In August of 1943 came what is believed to be the first horror comic, but from an unlikely source. Classic Comics #13 had the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They would also publish Frankenstein in December of 1945 (issue #26). It should be mentioned that the story of the Headless Horseman was part of issue #12. These two comics would set us on the road for some rough times in the future. But they alone were not responsible. There will be more on the upcoming horror genre as it happens.
In October, 1943 a new publisher called Creston Comics would start up publishing Giggle Comics and Ha Ha Comics. Both titles would go 101 issues ending in 1955, but both titles changed their names for the last two issues. These titles were among the now typical funny animal comics genre. During WWII both of these books were selling 500,000 copies each month, which was the highest point for this company. Creston Comics sprung up from the Sangor shop. Ben Sangor began producing promotional comics in 1941 and moved to newsstand comics with the help of investors. The names of Gerald and Andrew Albert were on paper as the official owners. They named the company Creston because that was the street the Alberts grew up on. In 1944 the Alberts would transfer their share of the company to Harry Donenfeld and very prolific writer and editor Richard E. Hughes would handle much of the business. The company would become American Comics Group (ACG) in 1946 and would be better known under that name.
In 1947 the ACG started a sub-company called B & I Publishing. It was co-owned by Ben W. Sangor and Frederick Iger. Ben had been a long time friend of Harry Donenfeld, the two played Gin Rummy together on a regular basis and would also travel together. Fred Iger was working for Donenfeld under his radio department. He would marry Donenfeld's daughter Sonya, who due to family was a co-owner of DC Comics. As a result of the marriage Fred would also be a co-owner of DC Comics. In order to "keep peace in the family" Donenfeld would fund Frederick Iger’s partnership with Ben Sangor and he would become a co-owner of ACG. While Sangor worked on the office and creative work for the company, Iger was learning the ropes through this company. He was the business manager for ACG and co-owned the sub-company B & I. While there he learned about editing, getting newsprint, negotiating with printers and doing the taxes for a comic book publisher. There was a few other sub-publishing companies created for tax purposes. ACG’s comics were distributed by Independent News (again, owned by Donenfeld) and some DC Comics had ads for the companies titles.
In 1948 ACG drastically cut down on production as they had a couple of years worth of comic book in storage and the books were starting to lose money. Sangor died in 1955 of a heart attack. Some people believed that after Sangor's death the ACG would be given to Sangor’s long time employee Richard Hughes, but Sangor left no will stating this. Instead Frederick Iger and Harry Donenfeld bought the other half of the company from Sangor widow. Despite the usual sub-standard output the company would continue doing newsstand comics until 1967, surviving long after most publishers of this period went down.
Behind the Scenes - Who was that Man?
Credits for creators was one thing, how about credit for an editor? Richard Hughes was known for editing the ACG line and contributing a lot of the writing. He did so under a wide variety of names. What many don’t know that his professional name of Richard Hughes was also a fake. His real name was Leo Rosenbaum.
Behind the Scenes - That’s one way out of comics.
ACG editor Richard Hughes had an assistant editor named Norman Fruman. His passions were 19th Century English Literature and baseball. He got onto the $64,000 Question game show and won $48,000. He quit his job at ACG and went into teaching.
In the summer of 1944 Marvel started doing comics about working women. They began with Tessie the Typist. It went 23 issues, ending in 1949. Included in the back up stories of these comics was work by Basil Wolverton (Powerhouse Pepper) and Harvey Kurtzman (Hey Look!) Both of these artists had zany styles that would have a lasting impact. Their short works were found in a variety of Marvel Comics of this period. While Tessie didn’t do that great for Marvel it was the first of an working girl genre that would soon have huge success for them in the near future.
Just to give you an idea of what was really popular vs. what wasn't I made another chart showing the sales of various titles in September of 1944.
The Horror genre would continue when Yellowjacket Comics #1 was published under the name of E. Levy. The first issue was cover dated September 1944. Yellowjacket Comics was a normal superhero title, but in the back pages of the first issue they adapted Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat, which is a horror tale. They did more of them and would eventually create a horror feature called Tales of Terror narrated by an old witch. This is an idea that would be used again later with a greater effect. The comic would only go 10 issues though. The comic would also switch it's publishing name to Frank Comunale and then Charlton Comics. Despite the name changes it's likely that this comic was done by the Charlton Comics owners all along and may very well be their first foray into the comic book field.
Charlton was started by two ex-convicts named John Santangelo and Edward Levy. Santangelo was an Italian immigrant who worked as a brick layer and masonry contractor. He first began publishing unauthorized lyrics to famous songs (for his soon to be wife) and made enough to quit his job. He would discover the hard way that America had copyright laws and would end up in the slammer. While there he met Edward Levy who was a disbarred attorney who was involved in a billing scandal. The two became friends, got out of prison at roughly the same time and made a handshake deal to go into legit publishing together. Edward was able to get the rights to publish lyrics legally and John would hire people and handle the publishing aspect. The company would buy an old printing press that was typically used to print cereal boxes and would also set up their own distribution network. This made Charlton Comics quite unique as they were very much a "done in one" publisher. They did everything from buying the paper to print on, hiring the people to create the magazines, to delivering the magazines to the newsstands. But like any printing presses, it cost a lot of money to not have the presses rolling, it's very likely that they got into comic books as a way to print something in between their magazine runs. No doubt they probably also recognized the popularity of comic books and were hoping to cash in.
Charlton would continue as a company until 1991, but would discontinue their comic books by 1986. Because of their done in one structure they managed to survive the economic downturns that put many other publishers out of business. They would be known for buying, then selling popular titles and characters. Charlton was also known for paying freelancers the lowest page rates and usually getting substandard material. On the plus side for freelancers, there was never a shortage of work and they were free to write & draw whatever they wanted. The company owners didn't pay attention to the comics or cared about them, just as long as they weren't losing major money. This gave the freelancers the creative freedom some of them craved for. Many major freelancers would tend to work at Charlton between gigs when they switched between the larger publishers. Also a number of freelancers would get their start at Charlton and would go onto bigger and better things.Behind the Scenes - Let's play some Ping Pong!