FUNNYMANMedium: Comic books
Published by: Magazine Enterprises
First Appeared: 1947
Creators: Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist)
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Writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster founded the superhero genre and set the American comic book industry in a permanent direction, when their Superman, the first character they created together
(tho not the first to see print), hit the stands. Their final collaboration, Funnyman, didn't do as well.
In the late 1940s, they sued DC Comics for having appropriated their most famous creation without any clear agreement apparently having been signed. The first thing they got out of the action was the loss of all the work assignments they'd hitherto been getting from the company. With nothing to do for DC, they started trying to earn a living with newly-created characters, while waiting for the lawsuit to wend its way through the court system.
Funnyman was the title character of a comic book put out by Magazine Enterprises (Ghost Rider, Thun'da) — whose publisher, by the way, was Vincent Sullivan, the editor who had bought their first Superman story. He was a superhero with a difference. If he didn't become as great a success as their first creation, that's only because lightning doesn't strike twice.
Larry Davis was a red-headed TV comedian (back in the infancy of that medium), whose appearance and mannerisms were reminiscent of real-life funny man Danny Kaye. Larry's manager/agent (and girlfriend), June Farrell, talked him into doing a superhero-like stunt for publicity — while wearing a clown suit, he was to use practical joking techniques to "disarm" and "bring to justice" a hired actor pretending to be a dangerous criminal. There was a missed cue, however, and he wound up encountering a real criminal instead. Not realizing his adversary wasn't following a script, he confidently entered the fray and, no doubt because he'd never had cause to reflect that he may not be able to do it, emerged victorious.
After the dust cleared and he found out the truth, he decided he actually liked fighting crime while wearing a clown suit — and especially liked having crooks as acceptable victims for his zany sense of humor. He continued using them that way under the nom-du-superhero "Funnyman", with June as his sole confidant.
Funnyman first appeared in a very small black and white printing (now exceedingly rare), dated December, 1947, and undoubtedly made for the purpose of ensuring legal ownership of the character — no use taking chances on it happening again. The first newsstand issue was dated a month later. By the way, early issues featured the professional debut of Dick Ayers (Human Torch, Jonah Hex), who first got into the comics industry as an assistant in Shuster's studio. As legal owners of the character, Siegel and Shuster were free to sell it as a newspaper strip, in addition to the comic book. Bell Syndicate (Miss Fury, Sad Sack) began distributing it during October, 1948.
But the public didn't seem to take to Funnyman in either venue — and he didn't get the advantage of having his creators associated in the public mind with Superman, as DC's lawyers had responded very negatively to Sullivan's attempt to promote him by using the name of "their" character in an ad. The comic book lasted six issues, the final one dated August, 1948. The newspaper strip didn't continue much longer — there, in fact, Funnyman underwent the additional indignity of having a secondary character, Reggie van Quirk, upstage him and become the main star, before the strip bit the dust.
Or it could be there was simply a morale problem. Siegel and Shuster lost their bid for control of their most lucrative creation, and maybe they had trouble keeping up appearances on a "funny" man. In any case, their partnership broke up in 1949, and that was the end of Funnyman.
He did, however, make a cameo, of sorts, in DC's Super Friends #5 (June, 1977, when the pain of the lawsuit had had time to go numb). Writer E. Nelson Bridwell (Mad magazine, Inferior Five) used a TV comedian as a minor character and named him Larry Davis; and an announcer referred to him as a "funny man". Artist Ramona Fradon (Aquaman, Brenda Starr) drew him to look like "the" Larry Davis.
And as recently as the early 1990s, actor/comedian Richard Belzer (whose other toon connections are roles in 1990s TV shows about Superman and The Flash) made an unsuccessful attempt to interest various Hollywood studios in a Funnyman film. But despite these near misses, Funnyman himself was never seen again.