The first newsstand comic devoted to non-fiction would be titled True Comics #1. It was published by Parents Magazine Press in April 1941. There were some people who did not like comic books as they believed they took young readers away from books and other forms of better literature. Parents Magazine decided to publish what they considered to be better comics, educating kids as well as entertaining them. Quite often the comic would have biographies of famous politicians and entertainers. This first issue featured Winston Churchill among other stories. The series lasted 84 issues ending in 1954. Because of it's success it would spawn several imitators. Parents Magazine Institute was owned by George Hecht.
True Comics #1 is in the public domain and you can download and read it by clicking here. (14.4 MB - Scanned Paper)
Another unique genre would be the "Kid Gang" comics often done by Simon and Kirby.
This involved a group of kids forming a gang and generally having adventures and
getting into trouble. The idea came from Kirby’s youth when he was in a similar gang.
Kirby first used this idea in
Captain America #4, grouping together sidekicks and regular kids and calling them the Sentinels of Liberty.
Marvel would take the idea and turn it into Young Allies #1 (Summer 1941), which featured the same
characters and some new ones. When Kirby went other publishers he took his idea with him and would
create Boy Commandos and
The Newsboy Legion
(premiering Star Spangled Comics #7). Both were published by National/DC Comics in 1942.
Police Comics began in August 1941 and in it would be a variety of heroes. The most important of them would be Jack Cole’s Plastic Man. Plastic Man’s power was to stretch his rubbery body into anything. Cole used this to come up with highly imaginative ways of catching crooks. Plastic Man could turn into anything to spy on crooks. Readers would have fun pointing out which piece of furniture was Plastic Man in disguise. His stretching would lead to fun and unpredictable fights. Overall the feature would simply play with the readers eyes and was just fun to read. Also making the feature unique would be that Plastic Man wasn’t a normal do-gooder. The characters name was Eel O'Brian a down and dirty crook that did robberies with a crew of guys. During a robbery at a chemical company a guard catches them in the act and starts shooting. He hits Eel and knocks a vat of acid all over him. Eel manages to get away, but with no help from his pal crooks who take off without him. While running away Eel manages to make it part way up a mountain and then falls unconscious. Eel wakes up in a rest haven where he discovers a Monk nursed him back to health. He also learned the monk found out who he was and protected him from the police when they showed up looking for him. Overwhelmed by the monk's generosity Eel decides to become a good guy. Learning of his powers he decides to use them to fight crime, starting with his former buddies that deserted him. Eventually Plastic Man works for the government under the FBI. Plastic Man would take over as lead feature in this comic and get his own title. He would last within Police Comics until issue #102. The Plastic Man comic would go for 64 issues ending in 1956, outlasting most superhero comics. Plastic Man, along with other Quality heroes would eventually be bought and brought back by DC Comics. Police Comics is also known for being the first comic book to publish The Spirit, created by Will Eisner.
Plastic Man was created by Jack Cole, who was a great all around artist. He was quite handy with tools too. He was able to make furniture and figured out how to wire tap his family’s phone line so he could hear his sisters talk about their boyfriends. Jack was born in 1914 and had 5 siblings. When the Olympics came to California in 1932 Jack wanted to go. He was unable to get the bus money for the trip so he took off on his bicycle and went. He lived in New Castle, Pennsylvania! He didn’t make it to see the games but returned home on a different bike. While his family waited on the front lawn for his return he came back into town the back way and then sneaked inside the house while they were still waiting. While in high school he was also denied the money to take the Landon School of Cartooning correspondence course. So he hollowed out a book, made his own lunches and hid them in there while saving up his lunch money for the course. While in high school he published his own newspaper called The Scoop and got into trouble when he used it lampoon and publish the secrets of his classmates. Cole’s entire family were Republicans so he became a Democrat. He would meet Dorothy Mahoney and would elope and marry her. They were married for a month before either of their families knew. Jack would later move to New York to live with some family until he found work at the Chesler comic shop. He would quickly move around to other publishers becoming an editor under Lev Gleason company. While there he had great success editing/writing the Daredevil vs. The Claw series of comics. These would be the first to pit super hero vs. super villain. He would jump over to work for Quality Comics. There he would create Plastic Man and work on it for many years. Eventually Cole left Plastic Man (people suspect he was burned out) and would slowly work on getting out of comic books. While doing some crime comics he would also sell one panel cartoons to magazines using a completely different art style.
Cole would switch art styles again and would sell lush water color pictures to Hugh Hefner for his brand new Playboy Magazine. Hugh Hefner absolutely loved what Jack Cole was doing and convinced him to move down to the Chicago area so they could work close together. While doing this he sold a comic strip called Betsy and Me and had reported to have sold another one. Then much to everybody’s surprise Jack Cole would kill himself with a shot gun. He would write three suicide notes. One to Hugh Hefner, letting him know he was a great man to work for and that he was not to feel guilty about his death. The second one was found on his body where he asked to somebody to call his neighbor so they would be there to help his wife for when the news was delivered to her. Jack actually called his neighbor just prior to killing himself, asking that they be there so his wife Dorothy would have somebody to lean on.
The third note was to his wife Dorothy. What it said nobody would know. She only showed the local District Attorney the note and nobody else. After Cole’s death Dorothy wouldn’t speak to any of his family. She quickly got rid of Cole's belongings and within a year marry the local hardware store owner and move away. Jack Cole had a tendency to take on too much work and feel responsible for everything that went wrong. He was known for going through great emotional highs and lows. Hefner has indicated that there may have been marital problems because the couple was childless. Others believe Dorothy was having an affair and Jack found out. Nobody knows for sure why Jack killed himself but it’s sad that he did. Jack was a very, very gifted artist with a strong work ethic to boot. He was already a success in ways some artists work their whole lives and never achieve. And he could have done so much more. He was also a mild mannered person that everybody loved to be around. His death occurred in 1958, just after he attended a Playboy staff party.
Military Comics #1 was published by Quality Comics Group. It came out in August of 1941 and amazingly had no Americans in the cast. As a part of the Spirit newspaper deal, Eisner would own the Spirit character but would have to do two comic books for Quality. The profits from them would be split 50/50. This title and Uncle Sam were the two Eisner and his assistants created. The Blackhawk feature in particular was created by Will Eisner, Bob Powell and Chuck Cuidera. The original characters were mainly from European countries that were already involved with WWII. The characters were: Hendrickson (a Dutchman), Andre (from France), Olav (from Sweden), Stanislaus and Zeg (from Poland), Boris (from Russia) and they had a cartoonish Chinese man called Chop-Chop as a mascot. This group of fighter pilots were lead by Blackhawk who was from Poland too. Blackhawk was made Polish because Bob Powell was also Polish and his real name was Stanislaus Kowalski. After America got involved with the War, Boris and Zeg were replaced by an American named Chuck. In issue #44 the comic would change its title to Modern Comics with Blackhawk still as the lead feature. Blackhawk would also takeover a comic called Uncle Sam Quarterly in Winter of 1944 and rename the comic to simply Blackhawk in issue #9. Even after the war Blackhawk remained quite popular. In 1944 Eisner would sell his half of the rights to his titles back to Quality Comics because of a dispute over profit sharing. When publisher Quality Comics folded in 1956 the characters were sold to DC Comics.
When DC Comics bought all the Quality characters they continued publishing Blackhawk series with issue #108. The title would go to issue #274 ending in 1984. Since then there were a number of revivals of the character through DC Comics, but none of them had the success of the the original series. One such revival happened in the early 1980's because Steven Spielberg optioned the movie rights. No movie was made though. A Blackhawk mini series did come out in 1988 and a new series a year after. That ended with #16 in 1990. Blackhawk re-appeared in a Blackhawk special in 1992. Over all this character did extremely well and outlasted all others from the War Comics genre.
Behind the Scenes - Nazi’s and Blackhawks.
Creator Chuck Cuidera said the design of the Blackhawk costumes were inspired by Nazi uniforms. He says the pants and boots look very much like the Nazi uniforms, but the upper half he designed himself.