For Your Consideration: DC’s Famous First Edition: New Fun #1

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger

by Robert Greenberger

Famous First Edition: New Fun #1

Famous First Edition: New Fun #1

Hard to believe, but just as Marvel Comics’ 80th Anniversary celebration winds down, DC Comics is quietly celebrating their 85th. For the first time, they are reprinting the comic that started it all, New Fun #1. Famous First Edition: New Fun #1 will be a 48-page hardcover completely reprinting the 36-page first all-new material comic book, setting the next evolutionary step in comics history.

This is a significant reprint for several reasons. First, unlike Marvel Comics #1, which has been reprinted repeatedly through the years, this is the first such occasion for DC. The hold-up for years had been clearing the rights to include Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first cartoon creation, owned by Universal Pictures.

Let’s peel back the years and set the stage. First, there’s Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, a former military man turned pulp writer and would-be publisher. He had tried graphic storytelling in the 1920s with little success and once he saw comic magazines, reprinting comic strips, with growing success, tried again. Rather than pay reprint fees to the newspaper syndicates, he conceived of all-new material at cheaper rates and properties he could control.

Wheeler-Nicholson formed National Allied Publications, hired Lloyd Jacquet as editor, Dick Loederer as art editor, and Sheldon H. Stark cartoon editor. New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine arrived January 11, 1935, and that day, Jacquet released this statement: “New FUN – hot off the Daily Eagle press – goes on sale today coast-to-coast.” The book will be released 11 days after that anniversary, on January 22. It’s also Wheeler-Nicholson’s 130rd birthday anniversary that month. (George Delacorte deserves acknowledgement for his Dell Publishing’s The Funnies, a 1929 proto-comic book of all original strips.)

So, what’s in the issue itself? It’s a hodgepodge, as the comics were at the time. You have cowboys, detectives, comedic characters, and so on. The best-known recurring character is Wheeler-Nicholson’s Barry O’Neill, a two-fisted detective who dealt with the Yellow Peril in the form of Fang Gow, clearly inspired by Sax Rohmer’s pulp character Dr. Fu Manchu. Wheeler-Nicholson wound up writing a good percentage of this inaugural release.

Interestingly, Tom Mix, the real-life cowboy movie star, was featured in a four-pager, which seems like editorial content but was actually an ad from Ralston-Purina. This comic is also notable for its debut of paid advertising as opposed to issues solely sponsored by a company.

Among the eight shorter features is Oswald, the1927 animated creation of Disney and the great Ub Iwerks. Originally designed as a black-furred rabbit, by the time of this publication, the cartoons had turned him white although this feature, drawn by Al Stahl, featured his dark fur. Oswald appeared as single tier strips throughout the issue.

Sandra of the Secret Service

Sandra of the Secret Service

Among the talents within, Charles Flanders drew the adaptation of Ivanhoe. Such public domain works were something the Major had tried previously and they became a National staple during its early years. Flanders is perhaps best known for created Sandra of the Secret Service, also appearing in this comic. Sandra was the lead feature and her serial lasted 13 issues. She remained a resident of the title, enduring the name change to More Fun Comics, through issue #35 (September 1938). [In retrospect, I should have included her in Who’s Who.]

As became a habit in subsequent years, there was a coupon asking readers to write in the eight things they like the best in the issue. Additionally, they sought the name and address of the nearest movie theater.

New Fun didn’t give us memorable characters or introduce us to talents who later went on to fame and fortune. But it got National started and showed rivals that all-new material could sell. After two issues, he began mixing in color before going all color and by the end of 1935, introduced his second title, New Comics, arriving at the soon-to-be-standard Golden Age size. With issue #7, New Fun became More Fun, a month after the arrival of the team of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

In addition to the complete contents of this seminal title, there will be text pieces from the Major’s granddaughter, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, who has been chronicling her family’s history; and comics write/editor/historian Roy Thomas. Thankfully, DC is reprinting at 10.5” X 15.125”, close to its original size. Wheeler-Nicholson also curated Hermes Press’ recent DC Comics Before Superman, which is worth a read.

By the time Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz squeezed him out, Wheeler-Nicholson was already planning Action and the arrival of Superman. Fittingly, the Major was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 2008.

Jacquet, it should be noted, edited the first four issues before moving on. In 1939, he partnered with Bill Everett for the intended Motion Pictures Funnies Weekly which saw only one issue – but it introduced the world to the Sub-Mariner. When it was reprinted in Marvel Comics #1, Jacquet could lay credit for being there for the birth of the Big Two publishers.

The title Famous First Edition was initially used by DC in 1974 when they began releasing tabloid-sized reprints of key titles form their line, starting, of course, with Action Comics #1. It’s fitting they resurrect it for this important release.


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