Timely Comics

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Timely Comics is the 1940s comic-book publishing company that would evolve into first Atlas Comics, and then Marvel Comics. During this era, called the Golden Age of comic books, "Timely" was the umbrella name for the comics division of pulp magazine publisher Martin Goodman, whose business strategy involved having a multitude of corporate entities (including Red Circle Comics) all producing the same product. The company was founded in 1939 as Timely Publications, Per statement of ownership, dated Oct. 2, 1939, published in Marvel Mystery Comics #4 (Feb. 1940), p. 40; reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Marvel Comics Volume 1 (Marvel Comics, 2004), p. 239 based at his existing company in the McGraw-Hill Building at 330 West 42nd Street in New York City. It later moved to the 14th floor of the Empire State Building.

Contents

Creation

Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939), the first comic book from Marvel predecessor Timely Comics. Cover art by Frank R. Paul.
Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939), the first comic book from Marvel predecessor Timely Comics. Cover art by Frank R. Paul.

In 1939, with the emerging medium of comic books proving hugely popular, and the first superheroes (most notably the archetypal Superman) setting the trend, pulp-magazine publisher Martin Goodman founded Timely Publications in 1939, basing it at his existing company. Goodman — whose official titles were editor, managing editor, and business manager, with Abraham Goodman officially listed as publisher — contracted with the newly formed comic-book "packager" Funnies, Inc. to supply material.

His first effort, Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939), featured the first appearances of writer-artist Carl Burgos' android superhero, the Human Torch, and Paul Gustavson's costumed detective The Angel. As well, it contained the first generally available appearance of Bill Everett's mutant anti-hero Namor the Sub-Mariner, created for the unpublished movie-theater giveaway comic Motion Picture Funnies Weekly earlier that year, with the eight-page original story now expanded by four pages.

Also included were Al Anders' Western hero the Masked Raider; the jungle lord Ka-Zar the Great,Unrelated to the Marvel Comics jungle lord Ka-Zar introduced in The X-Men (March 1965) with Ben Thompson adapting the story "King of Fang and Claw" by Bob Byrd in Goodman's eponymous pulp magazine Ka-Zar #1; the non-continuing-character story "Jungle Terror," featuring an adventurer named Ken Masters, written by the quirkily named Tohm DixonMarvel Masterworks, Ibid., as given in the contents page and as signed on the first page of the story, reprinted on pp. 46-51; "Now I'll Tell One", five single-panel, black-and-white gag cartoons by Fred Schwab, on the inside front cover; and a two-page prose story by Ray Gill, "Burning Rubber", about auto racing. A painted cover by veteran science-fiction pulp artist Frank R. Paul featured the Human Torch, looking much different than in the interior story.

That initial comic, cover-dated October 1939, quickly sold out 80,000 copies, prompting Goodman to produce a second printing, cover-dated November 1939. The latter is identical except for a black bar over the October date in the inside-front-cover indicia, and the November date added at the end. That sold approximately 800,000 copies. Per researcher Keif Fromm, Alter Ego #49, p. 4 (caption) With a hit on his hands, Goodman began assembling an in-house staff, hiring Funnies, Inc. writer-artist Joe Simon as editor. Simon brought along his collaborator, artist Jack Kirby, followed by artist Syd Shores.

Golden Age of Comic Books

Marvel Comics was rechristened Marvel Mystery Comics with issue #2 (Dec. 1939) — the magazine would continue under that title through #92 (June 1949) before becoming Marvel Tales through #159 (Aug. 1957) — and Timely began publishing additional series, beginning with Daring Mystery Comics #1 (Jan. 1940), Mystic Comics #1 (March 1940), Red Raven Comics #1 (Aug. 1940), The Human Torch #2 (premiering Fall 1940 with no cover date and having taken over the numbering from the unsuccessful Red Raven), and Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941). Going on sale in December 1940, a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and already showing Cap socking Hitler in the jaw, that first issue sold nearly one million copies.

Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), art by Jack Kirby (penciler) and Joe Simon (inker).
Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), art by Jack Kirby (penciler) and Joe Simon (inker).

With the hit characters Human Torch and Sub-Mariner now joined by Simon & Kirby's seminal patriotic hero Captain America, Timely had its "big three" stars of the era fans and historians call the Golden Age of Comic Books. Rival publishers National Comics / All-American Comics, the sister companies that would evolve into today's DC Comics, likewise had their own "big three": Superman and Batman plus the soon-to-debut Wonder Woman. Timely's other major competitors were Fawcett Publications (Captain Marvel, introduced Feb. 1940); Quality Comics (Plastic Man, Blackhawk, both Aug. 1941); and Lev Gleason Publications (Daredevil, Sept. 1940; unrelated to the 1960s Marvel hero).

Other notable Timely characters, many seen both in modern-day retcon appearances and in flashbacks, include the Angel, the next-most-popular character in terms of number of appearances; the Destroyer and the Black Marvel, two early creations of future Marvel chief Stan Lee; super-speedster the Whizzer; the flying and super-strong Miss America; the original Vision, who inspired Marvel writer Roy Thomas in the 1960s to create a Silver Age version of the character; and the Blazing Skull and the Thin Man, two members of the present-day New Invaders.

Just as Captain America had his teenage sidekick Bucky and DC Comics' Batman had Robin, the Human Torch acquired a young mutant partner, Toro, in the first issue of the Torch's own magazine. The Young Allies — one of several "kid gangs" popular in comics at the time — debuted under the rubric the Sentinels of Liberty in a text story in Captain America Comics #4 (June 1941) before making it to the comics pages themselves the following issue, and then eventually into their own title.

Seeing a natural "fire and water" theme, Timely was responsible for comic books' first major crossover, with a two-issue battle between the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner that spanned Marvel Mystery Comics #8-9 — telling the story, Rashomon-style but years before Rashomon, from the two characters' different perspectives.

After the Simon & Kirby team moved to DC late 1941, having produced Captain America Comics through issue #10 (Jan. 1942), Al Avison and Syd Shores became regular pencilers of the celebrated title, with one generally inking over the other. Stan Lee (né Stanley Lieber), a cousin of Goodman's by marriage who had been serving as an assistant since 1939, at age 16 1/2 Lee's account of how he began working for Marvel's predecessor, Timely, has varied. He has said in lectures and elsewhere that he simply answered a newspaper ad seeking a publishing assistant, not knowing it involved comics, let alone his cousin Jean's husband, Martin Goodman:

"I applied for a job in a publishing company ... I didn't even know they published comics. I was fresh out of high school, and I wanted to get into the publishing business, if I could. There was an ad in the paper that said, "Assistant Wanted in a Publishing House." When I found out that they wanted me to assist in comics, I figured, 'Well, I'll stay here for a little while and get some experience, and then I'll get out into the real world.' ... I just wanted to know, 'What do you do in a publishing company?' How do you write? ... How do you publish? I was an assistant. There were two people there named Joe Simon and Jack Kirby – Joe was sort-of the editor/artist/writer, and Jack was the artist/writer. Joe was the senior member. They were turning out most of the artwork. Then there was the publisher, Martin Goodman... And that was about the only staff that I was involved with. After a while, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left. I was about 17 years old [sic], and Martin Goodman said to me, 'Do you think you can hold down the job of editor until I can find a real person?' When you're 17, what do you know? I said, 'Sure! I can do it!' I think he forgot about me, because I stayed there ever since". IGN FilmForce (June 26, 2000): Stan Lee interview part 1 of 5

However, in his 2002 autobiography, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee (cited under References, below), he says:

"My uncle, Robbie Solomon, told me they might be able to use someone at a publishing company where he worked. The idea of being involved in publishing definitely appealed to me. ... So I contacted the man Robbie said did the hiring, Joe Simon, and applied for a job. He took me on and I began working as a gofer for eight dollars a week...."

Joe Simon, in his 1990 autobiography The Comic Book Makers (cited under References, below), gives the account slightly differently:

"One day [Goodman's relative known as] Uncle Robbie came to work with a lanky 17-year-old in tow. 'This is Stanley Lieber, Martin's wife's cousin,' Uncle Robbie said. 'Martin wants you to keep him busy.'" In an appendix, however, Simon appears to reconcile the two accounts. He relates a 1989 conversation with Lee: Lee: I've been saying this [classified-ad] story for years, but apparently it isn't so. And I can't remember because I['ve] said it so long now that I believe it."
...
Simon: "Your Uncle Robbie brought you into the office one day and he said, 'This is Martin Goodman's wife's nephew.' [sic] ... You were seventeen years old."

Lee: "Sixteen and a half!"

Simon: "Well, Stan, you told me seventeen. You were probably trying to be older.... I did hire you." , was promoted to interim editor just shy of his 19th birthday. Showing a knack for the business, Lee stayed on for decades, eventually becoming Marvel Comics' publisher in 1972. Fellow Timely staffer Vincent Fago would substitute during Lee's World War II military service. The staff at that time, Fago recalled, was, "Mike Sekowsky. Ed Winiarski. Gary Keller was a production assistant and letterer. Ernest Hart and Kin Platt were writers, but they worked freelance; Hart also drew. George Klein, Syd Shores, Vince Alascia, Dave Gantz, and Chris Rule were there, too".Vincent Fago interview, Alter Ego Vol. 3, #11 (Nov. 2001)

Funny animals, and people

Powerhouse Pepper #2 (May 1948). Cover art by Basil Wolverton.
Powerhouse Pepper #2 (May 1948). Cover art by Basil Wolverton.

The superheroes were the products of what Timely referred to as the "adventure" bullpen. The company also developed an "animator" bullpen creating such movie tie-in and original funny animal comics as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, All Surprise Comics, Super Rabbit Comics, Funny Frolics, and Funny Tunes, renamed Animated Funny Comic-Tunes. Former Fleischer Studios animator Fago, who joined Timely in 1942, headed this group, which consisted through the years of such writer/artists as Hart, Gantz, Klein, Platt, Rule, Sekowsky, Frank Carin (né Carino), Bob Deschamps, Chad Grothkopf, Pauline Loth, Jim Mooney, Moss Worthman a.k.a. Moe Worth, and future MAD Magazine cartoonists Dave Berg and Al Jaffee.

Features from this department include "Dinky" and "Frenchy Rabbit" in Terrytoons Comics; "Floop and Skilly Boo" in Comedy Comics; "Posty the Pelican Postman" in Krazy Komics and other titles; "Krazy Krow" in that character's eponymous comic; "Tubby an' Tack", in various comics; and the most popular of these features, Jaffee's "Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal" and Hart's "Super Rabbit", the cover stars of many different titles.

In slightly more grownup fare, Timely in 1944 and 1945 initiated a sitcomy selection of titles aimed at female readers: Millie the Model, Tessie the Typist and Nellie the Nurse. Timely also published one of humor cartoonist Basil Wolverton's best-known features, Powerhouse Pepper. The first issue, cover-dated January 1943, bore no number, and protagonist Pepper looked different from his more familiar visualization (when the series returned for four issues, May-Nov. 1948) as the bullet-headed bozo in the striped turtleneck sweater.

Time after Timely

Future Comic Book Hall of Fame artist Gene Colan, a Marvel mainstay from 1946 on, recalled that, "The atmosphere at Timely was very good, very funny. ... [I worked in] a big art room and there were about 20 artists in there, all stacked up. Syd was in the last row on my side, and there was another row on the other side. Dan DeCarlo was there, several other people — Vince Alascia was an inker; Rudy LaPick sat right behind me," with Mike Sekowsky "in another room".Gene Colan interview, Alter Ego # 52 (March 2006), pp. 66-67

Yet after the wartime boom years — when superheroes had been new and inspirational, and comics provided cheap entertainment for millions of children, soldiers and others — the post-war era found superheroes falling out of fashion. Television and mass market paperback books now also competed for readers and leisure time. Goodman began turning to a wider variety of genres than ever, emphasizing horror, westerns, teen humor, crime and war comics, and introducing female heroes to try to attract girls and young women to read comics.

In 1946, for instance, the superhero title All Select Comics was changed to Blonde Phantom Comics, and now starred a masked secretary who fought crime in an evening gown. That same year, Kid Komics eliminated its stars and became Kid Movie Comics. All Winners Comics became All Teen Comics in January 1947. Timely eliminated virtually all its staff positions in 1948.

The precise end-point of the Golden Age of comics is vague, but for Timely, at least, it appears to have ended with the cancellation of Captain America Comics at issue #75 (Feb. 1950) — by which time the series had already been Captain America's Weird Tales for two issues, with the finale featuring merely anthological horror/suspense tales and no superheroes. The company's flagship title, Marvel Mystery Comics, starring the Human Torch, had already ended its run (with #92, June 1949), as had Sub-Mariner Comics (with #32, the same month). Goodman began using the globe logo of Atlas, the newsstand-distribution company he owned, on comics cover-dated Nov. 1951.

External links

Selected Timely characters and creators

Character Debut Creators
Angel Marvel Comics #1 (Nov. 1939) Paul Gustavson (writer-artist)
Black Marvel Mystic Comics #5 (March 1941) Stan Lee (writer)Lambiek Comiclopedia: Stan Lee, Al Gabriele (penciller-inker)Grand Comics Database Mystic Comics #5
Black Widow Mystic Comics #4 (Aug. 1940) George Kapitan (writer), Harry Sahle (penciller-inker)
Blazing Skull Mystic Comics #5 (March 1941)
Blonde Phantom All Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946) Stan Lee (writer), Syd Shores (penciller), Charles Nicholas (inker)
Blue Blaze Mystic Comics #1 (March 1940) Harry Douglas (writer-penciller-inker)Grand Comics Database: Mystic Comics #1
Blue Diamond Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941) Ben Thompson (penciller-inker)
Captain America & Bucky Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) Joe Simon (writer), Jack Kirby (penciller),
Joe Simon and Al Liederman (inkers)
Captain Terror USA Comics #2 (Nov. 1941)
Challenger Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941)
Citizen V Daring Mystery Comics #8 (Jan. 1942) Ben Thompson (penciler-inker)
Comet Pierce Red Raven Comics #1 (Aug. 1940) Jack Kirby (penciler)
Destroyer Mystic Comics #6 (Oct. 1941) Stan Lee (writer), Jack Binder (penciler-inker)
Fiery Mask Daring Mystery Comics #1 (Jan. 1940) Joe Simon (writer-penciller-inker)
Fin Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941) Bill Everett (writer-penciller-inker)
Flexo the Rubber Man
(Rubber robot, not stretching hero)
Mystic Comics #1 (April 1940) Jack Binder (penciller-inker)
Human Torch Marvel Comics #1 (Nov. 1939) Carl Burgos (writer-penciller-inker)
HurricaneIn 1970s and 1980s comics, the Hurricane and Mercury were revealed in retcon to be the same character, the Eternal named Makkari. Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) Jack Kirby (penciller), Joe Simon (inker)
Jack Frost USA Comics #1 (Aug. 1941) Stan Lee (writer), Charles Nicholas (artist)The Grand Comics Database: USA Comics #1
Major Liberty USA Comics #1 (Aug. 1941)
Marvel Boy (I) Daring Mystery Comics #6 (Sept. 1940) Jack Kirby (penciller), Joe Simon and Al Avison (inkers)
Marvel Boy (II) USA Comics #7 (Feb. 1943) Bob Oksner (writer-penciller-inker)
Marvex the Super-Robot Daring Mystery Comics #3 (April 1940)
Mercury Red Raven Comics #1 (Aug. 1940)
Miss America Marvel Mystery Comics #49 (Nov. 1943) Otto Binder (writer), Al Gabriele (penciller)
Namora Marvel Mystery Comics #82 (May 1947)
Patriot Marvel Mystery Comics #21 (July 1941)
Red Raven Red Raven Comics #1 (Aug. 1940) Joe Simon (writer), Louis Cazeneuve (penciller)
Sub-Mariner Marvel Comics #1 (Nov. 1939) Bill Everett (writer-penciller-inker)
Sun Girl Sun Girl #1 (Aug. 1948)
Thin Man Mystic Comics #4 (July 1940) Klaus Nordling (penciller-inker)
Thunderer Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941)
Vision Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (Nov. 1940) Jack Kirby & Joe Simon (writers); Jack Kirby (penciller-inker)Greg Theakston at Grand Comics Database: Marvel Mystery Comics #13
Whizzer USA Comics #1 (Aug. 1941) Stan Lee? (writer) Lambiek Comiclopedia: Stan Lee. No independent secondary source confirms, this, however, so credit is tentative. Al Avison (penciller), Al Gabriele (inker)
The Witness Mystic Comics #6 (Dec. 1941) Stan Lee (writer)
Young Allies Young Allies Comics #1 (July 1941) Jack Kirby (penciller), Syd Shores (inker)
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