and having your first try sell almost a million copies?

Within a year, Goodman decided that he wanted to bring the people putting out the comics on staff so that he could cut out of the middle man and so he hired on some of the Funnies, Inc. artists like Carl Burgos and Bill Everett. He also hired Joe Simon as his Editor-in-Chief. Simon had been working for Funnies, Inc. as a writer and editor and had also been the freelance Editor-in-Chief for Fox Syndicates, another new comic book company (that had gotten into trouble when it hired Eisner and Iger to create a Superman rip-off).

Joe Simon brought in an artist he had worked with at Fox, Jack Kirby, and the two of them created Captain America Comics for Goodman's company (which was generally known as Timely Comics at the time)....

The comic book became a massive hit. Like all the comics of the era, it was an anthology format, but an anthology telling almost only stories featuring Captain America. Kirby was an amazingly prolific artist, so he and Simon managed to fill the pages of the comic book mostly by themselves at first, before slowly bringing in other creators to help out on back-up stories (some of the back-ups featured non-Captain America characters- some of Stan Lee's earliest writing work came on back-ups in the later issues of Simon and Kirby's Captain America Comics run).

Simon and Kirby left Timely after Captain America Comics #10 in a dispute with Goodman over royalties that he had promised them but had not delivered.

The book continued with Al Avison and Syd Shores serving as the two main artists on the book, but with more back-ups, as well. Obviously, as the 1940s continued, the size of the book shrunk like every other comic book out there, to the point where it was 52 pages by the end of World War II.

In Captain America #59, Captain America and Bucky adjusted to life after the war as they became stateside superheroes again...

Sales continued to drop as the post-War period saw a huge sales slump for superhero comic books.

The size of the comic book dropped from 52 pages to 36 (where it would remain to this very day) and they tried new sales ideas, like having Bucky get shot and replaced by a new female sidekick for Cap...

Nothing worked and sales continued to fall, so they tried out one last gambit!

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