FICTION HOUSE MAGAZINESPrimary Product: Comic Books
Producing From: 1938-54
Noted For: Sheena, Firehair, and more.
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In the late 1930s and early '40s, when the superhero genre took over American comic books, it took over across the board. Every single publisher was affected not just DC Comics, where the genre started in comics, but Marvel, Fawcett, Prize Comics and all the rest. Even Dell, which subsisted almost entirely on licensed properties from Disney, King Features etc.; and even there, Phantasmo, The Owl and a few others kept the company from being totally
superhero-free. Of the major U.S. comic book publishers of the early 1940s, the one that eschewed superheroes most thorougly was Fiction House.
Not that they were completely devoid of long underwear guys. In fact, they have a valid claim to an important superhero "first" first female superhero. Tho The Woman in Red is often cited as occupying that position, Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle beat Red into print by an entire month, and the only reason she isn't universally acknowledged as holding that record is, it's hard to think of her as a superhero because she doesn't make a very good fit with the superhero mold.
But if there was an overall theme to Fiction House's comics, "female heroes" was it. Whereas the overwhelming majority of fictional adventure heroes are male, at Fiction House there was much greater gender parity not because of an enlightened attitude, but because they seemed to be more sensitive than most to the fact that their readership consisted mainly of adolescent males, who could be expected to respond favorably to picture stories about women slugging it out. It's no accident that their first major star was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and that the more conventional Kaanga, Lord of the Jungle, came later and wasn't promoted as strongly. Over the years, their heroic characters had just as great a tendency to be like Sky Girl and Tiger Girl, as like Dr. Drew and Super-American.
Like MLJ, Standard and several other '40s comics companies, Fiction House was well established in pulp magazines before branching out into comics. In 1938, publisher Thurman T. Scott was approached by the Eisner/Iger Studio, which was starting to become known for packaging comics features for that burgeoning publishing phenomenon. At roughly the same time, Eisner/Iger was starting to do business with Fox Feature Syndicate, where they did (among others) The Flame and Wonder Man and with Quality Comics, where their creations included Doll Man and Blackhawk. Jumbo Comics, the first title Eisner/Iger produced for Fiction House, was dated September, 1938. Aside from Sheena, it contained Eisner's first major creation, Hawks of the Seas.
Another early title, Planet Comics (the first comic book to specialize in science fiction) came out shortly after. Within a few months, Jungle Comics, Fight Comics, Wings Comics and Rangers Comics, each featuring a different genre of stories, had been added. This parallelled the company's pulp line, which also featured a wide variety of story types. Its heroes included Camilla the Jungle Queen, Shark Brodie and Glory Forbes. Fiction House also employed many women artists, such as Lily Renée (Señorita Rio), Fran Hopper (Mysta of the Moon) and Ruth Atkinson (Tabu the Jungle Wizard) , unusual in the comics industry, especially at the time.
A few minor titles came and went, including Indians, Movie Comics and Knockout Adventures; and Fiction House also put several of its characters, such as Sheena, Wambi the Jungle Boy and Firehair into titles of their own. But for years, those six original titles constituted the core of the Fiction House line.
While the strong female characters may have pleased the Fiction House audience, would-be censors found them less pleasing. Fiction House found itself under attack by social reformers who preferred adolescent readers not be entertained in quite so sex-charged a manner. The entire comics industry was under attack, leading to the demise of many of its publishers.
One of them was Fiction House, which finally shut its doors in 1954.
Fiction House articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: