In August 1941 a new publisher named Harvey Comics would appear. Their first title was called Pocket Comics. Unique about this comics was the small size and 100 page count. Problem was the small size made it easy for the kids to "pocket" them without paying. Harvey shouldn’t feel alone though, Dell found out the same thing when they produced Nickel Comics in 1938. That too was pocket sized, but with 132 pages and sold for 5 cents. Only one issue came out. Too bad, that sounds like a good deal to me!
The Harvey Comics Company was started by Alfred Harvey Wiernikoff, a son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Later on brothers Leon and Robert would join. Alfred had previous experience working under Victor Fox, first as a cartoonist and later as Managing Editor. Helping the company along the way was Alfred connections with a Publishers Distributing Company (PDC) owner Irving Manheimmer. Harvey enlisted during WWII and made connections with the Government allowing him ample supply paper during a period of shortage. Among his earliest investor was cartoonist Joe Simon who previously worked with Alfred at Fox. Harvey would also purchase other comics titles like Speed Comics and Champion Comics, which started before this series came out. The company would be known in the future for licensed characters and a line of children comics.
Within Pocket Comics would appear a female action hero called The Black Cat. She was Linda Turner, a glamorous movie star who was bored and started being suspicious of her director. She knew her director was afraid of black cats so she devised a Black Cat costume and went investigating. She discovers her director is a Nazi who was using Hollywood films to send secret messages. The Black Cat would break up the spy ring and edit all the secret Nazi messages out of her film. Pocket Comics would only go 4 issues but The Black Cat would move over other Harvey titles and eventually get her own title in 1946. The character was created by Al Gabrielle. Other characters in Pocket Comics were Satan (a villain), The Spirit of '76 (A patriotic hero), The Zebra (an escaped criminal who dons a cape and mask, but keeps his black and white striped prison clothes), Spin Hawkins (a pilot), British Agent 99 (a Nazi fighting Spy), The Phantom Sphinx (All powerful son of a Egyptian God) and The Red Blazer (a flaming, flying man of advanced evolution).
Also coming out that month was Spitfire Comics. It is credited as being Harvey Comic, but the indicia states the book was published by John F. Mahon, who is likely the same person involved in publishing The Comics Magazine. Both comics use the same size and format and advertise each other in the back page. Harvey and Mahon have different addresses listed in their respective books. Both books would later be bound together and sold as Double Up Comics later in the year. The only thing notable about Spitfire Comics was the debut of cartoonist Sam Glanzman, who created a superhero feature called Flyman. Glanzman would continue to work in comics for a variety of publishers over the years and even did a webcomic in 2003. As of this writing he is still working, doing commission pieces for fans.
Spitfire Comics #1 is in the public domain and you can download and read it by clicking here. (48.1 MB - Scanned Paper)
Outside of newsstand superhero comics the first title aimed specifically at female readers was Calling All Girls #1. This comic was published in September of 1941 by Parents Magazine Institute. This comic often featured famous female movie stars on it's covers like Shirley Temple and Liz Taylor. It should be said the series was half comics and half magazine. With issue #43 (October 1945) they eliminated the comics. The series would change into a magazine called Senior Prom. Due to the initial success of this title publisher Parents Magazine Institute would go on and produce Calling all Boys and Calling all Kids.
In September 1941 Albert Lewis Kanter would publish Classic Comics. Inside were comic adaptations of well known popular books. Some teachers and parents encouraged kids to read these comics, thinking them better than the more original comic book material. Others did not, thinking they were a poor substitute or the original novels. Like movies of today, when kids had a book report to do, they'd look to this title to find a quicker retelling of the tale and use it instead. Classic Comics #1 was an adaptation of The Three Musketeers. They would do many different classic tales of this sort and would often reprint them, always attempting to better the artwork. The comic would later change its title to Classics Illustrated and is best known by that name. This first issue was published by Elliot Publishing Company at Kanter's request. By the 3rd issue he would have his own company called Gilberton and would continue the series from there. Kanter was a Russian Immigrant who grew up with a library of classic books and wanted very much to get people to read them. He believed by doing adaptations in comic books he would get readers to seek out the source material and read it. Also involved with these books would be Jerry Iger who took the post of Art Director in 1944. These comic would die out by 1971, but in 1976 Marvel Classic Comics would reprint some of the stories until December of 1978. The classics are still around as small digest sized illustrated stories. They occasionally come back in comic format though.
In December 1941 Pep Comics #22 came out. It was the height of superhero craze and a company called MLJ Magazines were trying to cash in on it. The cover was a character called the Shield, who was the first very patriotic theme superhero. Little did anybody realize that a back-up story about a teenaged boy would become a more popular character. The story featured Archie Andrews who would completely take over this company and keep it successful to this day. In this issue Archie's friends called him 'Chick'; Archie was modeled roughly around Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy character. 5 years later in 1946, MLJ Magazines would change its name to Archie Comic Publications, Inc. The creator of the Archie world is Bob Montana and the writer for the first story is Vic Bloom. According to official history owner John Goldwater asked Bob to come up with a teen age boy character. Sadly, after Bob Montana died his name was removed as the co-creator of the title and official Archie literature will tell you John Goldwater is the sole creator. The artist that worked on Archie's main title for many years was Harry Lucey. Another major contributor to Archie & his Pals is Dan DeCarlo who was working on the Betty and Veronica title in the 50's. He decided to go against an in-house style of art and draw the characters the way he liked. It was soon decided that DeCarlo's version was more appealing and since then it has been the in-house style for Archie Comics.
Funny Animal comics were an old hat in the comic book and strip industry. But one creator took the idea of talking animals and went pretty far with it. Walt Kelly used to work on both comic strips and comic books before taking a job with Disney in 1936. There he worked on the animated Pinocchio and Fantasia movies. Walt had a dispute with Disney and ended up leaving the company and chose to go back to comics. In 1941 Dell Publishing Co. would do some non-licensed comics and come out with Animal Comics #1. One of the characters within was Walt Kelly’s Pogo the Possum. The adventures were in Okefenokee Swamp with the quiet Pogo and other cast members. Pogo started out as a back up story in Animal Comics, but his popularity would keep the title going for 30 issues. Pogo would have his own comic that spanned 16 issues. Unusually, Pogo would take the opposite direction of starting out in comic books and then end up in newspapers as a comic strip. With the exception of really popular superhero characters this was not common. The strip appeared in The New York Star in 1949 and continued until 1974, a year after Walt Kelly's death. The Pogo comic strip was very bold and political at the same time, making fun of Senator McCarthy and his witch-hunts against suspected Communists. It would evolve with the times and with this poster, coined the popular phrase "We have met the enemy and he is us." with this 1970 Earth Day poster.