DELL COMICSPrimary Product: Comic books
Producing from: 1929-73
Noted For: Comic book adaptations of many licensed properties, including Warner Bros., Disney, Walter Lantz, and more; and some original material.
Please contribute to its necessary financial support.
Amazon.com or PayPal
periodical in America to specialize in comics, not reprinted from newspaper strips. The reason this weekly isn't listed in most guides as the first comic book is probably because it was published as a tabloid, rather than the size of a modern comic book. The Funnies lasted 36 issues, ending with its Oct. 16, 1930 release.
Dell gained a more permanent foothold in comics in February, 1936, when it launched Popular Comics in what had by then become the standard comic book format — a monthly anthology, a little larger than a modern comic book, containing reprints of newspaper comic strips. This one concentrated on those distributed by The Chicago Tribune Syndicate — Dick Tracy, The Gumps, Gasoline Alley, Harold Teen, and several others. Later that year, Dell added a revived series of The Funnies, this time using newspaper strip reprints instead of original material, and in 1937 started another strip reprint series, titled simply The Comics. All three were packaged by M.C. Gaines, who went on to become one of the founders of DC Comics and, later, the founder of EC.
In 1938, Dell entered an agreement with Western Printing and Lithographing Co., which held rights to do original material using various popular characters from other media. Dell contracted to do comic book versions of those characters. This partnership would last almost a quarter of a century, and by the late 1940s, it made Dell the largest comic book publisher in America.
By the early 1940s, most comics publishers had jumped on the superhero bandwagon — but Dell found its niche in licensed properties, many of them aimed at younger readers. In 1940, it launched Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, featuring the popular Walt Disney characters. In 1941, Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies Comics started, showcasing the Warner Bros. cartoon characters. In 1942, The Funnies became New Funnies, and started featuring the characters of Walter Lantz. The same year saw the debut of Our Gang Comics, with the MGM cartoon characters. Many of the popular newspaper strips had Dell Comics versions, as did quite a few radio and, later, TV shows.
Dell did so well with its licensed funny animals, that in 1941 it launched an anthology of its own. Animal Comics, where Walt Kelly's Pogo got its start, was the first comic book to specialize in that genre, using characters that had all been created especially for comic books.
Four Color Comics was a special kind of anthology. Each issue highlighted a single character, such as Donald Duck or Popeye. Toward the late 1940s, many of the characters that had been featured in Four Color were moved out into their own regularly published series, making Four Color comics' first tryout title, anticipating DC's Showcase and The Brave & the Bold by more than a decade. Four Color Comics was published very frequently — an average of about twice a week during the 1950s — and racked up over 1,300 issues, more than any other American comic book before or since, by the time it ended, in 1962.
In 1962, the partnership with Western Printing came to an end. Western started its own comic book line, Gold Key Comics, to handle its licensed properties — which constituted the vast majority of the comics Dell had been publishing. Western even took a few original series with it, such as Turok, Son of Stone. Within a couple of years, Dell had regrouped, and was publishing a mixture of original titles, such as Melvin Monster and Jungle War Stories, and TV/movie adaptations, such as Bewitched and The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
But in the 1960s, as in the '40s, the name of the game in comics was superheroes. Without the mighty support of Disney, Warner and the other licensing blockbusters, Dell couldn't make it by bucking the trend again. Their attempts to start superheroes of their own, such as Nukla and a trio of titles purporting to superheroize old movie monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf), ranged from weak to laughable.
Dell struggled for the rest of the decade and part of the next, but in 1973, finally gave up and ceased publishing comic books. Those just old enough to remember their last few years tend to think of Dell as a minor purveyor of low-quality marginalia. But there was a time when Dell set standards that most comics publishers couldn't hope to reach.
Dell Comics articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: