FOX FEATURE SYNDICATEPrimary Product: Comic books
Producing from: 1939-50
Noted For: Wonder Man, Blue Beetle, Phantom Lady, The Bouncer and more
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As the story goes, Victor S. Fox was an accountant working in 1938 for what later became DC Comics, which is how he happened to be among the very first to hear of Superman's runaway success at the newsstand. He decided there was no reason some of that success couldn't
be his, rented an office (in the same building, no less) and hired a comics packager on his lunch hour, and that's how he managed to get Wonder Man, the first Superman clone, into print less than a year later, a remarkable feat at the time.
The truth, according to comics historian Gerard Jones, is that Fox never worked for DC, and nobody knows how he got wind so quickly of the fast and vast profits to be made in the fledgling field. But the fact is, before Fawcett Publications (Captain Marvel), before MLJ Comics (Steel Sterling), before any of the others — Fox Feature Syndicate (as it was called later) was the very first publisher ordered by a court to cease-and-desist plagiarizing Superman.
But Fox (whose shady business practices had already caused legal problems for him) moved quickly, and was already rolling with military heroes, westerns, humorous features, and others that could be slapped together quickly, without too much thought. Wonder Man was instantly replaced with a Mandrake the Magician knock-off, and the company's second full-fledged superhero, The Flame, had ample differences to avoid preemption. Fox quickly branched out into Batman & Robin imitators (The Lynx & Blackie), Green Hornet imitators (The Blue Beetle), and his own versions of practically all the other early comic book staples.
At first, Fox got the material he published from the Will Eisner/Jerry Iger studio, which is remembered for Sheena (Fiction House, Doll Man (Quality Comics) and much more. Later, unhappy with Eisner for testifying against him at the Wonder Man trial, he dropped the studio (owing it $3,000) and hired his own creative staff to produce Rex Dexter of Mars, Samson, Zanzibar the Magician, Cosmic Carson and his many other series. Many industry pioneers who worked there have described him as short, bald and well dressed, venturing forth from his palatial private office, chomping a cigar and declaiming about being the king of comics, with millions invested. Nobody reports having snickered openly, but their private attitudes became apparent later.
But the comic books, unlike the business, had brushes with quality. That's where Joe Simon met Jack Kirby, for example; and while the pair never actually collaborated for Fox itself, they did go on to a stellar career in comics (Captain America, Young Romance etc.). Dick Briefer (Frankenstein), George Tuska (Buck Rogers,), L.B. Cole (covers throughout the industry) and others contributed, tho their best work tended to be done elsewhere. Still, the great bulk of the Fox comics content, produced for minuscule page rates, was somewhere between poor and execrable, as even talented creators cut corners to make ends meet.
For all the "millions" he claimed to have invested, Fox's financial empire seems to have been fairly flimsy. It may have been a distributor failure that led to his being forced into bankruptcy in 1942. On the other hand, the fact that Fox's base of operations had very recently moved to Holyoke, MA, combined with the fact that Holyoke Publishing Co. (Catman) wound up taking over his titles, may or may not indicate advance planning for the crisis. Fox's financial shenanigans, which sometimes got fairly complex, aren't very well documented.
Whatever may or may not have been going on behind the scenes, Fox emerged from bankruptcy two years later, reclaiming its titles from Holyoke. It went on to revive Phantom Lady, create new characters such as Cosmo Cat (a funny animal superhero in the tradition of Super Rabbit and The Terrific Whatzit), Junior (one of the publisher's several Archie clones), and otherwise appear to thrive in the comic book industry. But as it did, the more canny creators were making sure what the company owed them didn't get out of hand.
The comics industry as a whole was under attack in the late 1940s, as a corruptor of youth. Fox, which was heavily into exploiting sex and violence (typified in its title Crimes by Women, which it published 15 issues of), was a prime target. Comic book sales were way down, and this particular company's debts were way up. Fox declared bankruptcy again in 1950.
There was an attempt to reorganize, with titles continuing in publication for a few months. But this time, there was no emerging. The company's remaining properties were scattered among several smaller publishers, with a large block of them going to Fox's long-time business associate, Robert Farrell (Ajax Comics, Farrell Publications). Many of them eventually wound up in the hands of Charlton Comics, which was to become the beneficiary of several small publishing failures of the 1950s.
Victor Fox himself declared personal bankruptcy in 1952. His subsequent activities are unknown, but they didn't involve publishing comic books.
Fox Feature Syndicate articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: