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BY Bob Hughes
|Golden Age Artist File||DC Letterers|
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Ever wonder where your favorites comics characters came from? I don't mean the secret behind their cosmic powers, but where the idea came for them in the first place. Nowadays this is relatively easy to find out. Assuming you can locate the first appearance of a character, the creators names will appear at the beginning of the story. But for the greater part of the history of super-heroes the true Secret Origin has been the names of their creators.
It's a regrettable fact that for most of the period of time in which hero comics have been published, creators have been given short shrift by publishers. Considered employees of the big corporations, their contributions were treated as "work for hire" for which they were entitled to no further consideration than a one-time pay check. Writers and artists got no credit, no royalties, and no income from merchandising. It all went to the publisher, who, being the owner, was, to all intents and purposes, the "creator".
The only exceptions to this rule were those early Golden Age artists and writers who were able to cut deals before the publishers realized the size of the gold mine they were sitting on. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (creators of Superman), Bob Kane (co-creator of Batman), Charles Moulton (pseudonymous creator of Wonder Woman) and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (Boy Commandos, and the Newsboy Legion) got their names emblazoned on all stories featuring their characters, even ones that they didn't actually work on. Some even got royalties. However, the publishers retained ownership of even these characters, and creators who got out of line could be fired and their signatures deleted (as happened to Siegel and Shuster).
It wasn't until the early Sixties that comic readers began to once again be made aware of writers and artists, first through editorial comments on letters pages, and then later by the appearance of credits on the stories themselves. At DC, editor Julie Schwartz lead the way, heavily promoting the writing of John Broome and Gardner Fox and the art of Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson. These creators gave a distinctive look to Schwartz's titles, making them almost a comic line within a comic line. By trumpeting their names, he made his books seem exclusive. He had these talents working for him and the other editors didn't, therefore his books were better. Other editors were reluctant to follow his lead. To a great extent these editors liked to think of themselves as the creators of the stories they bought, often dismissing the contribution of the writers.
By the Seventies, however, company policy dictated credits be printed on every story. By that time, fans had been devoting themselves to ferreting out the names of artists and writers for years and had learned to tell uncredited artists apart by simply looking at a few panels. The companies felt that, with so many people so interested, naming creators might have a sales advantage. The fact that Schwartz's books outsold the other editors might also have had something to do with it.
By the 1980's and the advent of the independent comics companies, the large companies once again began to offer creators incentives like royalties, reprint rights, and merchandising payments. These deals were not retroactive, however. Except for Siegel and Shuster, whose out of court settlement restored them to DC's good graces, and the aforementioned Bob Kane and William Moulton Marston, the creators of DC's Golden and Silver Age treasure trove of characters remain unacknowledged by the company. In fact, even modern creators may not be acknowledged because the publisher's contract does not require it.
Despite these obstacles, determined comics fans have been able to track down the creators, writers and artists of many Golden Age characters. The father of comics fandom, Jerry Bails, spent many years tracking down the artists and writers behind the adventures of the Justice Society and went on to produce The Who's Who of American Comic Books, which is now available on-line . Jim Steranko interviewed many of the founders of the comic industry for his History of the Comics books, as did Ron Goulart, who has produced several books on comics. The late Richard Morrissey made himself an expert at identifying Superman's various artists. His friend, Martin O'Hearn has become an expert at identifying the stylistic quirks of many of the uncredited writers of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. Former DC editor Robin Snyder, now publishes a magazine devoted to the history of The Comics, featuring extensive reminiscences of the creators of the Golden and Silver Ages. The most ambitious project to date is the Grand Comics Data Base, a team effort to index every comic ever published on the planet! To learn about this project and how to gain access to the data so far collected (over 40,000 comics!) check out Grand Comics Data Base.
Thanks to the work of these people (and a lot of comics of my own) I was able to assemble the names of DC's creators in one place. The following lists contain most of the major heroes, villains, and supporting characters from the pre-credit era at DC. (Pre-1972) The entires are alphabetized according to comic book rules (that is, Lois Lane comes after Lightning Lord.) Each entry gives the character, the author and artist of their first appearance and the title and issue number and date of that appearance. Accompanying footnotes may provide additional information. Now, thanks to DC reprint projects, the existence of EBAY and the fellows at alt.binaries.pictures.comics, the Golden Age portion of this list is illustrated with work by the original writers and artists of these creations. This is probably the most complete collection of Golden Age DC art samples you'll find anywhere!
Many DC characters have gone through more than one incarnation. The Silver Age Flash, who first appeared in 1956, is essentially the same character as the original. Therefore, it does not seem fair to credit Bob Kanigher with "creating" an already existing character. However, Kanigher and Carmine Infantino did redesign the character and create a new supporting cast. For the sake of completeness, the Silver Age versions of many Golden Age characters are also listed. They are distinguished by noting their secret identities in parentheses. Thus I have listed Flash (Jay Garrick) and Flash (Barry Allen) and Hawkman (Carter Hall) and Hawkman (Katar Hol). When in doubt, check the date of the first appearance.
All of the above credits are for writers and artists of the character's first appearance. No attempt was made to determine the source of the original idea. For one thing, most comic book characters are not all that original. They are amalgams and rehashes. There is no crime in this. After all, Shakespeare "created" very few of his characters either.
Many people over the years have claimed to have been involved in the creation of the most successful comic book characters, including editors, publishers, inkers, colorists, lawyers and accountants. Typically, this claim amounts to having the "original idea" or "co- plotting" the first story. Nowadays a "plot" is considered to be a written page-by-page description of the events in a story, sans dialogue. It is bought and paid for by the company and the plotters are included in the credits. Back in the days when there weren't any credits, anyone the writer discussed the story with before committing it to paper could claim to be a "co-plotter". Most often, this "co-plotter" claim is made by an editor. There is logic to this because it is natural for an editor and writer to talk out a story in advance of its written submission. Regardless, the writer is the one who did the actual work of molding unfocused concepts into a coherent story. In no other line of writing does discussing one's work with an editor entitle that editor to co-creator status. No one has ever suggested that Isaac Asimov's Foundation or robot stories should be co-credited to John Campbell, for example. This is true even though Asimov admits that many of the original ideas contained in them were Campbell's. They're Asimov's stories. He wrote them. Campbell didn't.
Be that as it may, DC employed a series of very strong minded editors, particularly in the Fifties and Sixties, who contributed more to the creation of the features than editors are normally expected to. It would be remiss to not at least mention them. Jack Schiff edited the Batman titles from the early Forties until 1964 and the Superman titles during World War II, as well as books like House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Tales of the Unexpected, and, after 1964, Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space. The features which appeared in these books were created under his direction. Likewise, Mort Weisinger edited the Superman books from the late Forties to the Sixties. He was responsible in many ways for the development of Supergirl, Brainiac, the Legion and the other innovations of that period. Julius Schwartz edited Mystery In Space and Strange Adventures, as well as DC's western titles, throughout the Fifties and early Sixties. He was also responsible for the Silver Age revivals of Justice League, Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, and the Spectre. He took over Batman and Detective in 1964 and initiated the New Look (the yellow circle around Batman's chest symbol was added for trademark purposes at this time). He later edited the Superman titles for over ten years, up until the re-design of the character.
Perhaps even more influential was Sheldon Mayer, editor of the All-American line from its inception until the late Forties. Mayer not only was responsible for convincing DC to buy Superman in the first place, he also helped Siegel and Shuster convert their newspaper strips into comic book pages. He then went on to edit Flash, All- American, All Flash, Green Lantern, Sensation, Wonder Woman, and All-Star Comics, presiding over the development of at least 50% of all DC characters of the era, and through their Silver Age dopplegangers, most of the characters being published by DC today. Regardless of the contributions these people made, ultimately it was the writer who put the words on the paper and made the whole thing work (or, in the case of some of these characters, not work).
Other DC editors included Robert Kanigher, on Wonder Woman, Metal Men, and the war books and Larry Nadle and Bernie Breslauer on the humour books. George Kashdan and Murray Boltinoff assisted Jack Schiff until the Sixties, when they took on their own books including Teen Titans and Blackhawk and the Brave and Bold Batman team-ups.
Similar reasoning was applied to the artistic creator. The original penciller of the feature is given. This does not mean that this is the person who designed the character or the character's costume. That could have been done by the writer, editor, cover artist, or art director. The listing of costume designers, if even possible, could have doubled the length of this article, considering the number of costumes some characters have gone through. In a few instances the original costume may only have appeared once. The original artist is considered co-creator because in the comic medium the artist is the primary story teller. He or she ultimately decides how the character will look, act, move and react in all situations. This creative contribution must be acknowledged.
This list is state of the art, as near as I can determine. The art of writer identification is still in its infancy however. As new information is ferreted out we can expect some of these credits to change. Some writers have yet to be identified. Many stories have yet to be attributed to anybody, due to the difficulty of finding copies and the shear need to find time to read them. Anybody who is interested in this information should be aware of the organized efforts of people like Jerry Bails, and the Grand Comics Data Base project to consolidate and preserve this information.
My own personal involvement here began with the publication of DC's Who's Who loose leaf edition. The lack of creator credits for most of the characters therein (and the errors in the few ones given) set me off on a quest to track down the truth and get it out to the public. What was originally planned as an article for Amazing Heroes finally appeared in Overstreet's Gold and Silver #3 in January 1994. Now, with many new characters added and some corrections, I've found a permanent home for it on the web. I invite anyone who has additional information (or who wants to correct any mistakes) to write me, Bob Hughes, and help fill in the gaps. Credit should be given where credit is due.
Here are some other sources of information about comics creators:
Disney Comics Database
Jack Kirby Collector
The Who's Who
of American Comic Books
Roy Thomas' Alter Ego Magazine
Grand Comics Data Base
And totally unrelated: The Bedford Bigband (Ask us to play for you or just go there and search for my picture.)
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Changes last made on: Oct 22, 2009