This year is the 85th anniversary of DC Comics by their reckoning. However, DC or Detective Comics did not appear until March 1937 so why does DC count their anniversary from January 1935? That’s a good question and one I’d love to hear answered by someone in the PR department of ATT.
According to that logic DC began with New Fun #1, the first comic published by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson appearing on newsstands January 11, 1935. It featured a comic on the cover–Jack Woods drawn by Lyman Anderson consisting of 12 panels in color and was tabloid size. The interior of New Fun #1 included twenty-nine features in black and white, of which 17 were original comics and one piece was an adaptation of a classic text, Ivanhoe. There were several activities for children and the rest of the material consisted of prose articles and stories. Although there were other comics that featured original material, they did not last making New Fun #1 the foundation of modern comics.
The first time I visited DC headquarters in New York in 2004, several times the comment was made, “If it wasn’t for your grandfather, we wouldn’t be here.” Although that has been a consistent refrain from the corporate entity I didn’t see much evidence of that statement. When “the Major” was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 2008 at San Diego Comic Con, I began a crusade to bring recognition to his contributions to the modern comics industry. They are substantial. If you don’t know or don’t believe me, please read DC Comics Before Superman for an inkling.
In March 2019 when I visited the new DC offices in Burbank, I was thrilled to see the door to the archives painted with the cover of New Fun #1 and the Major’s photograph displayed prominently inside the archives. It seemed that finally the corporation had concluded that the Major indeed founded DC and should be honored.
I was there to see the rare copy of New Fun #1 that DC had acquired through the quick eye of one of the good guys on the MWN group on Facebook and my subsequent lobbying DC to buy it for the archives. Astonishingly they did! Someone who deserves a medal made the decision to reprint New Fun #1 to appear in January 2020 to celebrate the 85th anniversary. It is also the 130th anniversary of the Major’s birth. And even more unbelievable I was asked to contribute to the reprint. The last byline for Wheeler-Nicholson in DC Comics occurred in the September 1938, Detective Comics, Bruce Nelson “The Coolie Smugglers,” script Wheeler-Nicholson, art, Tom Hickey. September 1938 is, coincidentally, the finalization of the forced bankruptcy brought by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz against the Major. For the first time in 82 years a Wheeler-Nicholson byline was to appear in a DC Comics publication.
Finally, all the hard work was going to pay off. (Yes, I am the perennial Candide and the classic Fool stepping happily into the abyss.) I was nervous about ATT taking over Warner Brothers and DC but was assured that DC would continue. I worked on the New Fun reprint providing an abbreviated biography of the Major and pushed for short bios for all the contributors, which I also wrote. It was a terrific experience and I’m grateful to have been a part. Everyone involved did a wonderful job and the end product Famous First Edition New Fun #1 is outstanding.
The first inkling that things were going to go off the rails was that I could not get anyone in the corporate labyrinth to commit to any PR on DC’s 85th and the Major’s 130th. Then the publishing date was pushed to April instead of January. The pandemic began and the rest of the debacle of the worst year of my life and most everyone else’s careened forward. Among other things comic book shops closed, there were no conventions, DC and Diamond Distributors kerfuffled, SDCC oddly ignored the 85th anniversary on New Fun #1 and then my own personal hell and high water occurred in mid-September almost losing my house and the terror I endured as Hurricane Sally roared over my home for 4 hours.
After months of recovery from that disaster—and it will continue well into 2021–I am finally able to make room for my work. I have repeatedly said that DC Comics matters to me because it is personal. It was my grandfather’s idea and to echo the refrain—“we wouldn’t be here without your grandfather,” well neither would I, so yes, it’s personal. It’s been heartbreaking for me to see what appears to be the destruction of DC Comics as we know it. I am sorry for all the good people at DC and Warner Brothers who have lost their jobs. And there were and perhaps still are some good people within those two entities. It has been my pleasure to know many of them and work alongside them. Everything changes and evolves and especially in any creative medium there are and should be changes. As a creative person I actively contribute to change. Although I consider myself a writer I spent years as an audio publisher. I’m also currently in the process of co-creating a digital comic. Creating requires an open mind to change. What I have discovered is that the best changes in creative work occur by standing on a strong foundation and reaching out beyond. Whatever changes needed to be made, I don’t get a good feeling from ATTyrannosaurus Rex lumbering around and smashing everything in sight. When the smoke clears we’ll see where we are. Maybe it will eventually be okay.
As the lone wolf out here on a limb having no corporation or institution to back me up I would not have made it this far without the tremendous support I have received from so many good and kind people. So where to go from here? I believe the best way forward is to do exactly as my grandfather the Major always did when faced with difficulties and disappointments–create and move forward. The one aspect of his character that has mostly been overlooked in the quest to pin him down is his creative brilliance in the scope and breadth of all he accomplished in one life. As one of the Major’s fans, Ranger Gord said, “it’s like Indiana Jones became a comic nerd—and the first one!”
In that spirit, I’ll discuss the comics the Major published in 1935 over these last few weeks of 2020 to celebrate the 85th anniversary of New Fun #1, DC Comics and the Major’s accomplishments. I’d love for you to join me as many of you have much to offer to a discussion of that era. Happy 85th New Fun #1.