Sunday, February 18, 2007

All Star Adventure Comic and the DC/ACG Axis

As discussed previously, All Star Adventure Comic #13 is the first issue in the series to feature a DC cover. All subsequent covers in the series would also be from DC.

It is also the first issue to feature DC content. The previous issues carried material from a range of publishers such as Charlton, Marvel (Atlas), Fiction House and others. They also included comics from American Comics Group. The ACG material would be the only non-DC comics to continue appearing along with the DC material in this next stage of All Star.

The ACG material accounts for a high proportion of the contents of All Star between #’s 13 and 23, yet paradoxically also plays second fiddle to the DC comics. Whether there is only one or two DC stories in a particular issue, as is often the case, or whether there are a handful of DC stories, the DC feature typically opens the issue, and indeed ‘presents’ and ‘sells’ the issue by virtue of cover duty.

Keeping in mind these are all 100-page issues, and the DC features are around 9 pages each, the DC/ACG ratio slices up something like this:

#13: 4 DC, balance ACG
#14. 1 DC, balance ACG
#15: 4 DC, balance ACG
#16: 4 DC, balance ACG
#17. 5 DC, balance ACG
#18. 1 DC, balance ACG
#19. 1 DC, balance ACG
#20. 3 DC, balance ACG
#21. 1 DC, balance ACG
#22. 1 DC, balance ACG
#23. 7 DC, balance ACG
#24. All DC, 1 unidentified
#25. All DC, 1 unidentified

It begs many questions - Why such a concentration of ACG material in a relatively short span? Why did All Star not continue as a non-DC title and instead splintered into All Star Vol. 2 and Climax? And Why did the ACG material lose the balance so emphatically to DC in All Star after almost a dozen issues?

It’s another of those K.G. Murray mysteries which lead to more questions, theories and speculation. It’s often difficult to judge whether it’s best to ascribe editorial directive or just plain random chance to many aspects of these comics, but I’m inclined towards the former in the case of the early All Star/Climax contents.

So I'll proceed with my assumption that the K.G. Murray editors deemed the majority of the All Star Vol. 1 material to be sufficiently different in style to the rest of the DC material they were publishing as to warrant channelling them into a separate title. I have discussed how I expect this is in turn led to the launch of Climax Adventure Comic.

Likewise I expect the editors deemed the ACG material to be close enough in style and appeal to the DC material to associate the two in All Star Vol. 2.

I believe it was Will Eisner who said style is the result of limitations. I’d argue it is also a matter of critical distance.

For example, the well-versed fan of Silver Age comics does not find it too difficult to distinguish between a DC and an ACG comic.

However, ask a pre-code horror aficionado about the relative merits of DC or ACG comics – in particular, their horror titles - and the disparaging assessment will strongly suggest the relative blandness of the DC/ACG material renders them virtually indistinguishable. The pre-code horror expert may concede the earliest DC and ACG horror comics have some merit, and in the case of ACG some historical importance, but will also quickly remind the fanboy that neither missed a beat when it came to abiding by the Code.

It’s certainly not difficult to appreciate the clean, light, open style of some ACG artists such as Chic Stone, Pete Costanza and Kurt Schaffenberger blended readily with the predominant DC style of the period. Indeed some ACG alumni, in particular Schaffenberger, would become strongly identified with DC in the 1960’s.

And it’s true that in flipping through one of these issues of All Star there are no great jarring moments of contrasting styles akin to that encountered in All Star Vol. 1, such as Wolverton mixed in with Williamson. Apart from the conspicuous outlines on the ACG story titles, and the neat credit boxes identifying writers and artists, these ACG stories in All Star could, for all intents and purposes - ie: from a certain critical distance - have been produced by a team of DC writers and artists.

Beyond matters of style and audience, I have recently been surprised to discover there are other interesting links between DC and ACG.

As Michael Vance relates in his book Forbidden Adventures: The History of the American Comics Group, the early comic book industry, centred around New York, was a web of relationships within the Jewish community, and the history of ACG is replete with arrangements and relationships amongst the comics publishers, including DC.

For example: B.W. Sangor, a retired attorney, was a friend of Harry Donenfeld; His son-in-law was Ned Pines, of Pines/Better/Nedor/Standard Publications; The Sangor shop’s main client was Pines, but also supplied art to DC and other publishers; Mort Weisinger was a former editor for Pines; Sangor’s business manager was Frederick Iger, who was also (briefly) Donenfeld’s son-in-law; He became ACG’s publisher after Sangor’s death; Iger had worked at DC, and indeed Iger and Sangor invested through Donenfeld’s offices (the B&I Corporation); The Sangor shop evolved into ACG; Sangor’s and Iger’s close connection to ACG and Donenfeld led to rumours that Donenfeld and DC owned a share of ACG.

The rumours were further fanned by the appearance of advertisements for some ACG titles in DC comics. It appears the truth behind the rumours is that Donenfeld listed himself as part owner of ACG just to guarantee distribution via Independent News Company, but was not in fact a part owner. It is said Donenfeld also helped Sangor secure black market newsprint paper in the early 1940’s.

(This summary is drawn from Vance’s book - most of which was also reprinted in a recent issue of Alter Ego, featuring many scans from K.G. Murray comics!)

Vance establishes ties of varying degrees between DC and ACG based on key personnel (did I mention Sangor was Donenfeld’s crony and gin rummy partner…?!) artists and, critically, distribution.

I suggested in my post on Carroll Rhinestrom, DC’s - read Independent News Company’s - international distributor that it would be unlikely that an agency would operate exclusively for one company. I also argued that factoring in such a third party would go a long way to explaining how non-DC material was supplied along with the core DC material.

My assumption was that it was unlikely non-DC comics - ‘the competition’ - would have been sourced directly via DC. Yet, as Gerard Jones says in Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book: “…publishers that might have looked like competitors from the outside… were in fact another source of (Donenfeld’s) wealth.” (p. 158)

Indeed Independent News was also the distributor for Marvel for much of the 1960’s, a deal weighted heavily in favour of DC. The Marvel features K.G. Murray published in Climax and Super Giant (see previous discussion) all appeared after the distribution deal with Independent News had expired, and Martin Goodman had sold Marvel to Perfect Film and Chemical Corporation (but therein lies a tale for another blog.)

So, based on Vance, we have established various ties between ACG and DC – most critically, the distribution of ACG via DC/Independent News Corp. Add to this the likelihood that Rheinstrom’s company would have been in a position to deliver DC and non-DC material to K.G. Murray. Suddenly, this double-pronged supply-line makes the appearance of non-DC comics in K.G. Murray’s line not unlikely or surprising, but almost inevitable.

I don’t mean to suggest that after #23 All Star consisted exclusively of DC material. Although it did become a predominantly DC title and took its place alongside other mainline K.G. Murray DC-centric titles, it tended to feature non-superhero, or non-core superhero features for much of its run (Animal Man, Spectre, Adam Strange), and also carried other non-DC features, albeit in support roles. And I don’t mean to suggest that the ACG material appeared exclusively in All Star, as it was also carried in other titles in this period, for example All Favourites, Mighty, The Hundred, Five-Score and Century.

After the second and third tier superheroes had completed cover duties, it was only a matter of time before Superman and Batman made cover appearances. Towards the end of its run All Star had pretty much settled into reprinting Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. The last issue was #96, and the numbering was continued with Superboy #97. Yet throughout this period it still maintained ties to its Strange Adventures and House of Mystery heritage

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