Tuesday, July 6, 2010

DC VS VICTOR FOX: The Testimony of Jack Liebowitz

This is the third installment of testimony from Detective Comics, Inc. vs. Bruns (Fox) Publications. As in the two previous, I’ll present the scanned transcript pages and leave my comments to the end.

Fittingly, Jack Liebowitz leads off for the plaintiffs. The former accountant had worked his way up through Harry Donenfeld’s organization, from business manager, to secretary-treasurer, to Max Gaines partner in the Donenfeld-funded All-American Comics venture. He was also chief guardian of the Superman franchise:

“He (Liebowitz) was ferocious within the industry, though. As Superman imitations poured from cheap printing presses in 1939 and 1940, it became almost habitual for the company to toss around lawsuits and threatening letters.” [Gerard Jones, MEN OF TOMORROW, pg. 165]

-- Jacob S. Liebowitz, plaintiff witness herein referred to as The Witness
-- Asher Blum & Raphael Koenig, attorneys for defendant Brun Publications (Fox)
-- Samuel Fried, attorney for co-defendants Kable News Co. and Interborough News Co.
-- Horace Manges, attorney for the plaintiff Detective Comics, Inc.
-- Judge John Woolsey, herein referred to as The Court


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Liebowitz's testimony is remarkable.

Not just because it establishes Fox's opportunity and means of acquiring the sales figures of--and consequently, the motivation to copy--ACTION COMICS, but it peels back the layers of incestuous relationships between the participants. From a historical perspective, Liebowitz's words may be more revealing, if not as shocking, as Eisner's.

To begin with, he puts to rest this apocryphal tale:

"…Harry Donenfeld's accountant, Victor Fox came in to work at 10:00 AM, saw the sales figures for Action Comics #1, he quit his job at 11:00 AM, spent the noon hour finding some office space to rent, and by 2 PM he was interviewing people to do superhero comics for him." [Jamie Coville, "Siegel, Shuster and Superman"]

The truth is more involved and more intriguing. After establishing the close proximity of Bruns to DC (both were in the same building, two floors apart), the plaintiff's attorney reveals a deeper relationship:

Manges: Is Mr. Donenfeld the president of your company?

Liebowitz: He is.

Manges: And did Mr. Donenfeld at one time have a 50 percent interest in the Bruns Publications?

Liebowitz: Yes.

Wheels within wheels. Not only was Donenfeld owner of Detective Comics and distributor, Independent News, but was also Fox's one-time partner in Bruns. Meanwhile Liebowitz, secretary-treasurer of DC, served in a similar capacity for Independent News, of which, Fox was a customer.

It was as a client of that distributor that Fox had access to the sales figures of ACTION COMICS. It seems that he would make a daily trip to the offices of Independent News to check the sales of his own WORLD ASTROLOGY MAGAZINE. While flipping through the unsorted "pick-up" cards, Fox had the opportunity to see the astounding sell-through rate of ACTION compared to the meager sales of WORLD ASTROLOGY.

Liebowitz also makes reference to a comic book proposed to him by Fox in February, 1939:

Manges: Will you tell his Honor what was said by Mr. Fox and what was said by you, to the best of your recollection?

Liebowitz: Well, he was up to see me at one time at the office, I think it was around five o'clock. A part of the conversation was to inform me he was going to publish a comic magazine and that the issue was being prepared in about two weeks.

Was this WONDER COMICS or the KID COMICS mentioned by Fox? If so, their stories, not surprisingly, vary wildly. Fox claimed he had this conversation with Donenfeld and a full year earlier, in January, 1938. As is frequently the case, timing is everything, and proof of it becomes central to this case.

Next up on the stand: Jerry Siegel.


  1. Eep! My old webpage comes back to haunt me. I created TheComicBooks.com because I was embarrassed by my very fan-ish and gullible/poorly researched History of Superhero Comic Books geocities page. I mainly keep it online for nostalgia.

    But yes, it's nice to finally know what the real story is. I do recall reading that Fox wasn't DC/Donnenfeld's accountant in Gerard Jones book, but I remained perplexed in how he knew to copy Superman before DC realized Superman was popular. Now we know.

    That Donnenfeld was part owner of Braun is new info, but I can't say it surprises me. He was part owner of Prize Comics and perhaps ACG from the very start. I'm speculating that as a printer and distributor he may have insisted on part ownership of any company he was giving credit to. This way if the company couldn't pay he could take over and either make a go of it to get his money back or liquidate it and be first in line for the money, rather than leave it to a bankruptcy judge.

    DC might have just been the 1(?) company that used his part ownership on and take over due to debts. Lucky for him!

  2. Donenfeld had his fingers in many pots. As time goes on and (hopefully) more documentation surfaces, we may begin to understand his full involvement in other publishing ventures.

    And don't feel to badly about old Internet articles, Jamie! I have a few myself floating around in cyberspace that I wish I could recall.

  3. Ken, been following this with interest. Looking forward to Siegel's testimony. For those interested, I have posted a portion of an interview I did with Liebowitz a few years before he died. You can find it on the page linked below. It runs about 60 seconds.

    Liebowitz was the guy who seemed to get things done for Donenfeld, DC, and Independent News. It was Liebowitz who secured Playboy for Independent, for example. That was a coup he seemed especially proud of.


  4. Liebowitz was indeed the straw that stirred DC's drink, Mike.

    And I'll definitely check out the Liebowitz interview on your site. Everyone else should, too!