The All-American Comics company logo.


Primary Product: Comic Books
Producing From: 1939-46
Noted For: The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and more
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For such a major player in the early comic book industry, and one with so rich a legacy, All-American Publications isn't very …

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… well known today. That's because it spent most of its existence in the shadow of a more famous sister company, DC Comics.

All-American grew out of a disagreement between the partners who owned DC in 1938, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz. Donenfeld thought the four monthly comics they were putting out (Action, Adventure, Detective and More Fun) constituted quite enough presence in a yet-unproven area of publishing, but Liebowitz wanted more. So Liebowitz approached Maxwell C. Gaines, then working with McClure Syndicate (There Oughta Be a Law!, King Aroo), about a new partnership to publish a new line of comic books. Liebowitz considered Max Gaines a good prospect for the role not just because Gaines had invented the format of the modern comic book, but also because it was Gaines's young editor, Sheldon Mayer, who had earlier suggested DC buy what was then in the process of becoming its first big hit, Superman.

The new company's flagship title, All-American Comics, started out as a continuation of what Gaines and Mayer had been packaging for years, for a couple of different publishers — reprints of newspaper comics, interspersed with an occasional original story, some starring Mayer's semi-autobiographical character, Scribbly the Boy Cartoonist. The first issue (April, 1939) included Toonerville Folks, Reg'lar Fellers, Skippy and several others. It also included a few non-reprints, such as Hop Harrigan, arguably the company's biggest hit, and the first successful adventuring aviator to start out in comic books.

That same month, the company released the first of six issues of Movie Comics, which ran cartoonist Ed Wheelan's Minute Movies in addition to adapting current films. A few months later, Mutt & Jeff, who had been in All-American Comics from the beginning, got their own comic (which, through a succession of publishers, lasted until 1965).

It was with its fourth title, Flash Comics, that All-American Publications joined the mainstream, which at the time meant superheroes. The first issue (January, 1940) eschewed reprints in favor of The Flash, Hawkman and several other brand-new characters. Shortly afterward, All-American Comics joined the trend by introducing Green Lantern and The Atom. Later launches included Sensation Comics, where Wonder Woman was the star, and Funny Stuff, best remembered for McSnurtle the Turtle and The Dodo & the Frog. In 1942, All-American pioneered in educational comics with Picture Stories from the Bible.

As a distinct line of comic books, All-American Publications was all but invisible. Early issues had no publisher's logo on the cover, and when one was added, it was DC's. DC and All-American freely promoted each other's comics. Even characters would sometimes pass back and forth. For example, tho The Justice Society of America was published by All-American, half of its charter members were from DC.

The two companies existed side-by-side for a few years, until the partnership became uncomfortable for Gaines and he bought his way out of it. Tho generally considered DC's first giant-size issue, The Big All-American Comic Book (a 1944 oneshot, 128 pages thick) was actually published without a company logo. Subsequent All-American releases used a logo similar to DC's, but with "DC" replaced by "AA". The remaining DC-owned Justice Society members, Starman and The Spectre, were replaced without comment by AA's Mr. Terrific and Wildcat.

In 1946, Gaines had had enough of superheroes (which he'd never personally liked), and sold all his properties except Picture Stories from the Bible and Picture Stories from World History (which became the cornerstone of his new publishing venture, EC Comics) back to DC. From then on, all his characters were permanently, 100% part of the DC line. Later, DC would acquire mass quantities of titles from Quality Comics, Fawcett Publications and other defunct competitors. All-American was the first it swallowed.

In later years, DC had a fair degree of success with such characters as Blackhawk (which it got from Quality), Captain Marvel (from Fawcett) and The Blue Beetle (Charlton). But nothing like the success it had with The Flash, Green Lantern and the many other properties that came from All-American Publications.


All-American Publications articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia™:

The AtomThe Black PirateBobby ThatcherBulldog DrumheadEl CastigoDC ComicsDoctor Mid-NiteThe FlashGary Concord, the Ultra-ManThe Gay GhostThe Ghost PatrolGreen LanternThe Grim GhostThe Guardian AngelHawkmanHop HarriganJohnny PerilJohnny ThunderJ. Rufus LionJust a StoryThe Justice Society of AmericaThe KingLittle Boy Blue and the Blue BoysSheldon MayerMcSnurtle the TurtleMinute MoviesMr. TerrificMutt and JeffThe Red TornadoRed, White and BlueReg'lar FellersSargon the SorcererJulius SchwartzScribbly the Boy CartoonistSkippyThe Terrific WhatzitThe Three MouseketeersToonerville FolksUltra-ManThe WhipWildcatWonder Woman

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Text ©2004-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.