What Were Marvel's Blue-Yellow and Red Units of Comics?

Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at brianc@cbr.com).

Reader Kyle O. wrote in to ask a question about Marvel Comics and how their books were done in the late 1940s/early 1950s.

Kyle's question tied in with a recent article I did about Stan Lee's reaction to the ravings of Fredric Wertham in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Wertham first came on to the scene in the late 1940s with a series of popular articles either by him or about him that appeared in a number of popular magazines, including the Reader's Digest, which was pretty much THE MOST popular magazine at the time (as it ran abridged versions of articles from all the other magazines).

Lee answered at the time with a series of editorials...

A number of readers noted with interest the comic books that Marvel was releasing at the time. Here is a sampling of comic books that Marvel was producing around this time in 1949...

As you can see, they were ALL over the place at the time. They still were doing superhero comic books (but that was about to be on the way out), but they were mixed in with romance comics, crime comics, western comics and comedy comics. There really wasn't any clear sense of what Marvel was as a comic book company because they were pretty much doing all genres. Whatever people wanted, they sold. You will notice, too, that the comics as a whole did not tend to lean one way or other other from a gender perspective. In the late 1940s, comic books were still very much a gender neutral industry. Girls and boys bought comics in equal numbers, so the comic book companies catered to them in equal numbers.

But okay, here's the big question and the one Kyle was specifically curious about - what is the deal with the "Groups"? Why is there a Blue-Yellow Unit and a Red Unit and what does that mean?

The answer, as it turns out, has to do with, of all things, advertisement.

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