Highlights from the Cooper Collection
The Stephen Neil Cooper Synchronic Comic Book collection began with Stephen Cooper’s favorite issue of Strange Adventures, #67, dated April 1956, and grew to include 202 comic books available on newsstands that month. As Cooper writes in his introduction to the 2011 physical exhibition of the collection: “Instantly inspired to find all the comic books surrounding this favorite, I assiduously amassed and upgraded the collection over the course of ten years” (https://library.rit.edu/cary/exhibitions/frozen-time).
Stephen Cooper is an alumnus of RIT. He graduated in 1966 with a fine arts degree in illustration photography and now operates the Sybille Gallery in New York City. Cooper donated the comic book collection to the Cary Graphic Arts Collection in October 2010. It was on display with the exhibition title “Frozen in Time” in April and May 2011.
Enjoy 30 highlights from the 202 books in this collection. Books chosen represent the variety of genres and subjects in this corpus, and help us to see the effects of the newly-implemented Comics Code Authority.
As the cover to this issue makes clear, Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica focuses on the romantic high-school shenanigans between the blonde girl-next-door Betty Cooper, the brunette Veronica Lodge, daughter of the wealthiest family in Riverdale, and the redheaded typical teenager Archie Andrews. Archie first appeared in 1941, in Pep Comics #22, and the series Archie began a year later in 1942. Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica was the second Archie spin-off series, beginning in 1950, one year after Archie’s Pal Jughead. As Bart Beaty notes, “while Archie comics were always popular with a young female audience, [Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica] heightened that appeal with its emphasis on the female costars, and it quickly emerged as the second-most-popular title behind Archie, averaging well over three hundred thousand copies sold per month” by the 1960s (14). (Reference: Bart Beaty, Twelve-Cent Archie. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2015.)
Black Cat went through a number of title changes from its launch in 1946 to its eventual end in 1963. Initially a title named after the “Black Cat,” a stunt woman and actress named Linda Turner who dons a costume to fight crime, the series would change formats to a Western, horror, and mystery title. Perhaps in response to the 1954 Comics Code, this issue boasts a “NEW DESIGN in mystery.” It moves away from the scantily-clad heroine of the series, singled out in Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent as one of the negative influences on the youth of America because of Black Cat’s penchant for hand-to-hand combat. This revised Black Cat title features suspense and science fiction stories. The cover references “20th Century Man,” a story in this issue that is “told in the format of a television show. The story panels become your TV screen and the suspense of its awful problems comes to life before your eyes.” Notably, the cover to this issue is pencilled and inked by famed comics artist Jack Kirby, co-creator of the Avengers, Captain America, the X-Men, and much more. (Reference: Harry Mendryk, “Harvey Horror and Science Fiction: Black Cat Mystery #57,” Jack Kirby Museum, 12 April 2012. http://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/simonandkirby/archives/4373 )
Wielding an ebony blade forged by Merlin, the Black Knight was created by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely in this Atlas Comics title, which only ran for five issues. Taking place during the reign of King Arthur, the comic blends medieval romance with ideas more commonly associated with superheroes. When not in the Black Knight armor, the main character masquerades as the cowardly Sir Percy of Scandia. A heroic descendant of this Black Knight character would be introduced in Marvel’s The Avengers #48 (1968). The cover of this issue was drawn by Joe Maneely, who died in 1958 at the age of 32. Stan Lee remarked that “he would have been another Jack Kirby . . . the best you could imagine.” (Reference: “Joe Maneely,” Lambiek Comiclopedia, 30 Jan. 2017. https://www.lambiek.net/artists/m/maneely_joe.htm )
This issue of DC’s long-running Detective Comics series reintroduces the Mad Hatter, a Batman villain who first appeared in the 1940s. As the Mad Hatter’s villainous ambition here makes clear—he wants to add Batman’s signature cowl to his collection of hats—the villains of the “Silver Age” of comic books are “wacky conjurors, nothing more, with no menace or violence about them” (242). This anthology comic also contains a story featuring the “Martian Manhunter,” another mainstay of DC’s superhero universe. (Reference: Andy Medhurst, “Batman, Deviance, and Camp,” The Superhero Reader, ed. Charles Hatfield, Jeet Heer, and Kent Worcester. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2013. 237-251.)
According to Michelle Nolan, romance comics saturated the newsstands in 1950, resulting in “the Love Glut. In 1950, publishers kissed off no fewer than 117 of 147 romance titles” (62). Harvey’s First Romance was one of the titles to survive. This particular issue of First Romance reprints stories of heartbreak and true love from First Romance #22 (1953), along with features like “Clothing Closeups,” which instructs readers in fashion conventions, such as “Concealment is better than revealment!” While many genre comics are overtly fictional, this romance comic opens with a statement that its first story, “Heartbreak in Hollywood,” is “dramatically, sensationally TRUE!” (Reference: Michelle Nolan, Love on the Racks: A History of American Romance Comics. Jefferson: McFarland, 2008.)
One of American Comics Group’s longest-running titles, Forbidden Worlds featured tales of alien visitors from other planets, time travel, and other strange happenings. Perhaps most notable about this issue is its cover, by ACG artist Ogden Whitney. Whitney would go on to create the character Herbie, sometimes known as the superhero Fat Fury, in the pages of Forbidden Worlds, eventually resulting in the character’s own series in the 1960s. As Dan Nadel notes, Whitney developed a curiously familiar yet emblematic art style: “Every boss is bald and plump and chomps a cigar, every businessman looks like Rock Hudson, and every office and home is straight out of the Sears catalog.” This makes the strange events on the cover even more uncanny, as they seem to be happening to such typical, ordinary figures. (Reference: Dan Nadel, “Sucker Punch,” Bookforum (Feb/Mar 2009). https://www.bookforum.com/print/1505/-3291)
As they were on television and in cinema, Westerns were quite popular in 1950s comics. This issue of Gunsmoke Western features two recurring Western heroes, Kid Colt and Billy Buckskin. While Billy Buckskin would quickly fade out of Atlas’s Western titles, Kid Colt was a mainstay along with Atlas’s other “kid” Western heroes, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid. The Kid Colt Outlaw series ran 225 issues from 1948 to 1979, during which Atlas Comics changed its name to the now more familiar Marvel Comics. The cover of this issue is drawn by John Severin who, along with his sister Marie Severin, worked in the comic book industry from the 1940s to the 2000s.
This Archie Comics series was initially written and penciled by Bob Bolling, with inks by Bob White, and it would be published with some name changes until 1983. Featuring child versions of the teenage Archie characters, this first issue of the series draws on classic Archie themes, such as romance and driving, but puts a childish and slapstick-driven spin on them. In later years, the series would shift to spookier subject matter, focusing less on romance and more on horror. As Bart Beaty notes, “Little Archie was considerably darker than anything else that Archie Comics published [in the 1960s], ironic given the fact that the title seemed intended for readers who were presumed to be too young for the regular series” (170). (Reference: Bart Beaty, Twelve-Cent Archie. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2015.)
Little Lotta Plump was one of Harvey Comics’ consistent characters, along with Little Audrey, Little Dot, and Richie Rich. Much of the humor in Little Lotta’s comic book adventures comes from the incredible strength that she gets from eating massive amounts of food, as demonstrated on this issue’s cover. Lotta’s superhuman ability to eat is put to the test in this issue, when she dreams that she has eaten an entire whale, thus spoiling her appetite.
This jungle adventure comic features a female version of Tarzan, raised in the African jungle and accompanied by her sidekick, a chimpanzee named Mikki. On this cover, two artist’s signatures are visible on a rock, “Colletta and Williamson.” Vince Colletta and Al Williamson worked as artists for Atlas Comics in the mid-to-late 1950s, after the implementation of the Comics Code Authority. Catherine Jurca has argued that Edgar Rice Burrough’s 1912 Tarzan of the Apes is preoccupied with domesticity. As she argues, Tarzan’s major appeal in the novel is his “natural grace as a homemaker,” as he transforms the jungle into the symbolic equivalent of a suburb (41). Lorna is similarly committed to maintaining what she describes as “the law of the jungle,” which in fact resembles 1950s gender, racial, and social norms. (Reference: Catherine Jurca, White Diaspora: The Suburb and the Twentieth-Century American Novel. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.)
Mad was initially a comic book, and it converted to a magazine format in 1955 with issue #24. The elaborate frame on this cover was drawn by Harvey Kurtzman, Mad’s founding editor, and it features the magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, and his catchphrase, “What, me worry?” Jack Davis painted the cover, which depicts the “new year” 1956 walking through a crowd of caricatures. As William Stout notes, “Davis developed the ability to draw, design, and clearly organize vast humorous crowds in a single picture, a skill that would pay off enormously once he started painting movie posters” (5). Indeed, Davis would go on to draw not just movie posters, but also album covers and illustrations for Time and TV Guide. (Reference: William Stout, “Jack Davis: Master of the Quick Draw,” Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2011. 5-7.)
This war comic contains three stories about the Korean War, one story about World War II set in the Pacific, and a story about 19th-century Marines in the “South Seas.” Typical of war comics at this time, Marines in Battle offers a mix of historical detail and propagandistic rhetoric in its stories. Artist John Severin’s signature is visible on left side of the cover illustration. As Steven Belletto has noted, the Korean War has a “symbolic value in the Cold War” context in which this comic, and many others, were created (56). Accordingly, the Korean War here is another struggle that American soldiers are waging in the name of freedom and against the forces of evil. (Reference: Steven Belletto, “The Koren War, the Cold War, and the American Novel,” American Literature 87.1 (March 2015): 51-77.)
This issue of Mystery Tales was featured in an episode of the TV series Lost in 2008 (“Cabin Fever,” Season 4, Episode 11). Along with that bit of strange coincidence, the issue contains a number of strange stories, including famed comics artist Steve Ditko’s “March Has 32 Days,” about an inspector who mysteriously relives a day so as to prevent a bridge collapse. The cover of this issue is drawn by Carl Burgos, who created the original Human Torch in 1939. As Sean Howe notes, “Burgos’s low-budget primitivist style only increased the sense that the flimsy buildings, cars, and people the Torch encountered were hastily constructed only to be destroyed in short measure” (13). That same ephemerality applies to the floating “Hidden Land” on this cover. (Reference: Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. New York: Harper, 2012.)
Even though it is numbered as issue #3, this is the first issue of Nature Boy. Issues #1 and #2 were titled Danny Blaze, and featured stories about a heroic firefighter. Charlton Comics’ Nature Boy would last only 3 issues, before changing names again to the children’s humor title Li’L Rascal Twins. Nature Boy was written by Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman in the 1930s, and John Buscema, who would become a longtime Marvel Comics artist. In this issue, Nature Boy’s origin story is revealed. As a small child, David Crandall is lost at sea during a storm. He is rescued by a group of god-like rulers, who give him powers over sea, wind, fire, earth, love, sky, electricity, and cold. Nature Boy uses his “staggering powers for the triumph of good and right living!”
This issue of Our Fighting Forces features a cover and story by Charles “Jerry” Grandenetti, one of the iconic war comics artists of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, some of Grandenetti’s work in the 1960s would be used by Pop Art painter Roy Lichtenstein in his 1962 work Jet Pilot. This issue’s “Grenade Pitcher” story puts the reader in the shoes of a World War II soldier, who uses his skill as a baseball pitcher to hurl grenades at Nazi tanks. As demonstrated by the dynamic cover, the story asks the reader to identify with the athletic protagonist. (Reference: “Jerry Grandenetti, 1927-2010,” The Comics Reporter. 29 Sept. 2010. http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/jerry_grandenetti_1927_2010/)
Felix the Cat first appeared in animated films in 1919. Produced by the Pat Sullivan studio and drawn by Otto Messmer, Felix the Cat has been a mainstay of popular culture since that moment, and began appearing in a syndicated newspaper comic strip in 1923. As Nicholas Sammond has argued, Felix borrowed directly from the conventions of minstrelsy and vaudeville performance, from the cat’s facial expressions and movements to the world in which his adventures take place: “It was nowhere and everywhere, ephemeral and immanent” (117). (Reference: Nicholas Sammond, Birth of an Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation. Durham: Duke UP, 2015.)
Paul Terry created Mighty Mouse as one of the many characters in his Terrytoons Studio. Mighty Mouse stories featured the caped hero saving the day and foiling the plans of diabolical villains. Those stories are accompanied in this comic by others featuring Terrytoons Studio characters such as Dimwit Dog, Dinky Duck, and the magpies Heckle and Jeckle.
Quality Comics’ Plastic Man series would only last for three more issues. In late 1956, the publisher would go out of business and sell its characters and titles to DC Comics. This issue contains all reprinted stories, from earlier issues of the title. One of them, in particular, a ghost story titled “Woozy,” was modified from its original version to conform to the rules of Comics Code Authority. A cluster of ghoulish ghosts on the story’s title page was replaced with a cartoonish human face, no more creepy skulls or bulging eyeballs. The final story in this issue was drawn by Plastic Man’s creator, the artist Jack Cole. As Art Spiegelman has claimed, Cole’s Plastic Man and his infinite ability to move through space “literally embodied the comic book form: its exuberant energy, its boyishness, and its only partially sublimated sexuality” (38). (Reference: Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits! New York: Chronicle, 2001.)
Dale Evans was the co-star (and real-life wife) of Roy Rogers on The Roy Rogers Show, and as Raymond E. White has claimed, Evans and Rogers presented “an American West that was optimistic, lighthearted, and musical” (3). This was Evans’s second comic book series, preceded by DC Comics’ Dale Evans Comics, which ran for twenty-four issues from 1948 to 1952. Along with Evans’ and Rogers’ series, the show’s iconic horse Trigger had its own comic book series, as well. On the cover of this issue, Evans is reading to another member of The Roy Rogers Show, Bullet the Wonder Dog. (Reference: Raymond E. White, King of the Cowboys, Queen of the West : Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Madison: U of Wisconsin Press, 2005.)
While the original Rin Tin Tin appeared in over two dozen films in the 1920s and early 1930s, the war hero dog’s legacy continued in the 1950s in the television show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and in this Dell Comics series. In this issue, Rin Tin Tin travels on a boat along the West coast of Canada, accompanied by Captain Red Johnson and boy companion Mukluk. In her biography of the celebrity dog, Susan Orlean describes what he has meant in popular culture: “Rin Tin Tin has always been more than a dog. He was an idea and an ideal—a hero who was also a friend, a fighter who was also a caretaker, a mute genius, a companionable loner. He was one dog and many dogs, a real animal and an invented character, a pet as well as an international celebrity. He was born in 1918 and he never died” (3). (Reference: Susan Orelan, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.)
In the Cooper Collection, there are three Robin Hood series: Charlton’s Robin Hood and His Merry Men, Quality’s Robin Hood Tales, and this title, Magazine Enterprises’ Robin Hood. Along with these titles, Robin Hood also appears on the cover of Brave and Bold #5, yet another comic in the Cooper Collection. While the character of Robin Hood appears in folk ballads dating back to the 15th century, the version of Robin Hood in 1950s comics owes much to American illustrator and writer Howard Pyle’s 1883 book The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. As Nick Rennison notes, “it is in Pyle’s black-and-white illustrations that the outlines of the classic image of Robin Hood begin to emerge. Here is the hero in his forest attire and feathered cap. Here is the lithe and handsome athlete that later appears in the [Douglas] Fairbanks and [Errol] Flynn films. Reproduced time and again, often with additional colouring, Pyle's illustrations embedded a particular vision of Robin in the American popular imagination” (117). Drawn by Frank Bolle, Magazine Enterprises’ Robin Hood follows in this tradition. (Reference: Nick Rennison, Robin Hood: Myth, History, and Culture. Harpenden: Oldcastle Books, 2012.)
Secret Hearts was published by National Comics, better known today as DC Comics, through its Arleigh romance imprint. As Michelle Nolan remarks, “National Comics is well respected by romance collectors for being one of the slickest purveyors of love during the post-Comics Code era, even though many 1950s and early 1960s stories tend to be merely mild fantasies” (79). In this issue, that is certainly true, as each story concludes with a couple’s loving embrace. Notably, this comic includes a prose feature, “Ann Martin, Counselor-at-Love,” in which readers write in for advice on romance-related topics, from prompting a marriage proposal from a reluctant boyfriend to choosing the right kind of photograph for a wedding announcement. (Reference: Michelle Nolan, Love on the Racks: A History of American Romance Comics. Jefferson: McFarland, 2008.)
The first issue of DC’s Showcase introduces “Fireman Farrell” in three stories written by Arnold Drake and drawn by John Prentice. While Fireman Farrell would appear periodically in later DC Comics titles, Showcase is today best remembered for its fourth issue in October 1956. That issue introduces Barry Allen as the Flash. The new version of the Flash in that issue is widely thought of as the beginning of the “Silver Age” of comics, in which superhero stories, and not firefighting tales, become synonymous with comic books in the United States.
A science fiction anthology comic, Strange Adventures features a cover penciled and inked by renowned artists Gil Kane and Joe Giella. The cover telegraphs the issue’s opening story, written by John Broome and drawn by the same artistic team, in which a martian arrives on Earth to influence human development, only to realize that humans can innovate on their own. After drawing this conclusion, and in a moment of metacommentary on the science fiction genre, the martian arrives at the editorial office of Strange Adventures to tell his story. Notably, this science fiction comic is the origin point of our Stephen Neil Cooper Synchronic Collection of Comic Books. The collector Stephen Cooper remembered reading this issue’s second story, “Search for a Lost World!,” written by science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton, penciled by Sid Greene, and inked by Joe Giella. In Cooper’s own words, “I was reading a story about a guy who was getting larger and larger, and still larger, until he grew so incredibly colossal that the enormous planets of the solar system simply passed through him. What? My pea-sized brain struggled with this cosmic-sized vision” (34). Cooper’s mind-opening encounter with this comic led him, many years later, to track down this issue of Strange Adventures, and then to track down every title on newsstands at that time in April 1956, “in order to fully recapture the comic book Zeitgeist of that momentous day in my life!” (35). Because of his effort, we can now all look back at this snapshot of comic book and cultural history. (Reference: Steve Cooper, “The Odyssey of a Synchronic Collector,” Comic Book Marketplace 67 (March 1999): 32-51.)
This long-running series blends humor and adventure, as the well-meaning but somewhat inept reporter Jimmy Olsen stumbles into situations, many involving the help of Superman, that lead to stories in Metropolis’ Daily Planet newspaper. As Jonathan Friedmann notes, “the comic book began as a spin-off from the popular Adventures of Superman television series (1952–8), which co-starred Jack Larson as the naive cub reporter” (44). In this issue, Jimmy Olsen performs as a circus clown, visits dinosaurs on Mystic Isle, and, as depicted on the cover, becomes invisible when transported to the fourth dimension. (Reference: Jonathan L. Friedmann, “When Jimmy Blew the Shofar: Midrash and Musical Invective in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 28.1 (Spring 2016): 43-53.)
With its striking blue-toned figure, this Two-Gun Kid cover encapsulates what made Atlas Comics artist Joe Maneely the “absolute favorite” of editor and writer Stan Lee. As Sean Howe details, Maneely “was speedy and astonishingly versatile, handling the Dennis the Menace facsimile Melvin the Monster and the western Two-Gun Kid with equal aplomb” (33). In this issue, the “Wildest Cowboy in the Wild West” rides into towns and helps those in need. (Reference: Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. New York: Harper, 2012.)
This comic features Disney’s duck family: Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Grandma Duck, and the kids Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Notably, the publisher Dell Comics did not print the Comics Code Authority stamp of approval on its comic book covers, and instead insisted on the wholesomeness of its publications. This “Duck Album” issue was drawn by mainstay Disney artist Tony Strobl. While Carl Barks is perhaps the best known “Duck artist” for his work on Scrooge McDuck, Anders Berglund has documented how “after 1954, it was Strobl who was responsible for a majority of the content in Donald Duck.” (Reference: Anders Berglund, “Ducks Aren’t Barks Only: Here’s the Classic Donald Duck of Tony Strobl,” The Art Bin, http://art-bin.com/art/strobleng.html)
The cover of this war comic was drawn by Jack Kirby, one of the most celebrated comic book artists of the twentieth century. With its striking composition and sense of motion, the illustration demonstrates what would make Kirby a remarkable superhero artist. Even in a single illustration, there is a dynamic sense of narrative. In his study of Kirby, Charles Hatfield provides some context that applies to this representation of warfare: “Starting in the late thirties and persisting to the late seventies, Kirby produced comic book work on a monthly basis, with but one significant interruption: his time as an infantryman during World War II. He was to carry this war experience around with him for the rest of his life, often telling war stories full of odd, unassuming details and spiced with a generous sense of the absurd” (13). (Reference: Charles Hatfield, Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2011.)
Wonder Woman was created by the psychologist William Moulton Marston (using the pen name Charles Moulton) and artist Harry G. Peter. Though Marston died in 1947, “Charles Moulton” is still credited as the author of this issue’s Wonder Woman stories, and Peter draws them. As Jill Lepore has documented, Marston created Wonder Woman, with the help of his two domestic partners, to be an explicitly feminist hero. Marston claimed in a 1942 interview that “Wonder Woman . . . is a New Woman. ‘The one outstanding benefit to humanity from the first World War was the great increase in the strength of women—physical, economic, mental,’ he says. ‘Women definitely emerged from a false, haremlike protection and began taking over men’s work. Grealy to their own surprise they discovered that they were potentially as strong as men—in some ways stronger’” (232-233). (Reference: Jill Lepore, The Secret History of Wonder Woman. New York: Vintage, 2015.)
Replacing Charlton’s Charlie Chan title with issue #10, Zaza the Mystic would only run for two issues before it was replaced with the horror and suspense title This Magazine Is Haunted. While her title was short lived, Zaza the Mystic did have a unique character profile. As described on the opening page of this issue, Zaza’s identity as a psychic is a disguise: “The crystal ball and tea leaves merely hide Zaza’s startling powers of observation and at times her uncanny ability to predict coming events! It’s not at all magic – just a sharp eye and a keen mind at work at all times!” This issue is the first of only two appearances of Zaza the Mystic, who is no mystic after all.