The Comic Book Ghost Past: 1962 – Multiversity Comics

The Multiversity History column returns with another installment of its year-by-year analysis of the comic book industry. Before we go ahead with today’s coverage of 1962, you might want to review 1960 and 1961.

The giants falter
Dell, the industry giant and sales leader, had been trying to set a new standard when it bowed to inflationary pressure in 1961 and instituted the first price increase since the invention of comic books around 30 years earlier. When readers saw the change from ten cents to fifteen, they revolted and sales plummeted. When DC and Marvel, Dell’s main competitors, raised their prices to twelve cents in 1962, readers were unhappy to agree. Dell tried to lower the prices to match, but the damage was done and their lost drives did not return. The turmoil caused a split between Dell and its printer, Western Printing & Lithography. Dell responded to lost sales by canceling licensed titles, which were less profitable than the original hardware, and bringing its printing business in-house. The ax even fell on the long-running “Four Color” anthology, which had more than 1,300 issues to its name. Western responded by creating the Gold Key imprint and continuing some of Dell’s most popular licensed properties. His initial titles included “Donald Duck”, “Bugs Bunny”, “Tarzan”, and “The Lone Ranger”.

Gilberton, another industry leader, had found success in the niche of adapting literary works into comic format under the “Classics Illustrated” banner. Their readers often used the adaptations as “study aids” in school. After twenty years of thriving business, sales plummeted in the early 1960s when competition arrived in the form of “Cliff Notes”. The real enemy and Gilberton’s downfall, however, was the United States Postal Service.

From the start, the USPS quietly guided the evolution of comics with an invisible hand through its arbitrary regulations on second-class postage rates and their arbitrary enforcement. Second-class postage was a reduced shipping rate for periodicals shipped to subscribers, and publishers bent over backwards to get it because a comic strip shipped to a subscriber was about 800% more profitable than a comic strip sold at newsstands. At the same time, the tariff request was several hundred dollars and non-refundable, so publishers were also trying to trick the system by continuing to number a canceled title under a new name, hoping no one would notice. change. It was this unscrupulous practice by others that got Gilberton in hot water.

The USPS looked at “Classics Illustrated” and saw a new title with each issue. Worse still, each issue was a complete story with no monthly continuity. The USPS deemed it snookered and wanted to classify the documents as books, which were not eligible for the discounted rates. Given their format and regularity, Gilberton naturally argued that their product was a periodical anthology, but still tried to give in to USPS demands through serialized backup features. In 1962, the hammer fell when the USPS issued a final ruling on the matter: the material was a book. Faced with the unsustainable loss of massive profits from subscriber schools and libraries, Gilberton abruptly closed its American division. It maintained a presence in the European market and continued to produce new hardware for years to come.

Marvel Rising
“The Fantastic Four” was a hit from its first issue, and Marvel’s success continued to grow in 1962. Fan response was strong enough to support new letter columns, which spurred growth. fandom as fans began to communicate directly with each other. When he ran out of ideas, Stan Lee began stretching the stories between issues. This went against industry standards at the time, as the distribution was not reliable enough to guarantee that readers would have access to consecutive issues, but the response was positive as readers felt that they were getting deeper characterization and fully explored storylines. It also increased subscriber numbers, which paid off big for Marvel. Two DC writers, Bob Haney and Arnold Drake, read some issues of Marvel and attempted to warn their publisher of the stiff competition, but their words fell on deaf ears and DC continued as if to nothing was.

However, not all of the decisions Marvel made were wise. The Federal Trade Commission slapped Marvel owner Martin Goodman with a penalty for giving promotional compensation to some retailers but not others. He did well, all things considered. His penance was to submit a report explaining how his procedures had been updated to comply with the law.

Continued below

Other events
A minor event in 1962 that sparked a revolution was the publication of “The Adventures of Jesus”. Created by Frank Stack, who signed the work as Foolbert Sturgeon, this comic was the first underground comic. I wrote a lot about the history of Underground Comix a few years ago, so I won’t rehash the point here.

After DC published the Atomic Knights story “King of New Orleans” in “Strange Adventures” #??, the New Orleans Jazz Museum wrote to them requesting the original work. DC soon donated it to them and it remained on display for decades.

As mentioned in the 1961 article, the Academy of Comic Book Fans and Collectors voted in several categories to determine the top creators and creations of 1961. The awards were presented in 1962 as the Alley Awards, the first commemoration of creative endeavor in comics. “Fantastic Four” won the top title, but DC swept the other three categories.

Bonny J. Streater