From time to time, I’m going to take a look at a specific comic book year and points out some highlights, notable events and overall trends. This week, I’m looking at 1953.
As far as I can tell, 1953 is one of only a few of years from 1938 to 1960 when no new comic book companies appeared on the scene. Perhaps this was partly due to the less than welcoming environment resulting from the impact of Wertham’s book and the upcoming congressional hearings (although a few new companies did pop up in 1954). Many comic book companies were still charging full speed ahead and some continued to focus on the gruesome side of life. Some big names left the industry, while others made adjustments to certain titles – possibly in anticipation of changing tastes.
While Fawcett’s final group of books bore a January, 1954 cover date, they were published in late 1953. Indeed, all of the major decisions were made much earlier in 1953 vis-à-vis winding down operations and many of the titles were sold to Charlton. We’d see the likes of Nyoka, Don Winslow and Sweethearts popped up shortly after under the Charlton banner. Charlton would even revive some long dead Fawcett titles, including the notoriously hard to find final issue of Negro Romances. Fawcett’s demise was a long time coming, as it was largely the result of the litigation brought by DC/Nation over the Captain Marvel character. Fawcett left behind a very special legacy to the comic book world.
Hillman Periodicals, one of the truly great publishers of the Golden Age. They published many high quality titles including Air Boy, Real Clue Crime Stories, and Western Fighters. Unlike Fawcett, Hillman didn’t sell any of its titles to competitors. Perhaps they tried unsuccessfully to do so, but I cannot confirm that. We’d see the Heap again in the early 70s, appearing in a couple of Skywald titles. The Airboy universe (including the Heap) would return in the 80s via Eclipse comics.
Atlas published countless titles in the war, crime, horror and romance genres. By my quick count, Atlas put out 37 titles cover dated March, 1953 (including 5 beginning with the word ‘Battle’). The great series Menace was launched early in the year – including the classic ‘Zombie’ in issue #5, which led to the Simon Garth series in the 70s, as well as Lorna, the Jungle Queen and the short lived Speed Carter, Spaceman. It was the end of the road for some minor titles, such as and it was the same year that we saw the last of Kent Blake of the Secret Service, Spy Fighters and Man Comics to name a few. More importantly, we saw an attempt at a superhero revival with Young Men #24, featuring the return of the Human Torch, Captain America and Sub-Mariner.
DC/National was a much more stable company than Atlas at that time, sticking with its many long running titles. If DC was staid, 1953 was a particularly uneventful year. The only two notable cancellations were Sensation Mystery (which had a long and proud history beginning with Sensation Comics #1) and the short-lived, but impactful Phantom Stranger. DC introduced only a few new titles, including Peter Panda and Everything Happens to Harvey, as well as the licensed property Hopalong Cassidy, which came to DC from Fawcett. Change was in the wind at Detective Comics, as both Pow Wow Smith and Robotman took their final bows with Detective Comics #201. With Strange Adventures #30, DC started a long and possibly less than honorable tradition of swiping old pulp magazine covers. This one is from Thrilling Wonder Stories December 1938, and was recycled 8 years later for Jimmy Olsen #54 by Curt Swan.
Dell Comics was the quiet juggernaut of the 50s. They published an incredible number of successful titles, many of them licensed properties of popular TV or Radio shows. The flagship Four Color title always has some interesting issues, and 1953 was no exception. The year included an installment of John Carter From Mars, Green Hornet (recently of Harvey Comics), and various Warner Bros. and Disney characters. Several ongoing Dell series were really hitting their stride in 1953, and it was a very solid year for the likes of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Lone Ranger and Marge’s Little Lulu. Dell would be largely unaffected by the introduction of the Comics Code and would only suffer as the result of a business fallout in the 60s, but that’s another story.
While the Comics Code may have been on the horizon, horror comics continued to be horrific. Publishers seemed to be trying to outdo themselves in order to grab a reader’s attention. EC may be the most famous of the Pre-Code horror publishers, but there were tons of them, all trying to get their share of eyeballs (literally and figuratively). Many of these second and third tier publishers would be gone by 1956, but their books have become highly collectible.
One final trend that really took off in 1953 (and had completely fizzled out by 1954) were 3-D comics. Latching onto the latest Hollywood craze presented creators (and the publication departments) with a unique challenge. Anyone who has ever read one of these knows that you get a pretty good headache after about the 4th page, and that may explain why the gimmick had no staying power. As a collector of infinity covers, I’ve had to seek out certain 3-D titles, such as Abbot & Costello and Little Eva. I can’t really say that those are books I go back to on a regular basis.
So, that’s a quick look at 1953. Perhaps it wasn’t a milestone year for comics, but plenty of interesting stuff was happening.
For more comic book nonsense, stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent
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