Friday, June 14, 2013

Harry 'A' and the Flying Cadet Mystery

     It was the itch I couldn't scratch. A decade of research resulting in my biographical study of Archer St. John and his publishing company, Archer St. John & The Little Company That Could, left a lingering question floating in its wake. What was St. John's relationship to Harry 'A' Chesler and how did he figure in St. John's entry into comic book publishing? I had resigned myself to never solving this so-called "Flying Cadet Mystery" until recent discoveries answered at least some of my questions.  -- Ken Quattro

     Special thanks go to the Roxbury (New Jersey) Public Library and Sara W. Duke, Curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art at the Library of Congress, for her invaluable help with my research.


Harry 'A' Chesler, circa age 78
from the SUNDAY JOURNAL (Dec. 19, 1976)

     Harry 'A' Chesler had a long career in sales by the time he entered the comic book game. Early on, this grocer's son wrote sales orders for a wholesale grocery house, purchased space in the Bergen Evening Record and resold it to advertisers, and by the early Twenties, had his own company selling outdoor advertising. He bounced from Philadelphia (where his name acquired the superfluous 'A' while he was employed at the PUBLIC LEDGER) to Chicago and back again to his native New Jersey. Always looking for a new opportunity; always on the make.

NEW YORK TIMES classified ad (April 1. 1923)

    Well into this peripatetic career, Chesler stumbled into comics. On August 15, 1935, he copyrighted, but either never published or limitedly distributed, a tabloid-sized text and comics hybrid publication entitled CHERRIO. Some of the features such as King Kole's Kourt, Lucky Coyne and the Cheerio Minstrels appeared in future Chesler comics. By the next year, Chesler had assembled a staff of artists and writers that was supplying original material to not only the two comics published under his own imprint, STAR and STAR RANGER, but also to competing publishers. He also formed Syndicate Features in an attempt to shop such strips as "Dan Hastings" and revived versions of "Little Nemo" and "Foxy Grandpa" to newspapers.

King Features letter asking to license 
Foxy Grandpa from Chesler
(March 11, 1937)

     While his newspaper strip venture was apparently stillborn and the comic books not sufficiently profitable (resulting in their sale to Frank Temerson and I. W. Ullman's, Ultem Publications), his comic shop survived in various incarnations into the 1950s.
     Early on, Chesler saw the potential of comics as an advertising source. He used his comics to cross-merchandise the probably-never-produced King Kola soft drink (a name he appropriated from a beer brand he once marketed),  the powdery milk-additive, Cocomalt and the George Nagle/Charles Biro "Goobyland" feature with a series of trading cards for Yum Yum Desserts.

STAR COMICS #5 (July-Aug. 1937)
[image retrieved from The Digital Comics Museum
Marble River scan]
Goobyland card that came in packages 
of Yum Yum Desserts products (1938)

     Apparently hoping to cash in on the boom created by the success of Superman and other costumed heroes, Chesler re-entered the publishing business with the formation of Dynamic Publications in 1941.

DYNAMIC COMICS #1 (Oct. 1941) 
back cover house ad featuring the first issues 
of each of the 1941 Chesler comics 
      This brief foray was similarly short-lived and unsuccessful as his earlier effort. Only a handful of issues of SCOOP, PUNCH, DYNAMIC and YANKEE comics were produced before Chesler once again threw in the towel.

One of the lawsuits generated
by Chesler's 1941 publishing venture


      As fate would have it, Chesler's latest publishing disaster ended just about the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Although staggered, the U.S. regained its balance and quickly assumed a wartime footing. Just over five weeks after the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9024, establishing the War Production Board (WPB). The WPB was created to oversee the war procurement and production program, which included the restriction of certain materials crucial to the war effort. Among these was paper.
     "The reason for the increased demand," wrote WPB Chairman J.A. Krug in a report to President Truman in 1945, " directly traceable to increased military needs: Increases of ordnance pulp, used as a substitute for cotton linters in explosives, of waterproof papers for the Army, of photographic papers, of containers, of V-boxes for over-seas shipment. Practically every piece of equipment produced in the United States today is packaged in some manner in a paper or paper product." [pg. 48-49, War Production in 1944, Report of the Chairman of the War Production Board]
    To confront this pressing need, the Printing and Publishing Division of the WPB proposed voluntary restrictions for the various publishing industries (newspaper, magazines and books) applying a formula based upon a percentage of the paper tonnage they individually used in 1941. It soon became apparent that such an honor system was rife with violators and in response, the WPB issued a series of "Limitation Orders" that set quotas for various paper users that went into effect on January 1, 1943.They also established an appeals process for companies that claimed they had need for an increased quota based upon their particular situation.
     Ready to take another shot at comic book publishing and unhappy with his paper allotment, Harry 'A' Chesler appealed.


     "Dynamic Publications, Inc.. published one issue each of two comic magazines in 1942 and then suspended publication because of financial difficulties caused primarily by the fact that its magazines did not sell," so noted Allen E. Norman, Chief of the Magazine and Periodical Section of the WPB in a summary of appeal cases he presented to a Senate committee investigating the state of the national defense program in June, 1944.
     " According to Mr. Chesler," Norman continued, "the newsstand returns on Dynamic Publications were about the worst in the business, only one copy being sold out of every three produced. With two out of every three copies being returned unsold it is not surprising that Dynamic Publications was not a financial success."
      "Mr. Chesler appealed for extra paper to reenter the magazine-publishing business on a scale larger than that which he enjoyed in the days when he was unable to compete successfully in a free market. He admitted that financial difficulties, arising from the unsalability of his magazines, was a prime factor in his discontinuing operation, and listed several other factors as contributing to this
situation, namely, his state of health, disagreements with his distributor, and the drafting of his personnel. Investigation revealed the unsubstantial nature of these claims, since his state of health was sufficient to permit him to earn a fee of $1,500 per month in doing art work for others, and most of the personnel which he mentioned had been drafted several months before the company started
publishing. His discussion of his troubles with his distributor consisted mostly of derogatory statements about the Fawcett Distributing Corporation and its personnel."

     In fairness to Chesler, he had some reason to distrust Fawcett and it involved Allen E. Norman himself.

Appointment of Allen E. Norman to WPB post
from THE HERALD STATESMAN (Jan. 3, 1944)

     Prior to his appointment as head of the Magazine and Periodical Section, Norman was secretary of Fawcett Publications and its subsidiary corporations.3 Though he was on leave from this position and serving voluntarily with the WPB as a "dollar-a-year man", he was still receiving a comfortable salary of $1,333.33 per month from Fawcett. 4 This cozy situation didn't go unnoticed and complaints about it led to Norman being questioned by the same Senate committee investigating the defense program. Questions asked by Senator Homer Ferguson specifically concerning an in-house Fawcett publication.

FERGUSON: I want to show you an exhibit here [Exhibit No. 1189]. Do you know what that exhibit is?

NORMAN: I certainly do.

FERGUSON: What is it?

NORMAN: It is page 9 from the February issue of a house organ known as Fawcett Distributor, published by the Fawcett Distributing Corporation.

FERGUSON: What year was it published ?

NORMAN: 1944.

FERGUSON: And at that time you were the enforcing officer of the order for magazines?

NORMAN: I was, sir; yes. I was the Chief of the Section.

     After a line of questioning that established Fawcett's place among "seven or eight large national magazine distributors",  Chief Counsel for the committee, Hugh A. Fulton, zeroed in on a portion of the aforementioned Fawcett house organ.

FULTON: I think, if you look at the front page of that exhibit, there is a statement of how many, or at least a statement of the number of magazines [distributed by Fawcett]; is there not ?

NORMAN: Very frankly, I haven't even read the rest of this article. I read those two paragraphs and practically fell off my chair.

FULTON: When did you first read those two paragraphs?

NORMAN: The night of March 21,1944.

FULTON: How large a distribution would that house organ have ? It is fair to call it a house organ ?

NORMAN: I think so, sir. Well, I am sure under the interpretations that we have. It would go, Senator Ferguson, I presume, to the whole list of independent distributors through which Fawcett distributes magazines—there are some 700 of those—and it would go to publishers whose magazines Fawcett distributes, and it would probably go to some prospective publishers whose magazines they may hope to distribute.

     Then, Senator Ferguson jumped back in and asked Norman to read the two paragraphs that were cause for concern.

NORMAN [reading Exhibit No. 1189]: "These franchises [the independent distributors] will pay off even greater profits in 1944."
     The value of a franchise in wholesale distribution means a great deal, and the position that magazines have on the newsstands, and that sort of thing. [reading Exhibit No. 1189] "This is a case in which Fawcett foresight and careful planning aided us in getting the most possible from our paper allotments."
     Do you want me to read the whole thing, and then let's comment piecemeal ?

FERGUSON: Afterwards.

NORMAN [reading Exhibit No. 1189] : "We were fortunate enough to have Allen E. Norman, secretary of the Fawcett corporations..."

FERGUSON [interposing]: That is you, by the way?

NORMAN: Yes, sir. [Reading Exhibit No. 1189]: "...acting as a consultant to the Printing and Publishing Division of the War Production Board; and W. H. Fawcett, Jr., president of the Fawcett Corporations, as a member of the magazine task force..."

FERGUSON [interposing]: What is the task force? An advisory committee?

NORMAN: It is a group which acts as an operating committee for the Magazine Advisory Committee [of the WPB]. It is a little more flexible than the Magazine Advisory Committee. Some of the members only live [sic] from San Francisco to Boston to Birmingham.

FERGUSON: All right.

NORMAN [reading Exhibit No. 1189]: "...which cooperates with the Printing and Publishing Division of the War Production Board. This enabled us to really know the paper situation at all times. Roger Fawcett, in the New York office, carried out the War Production Board orders and suggestions so far as Fawcett-published magazines were concerned. It has been largely through the excellent work of this trio..."

FERGUSON (interposing): Who is this trio?
NORMAN: That would presumably be W. H. Fawcett, Roger Fawcett, and myself. [reading]"...that F. D. C.," —that is Fawcett Distributing Corporation—"...has been able to make its plans for 1944 long in advance, thereby providing our independent wholesalers with a goodly supply of magazines to assure high profits for this year."  6

Roger, W.H., Gordon and Roscoe Fawcett
[image courtesy of P.C. Hamerlinck's FAWCETT COMPANION]

     This apparently damning paragraph insinuating collusion between Norman and Roger Fawcett to benefit the Fawcett distribution corporation was dismissed by Norman as, "...a very ill-chosen selection of words ...written by a minor employee of Fawcett Publications in the Greenwich, Conn., office." 7
     (Even though the article in question carried the byline of "Roscoe Fawcett", company circulation manager and a Fawcett sibling, the anonymous Fawcett employee Norman was so willingly threw under the bus was revealed to be Gene Fornshell. Fornshell was conveniently in the Army at the time and unable to respond to Norman's claim of his responsibility for the offending paragraphs.) 
     The whole matter had come up when a publisher seeking a larger quota of paper, appealed to the Magazine Section headed by Norman and presented the house organ article as evidence of his partiality toward Fawcett, a competing publisher. Norman's superior, Dr. Arthur Holcombe, Chairman of the Appeals Board for the whole WPB, ruled the evidence as irrelevant and the publisher's appeal was denied.
     The publisher questioning Norman's impartiality was the National Police Gazette Corporation. The NATIONAL POLICE GAZETTE had been bought in 1933 by Merwil Publishing. Merwil was the publisher of a men's soft-core pornographic magazines and was owned jointly by Merle Williams Hersey and the brothers, Irwin and Harry Donenfeld. Significantly, among the Donenfelds other publishing ventures was National Comics (D.C.), Fawcett Publishing's direct and very litigious competitor. Merwil lost the tabloid to bankruptcy in 1935. By the time of their appeal before Norman, the publisher of the NATIONAL GAZETTE was Harold H. Roswell.
     While the "house organ matter" wasn't brought up by Chesler in his own appeal before Norman, he asserted that Fawcett, at once his distributor and a competing comic book publisher, purposely drove him out of business.


      "The Printing and Publishing Division contended, and the Appeals Board concurred,"
continued Norman's report to the Senate committee, "that it would he illogical to allot a sizable quantity of a critical war commodity to a publisher who could not operate in normal times, so that he might operate in the highly artificial market caused by the paper shortage. The last year that Mr. Chesler published for 12 consecutive months was 1938, 4 years before the paper-limitation orders were put into effect."
      "Mr. Chesler is now being investigated by the Compliance Division in New York. In the first quarter of 1943 he overused his quarterly allotment by about 250 percent, and in addition he participated in the publication of four and one-half million copies of comic magazines without a paper quota."
     Unmentioned in the report were the titles of the comics in whose publication he "participated". Since none bore either his own name nor that of his Dynamic Publications, it is likely that these were surrogate publishers fronting for Chesler, who likely got a piece of the action.
      "Another matter of investigation is whether or not Mr. Chesler falsely represented his paper usage in 1942 in order to obtain the paper quota that was recognized for him."
      "Mr. Chesler's case has been reviewed on two separate occasions by the Printing and Publishing Division, and he has been given two oral hearings before the Appeals Board in order that he might present any material that would support his claim of excessive and undue hardship. Following both hearings the Appeals Board issued letters of denial." 
     This denial of his quota appeal would seem to end Chesler's wish to get back into publishing. But Chesler wasn't so easily discouraged. If he couldn't get the paper he wanted to publish in his own name, perhaps he could buy it from someone else.



     On an undated sheet of typing paper, Chesler (or someone in his employ) wrote out a list of comic titles: THE ARROW, DETECTIVE EYE, FANTOMAN, FUNNY PAGES...nineteen titles in all. Obscure comics, mostly short-lived and some that hadn't been published for several years. Linking all of them, though, was a lineage that began with Chesler himself.
     He had sold two of the titles on this list--STAR and STAR RANGER--to Ultem Publications back in 1937. Similarly, William Cook and John Mahon sold two of their Comics Magazine Company's titles, FUNNY PAGES and FUNNY PICTURE STORIES, to Ultem in the same period. Eventually, Ultem sold all of these to Centaur Publications, the comic book venture owned by pulp publishers Joe Hardie and Raymond Kelly. The rest of the titles on Chesler's list were filled by comics published by Comic Corporation of America, the imprint used by Hardie and Kelly as the successor of Centaur.
     On March 15, 1944, Chesler wrote a letter to Ray Kelly asking about acquiring the rights to FUNNY PAGES and AMAZING MAN.

Letter from Chesler inquiring about the availability 
of two defunct Comic Corp. of America comics.

     Within a week, Chesler received his reply.

The reply of co-owner, Raymond Kelly

     Undeterred, Chesler looked elsewhere. He didn't have to look any further than to a publisher who had been the beneficiary of fortuitous ruling in another quota appeal.
     Like Chesler, the publisher of AIR NEWS magazine had appealed for an increase in its paper quota. Phillip Andrews, owner of his namesake Phillip Andrews Publishing, claimed that the increase was based upon, "...the essentiality of the publication in the war effort and on his competitive standing with other aviation magazine publishers."
     Andrews request was initially rejected, but the appeals board eventually agreed to increase, "...Phillip Andrews' quota along with that of  SKYWAYS, FLYING CADET and various other publishers," of aviation magazines. 10
     FLYING CADET was a curious hybrid publication. Although in most ways it was a straightforward aviation magazine, packed with text and photos of airplanes and pilots, it also featured a comic book style section in some of its early issues. Its editor, Archer St. John, obviously had an eye on the growing comic book market and was integrating some of its format into his magazine.
     (It should be noted that Phillip Andrews bought AIR NEWS from St. John, who was its original publisher. St. John then used that money to start up FLYING CADET.)

FLYING CADET vol. 1 #1 (Jan. 1943)

     How Chesler became aware of FLYING CADET and its bonus paper quota isn't clear. Had he heard about it during his own appeal hearing? Or did he know St. John through his previous employment as advertising manager of Lionel Trains Corporation? In any case, in September 1944, they struck a deal.
     The deal was spelled out in a letter to Chesler from his attorney, David Alterbaum, dated September 12, 1944. In it, Alterbaum notes that on September 1st, St. John organized the Flying Cadet Publishing Company, Inc., paying $500 for its 100 shares of capital stock. In turn, St. John sold those shares to Betty Chesler for the sum of $500. Subsequently, St. John then sold, "...all his right, title and interest in and to," FLYING CADET magazine to the corporation.
     And he was well compensated for the sale.
     Chesler agreed to pay St. John $38, 000, with $20,000 of it up front and the rest in 12 monthly installments of $1,500 beginning October 1, 1944.
Details of the agreement between 
Archer St. John and Harry 'A' Chesler  (Sept. 12, 1944)
[note writer/editor Kenneth Fitch named as Secretary]

     It's a fair assumption that this influx of cash helped finance the start up of St. John's eponymous publishing company a few years later.
     Although the owner's statement in FLYING CADET vol. 2, #7 (17) names St. John as editor, business manager and owner, by the time it was published on October 1, 1944, he had already assigned the copyright to Chesler (aka Flying Cadet Publishing Co., Inc.) on September 8th. The comic (and by now, its contents were mostly in comic book format) ended with this issue. Chesler didn't care about the title; he had other plans.

FLYING CADET #17 [vol. 2 #7]  (Oct. 1944)

      On paper, Flying Cadet Publishing Co., Inc. and Dynamic Publishing, Inc. were separate companies. In reality, they had the same owner operating (for a time) from the same address at 163 W. 23rd Street. This led to the somewhat absurd, but probably legally sensible situation which found Chesler corresponding with himself.
     Chesler was working one more angle. 


     The following offer is hereby submitted to you:

          1. You are to have the exclusive right to publish and distribute the magazine, DYNAMIC COMICS and PUNCH COMICS, beginning with the January, 1945 issues thereof...". 

     So began the two-page agreement draped in legalese that granted the Flying Cadet Publishing Co., Inc. the license to publish several comics for a set royalty fee.
     The agreement goes on to specify that no less than 200,000 copies of each issue must be published. It also states unequivocally that, "It is understood and agreed that this license does not include any rights of the licensee in and to any paper quotas which may or may not be assigned to us, as licensors."
     Since Chesler had been denied a paper quota increase as Dynamic Publishing, this sentence didn't mean much, if anything. This is followed by the carefully crafted, "It is understood and agreed that this license shall not be construed to be that of a joint venture or partnership, and that you undertake the ultimate risk of publishing venture in connection with these magazines."
     Seemingly, a perfectly normal agreement designating the terms between two different companies. In actuality, Chesler was to profit both from the sales of a comic on the newsstand and from a royalty he would pay himself for the right to publish it.
     A perfectly executed double-dip.
     The agreement was accepted, naturally, and signed by Flying Cadet Publishing Co. Inc.'s secretary, Kenneth Fitch. Fitch, longtime writer and editor, was doing double-duty himself.
     How much this royalty meant is spelled out in a statement sent out on April 23, 1945. In it, the sales of DYNAMIC COMICS #13 and 14, and PUNCH COMICS #12 and 13, totaled and divided by the 1/4 cent royalty, netted Dynamic Publishing $3,787.50.

PUNCH COMICS #12 (Jan. 1945)
     On May 5, 1945, the license was renewed and expanded upon. Dynamic Publishing now graciously allowed Flying Cadet Publishing to not only publish more issues of DYNAMIC and PUNCH, but also the new title, RED SEAL. All other terms remained the same except that now it was specified that at least 250,000 copies of each comic had to be published per issue.

     The debut issue of AMERICAN AIR FORCES was also published under the Flying Cadet Publishing imprint. What kind of deal Chesler had with Vincent Sullivan's emerging Magazine Enterprises is unknown. But it is perhaps noteworthy that the comic was similar to the final issue of FLYING CADET, with a mix of comic and magazine material. Ironically, the format lived on if the title itself did not.


     Harry 'A' Chesler was always looking for a new opportunity. By the mid-Forties he had made enough money off his various comic sorties to veer off into other ventures. He purchased 200 acres of land off Eyland Avenue in Succasunna, New Jersey, containing a pond. With the help of bulldozers, the pond was reshaped to resemble a horseshoe. And it was soon revealed to be part of a much larger plan.
     In March, 1947, Chesler announced that he had invested $200,000 in Horseshoe Lake Park, a venue that was to include, "...[a] restaurant, a tap room and a ballroom, the latter having a floor space of 60 by 120 feet." 11  The complex, still under construction and set to open on June 1st, was also to feature, "...a Merry-Go-Round, Ferris Wheel and Caterpillar for a starter." 12  Two years later, it seems the project was still under construction, but none the less ambitious.

From BILLBOARD (Feb. 26, 1949)

      Perhaps Chesler's amusement park was never fully realized. Given Chesler's penchant for reusing old names, perhaps the citizens of Succasunna were spared an amusement park named Goobyland.



1  Investigation of the National Defense Program. Hearings before a Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, Pt. 22-24, (1944), pg. 10861.


Ibid., pg. 10457.

4  Ibid.

5  Ibid., pg. 10453.

6   Ibid., pg. 10454.

7  Ibid., pg. 10455.

8  Ibid., pg. 10861.

9  Ibid.

10  Ibid., pg. 10860.

11  "Horse Shoe Lake, Still In Building Stage, Bows June 1", BILLBOARD, March 29, 1947, pg. 102.

12   Ibid.

Additional general information sources include:

Ewing, Emma Mai, "The Funnies Can Be Serious",  THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 12, 1976, pg.347.

Babbage, Joan, "Comics' "Father" Helping Fairleigh Make A Home For His Children", THE STAR LEDGER, Jan. 20, 1976, pg. 27.

Mueller, John, "Harry 'A' & The Golden Age Of Comics", SUNDAY RECORD, Dec. 19, 1976.

Friday, April 12, 2013

That's The Spirit

    Return with me now to those thrilling days of last year, when I first posted the Mystery of the Radio Spirit. My plaintive plea for help in finding details about the elusive radio program based upon Will Eisner's classic strip was heard and answered by Karl Schadow. 
   Schadow, appropriately, is a brilliant old-time radio history sleuth whose researching instincts mirror my own. His subsequent response to my request was seen in the Mystery of the Radio Spirit -- Solved! post that contained his initial discoveries. 
   Since then, Karl has soldiered on, digging and uncovering even more about the program. His findings were first published in the official magazine of the Metro Washington Old Time Radio Club, RADIO RECALL, late in 2012. At my request, Karl is graciously allowing me to republish his research here. Readers should note that this article was originally intended for old-time radio aficionados and as such, it contains information geared toward that audience. 
   I'd like to thank both editor Jack French of RADIO RECALL and Denis Kitchen for providing me with all the permissions and clearances that make this reprinting possible. And Denis would also like me to remind everyone that:
THE SPIRIT trademark is owned by Will Eisner Studios, Inc. and is registered in the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office.  

    So take it away, Karl!  -- Ken Quattro  __________________________________________________________

© 2013 Karl Schadow

   For years it has been rumored that The Spirit, one of the classics of the comics, had its own radio program. Interest in this seemingly obscure venture was rejuvenated when R.R. King recently posted on the Old Time Radio Digest, a link to Ken "The Comic Detective" Quattro's blog with Ken's request for any information on this unique incarnation of The Spirit's exploits.

   Unique and obscure it is. A radio program of The Spirit is not to be found in any OTR reference including: RADIO CRIME FIGHTERS by Jim Cox (McFarland, 2002) nor Ron Lackmann's COMIC STRIPS & COMIC BOOKS OF RADIO'S GOLDEN AGE (Bear Manor Media, 2004). Most compelling however, is that THE STERANKO HISTORY OF THE COMICS 2 (Supergraphics, 1972) is most often cited as the initial source which is reiterated in Ken's blog, for any existence of such a program.

   For those of you new to The Spirit, he premiered in the publishing field with no advance publicity in the newspaper trade, on June 2, 1940 as part of a special free Comic Book Section (commonly known as The Spirit Section) insert of Sunday newspapers across North America. This project was the joint effort of Quality Comic Group (QCG) publisher Everett M. " Busy" Amold, the Register Tribune Syndicate (Des Moines, Iowa) and most importantly comic creator-extraordinaire, Will Eisner, brilliant innovator of the three crime-fighting characters of the Section: The Spirit, Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic.

   The Spirit, former Detective Denny Colt thought to be dead, had been revived from a state of suspended animation to fight crime in Central City. Accompanied by his faithful African-American sidekick Ebony White, The Spirit, whose real identity was known only to Central City's Police Commissioner Dolan, operated from a hide-out located beneath Wildwood Cemetery, the supposed final resting place of Denny Colt.

   His escapades in the Sunday Comic Book Section continued into the Fall, 1952. A much anticipated daily strip was added in October 1941, having a prosperous two and one-half year run closing in March, 1944. Over the past few decades, those original stories have been reprinted, predominantly by DC Comics and Kitchen Sink Press In addition to new series of adventures being published. IDW Publishing is soon to release a new compendium of Will Eisner art. The Spirit was produced for TV in a brief 1948 series, with a made-for-TV movie in 1987. A feature film of the character was seen in movie theaters in 2008. More on The Spirit and Will Eisner may be found elsewhere in this issue of Radio Recall, at and

   The Steranko History had purported a short-lived program of The Spirit in three Mid-Atlantic cities: Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., with scripts penned by Enid Hager On his blog, Ken informs us that Miss Hager had been associated with THE PHILADELPHIA RECORD (morning and Sunday newspaper). Thus, my current research commenced with the perusal of the broadcasting, newspaper, advertising and amusement trade periodicals. In addition to the vast pages of THE RECORD and its competitors. Although THE RECORD had been promoting frequently the new Comic Book Section in its daily pages, there was no indication that a sister radio program was soon to hit the airwaves.

   The November 1, 1940 issue of BROADCASTING reported a swap between THE RECORD and Philadelphia's station WFIL of the three crimefighters comprising the Comic Book Section in THE SUNDAY RECORD. Each was to be featured on a rotating basis in a weekly 15-minute drama adapted from this Section. Readers of THE RECORD on Saturday, October 26, 1940 were pleasantly surprised that Mr. Mystic (a magician with supernatural powers) was going to be aired at 7:00 that evening on WFIL, with The Spirit slated for next week. On the radio page of THE RECORD the next day (October 27th), The Spirit was affirmed for the upcoming broadcast.

   Whether or not the story of Mr. Mystic and his entanglement with Shanghai dope peddlers garnered the initial stanza awaits further study as there was no follow up to confirm which story was actually presented. A preview in THE RECORD the following Saturday (November 2nd) indicated that The Spirit was to be featured that evening but the publicity tacked a plot summary.

   With this night's episode, The Spirit had joined his fellow characters, from the well·known Blondie and Dick Tracy, to the even more obscure Lew Loyal as comics who had their founding in the newspaper strips, and who had made the transition to the medium of radio. To date, episodes featuring Lady Luck, that dashing debutante sleuth of the Section have not been identified.

   With each succeeding week, a brief story synopsis was published in THE RECORD, usually printed on a page other than that carrying the radio logs. Moreover, in Friday's issues of THE RECORD, the Comic Book Section and its radio companion were promoted with bold, one-line statements at the top of individual comics which probably did not appease the syndicates distributing Alley Oop, L'il Abner or The Phantom. Subsequently in early 1941 these one-liners were reduced to a single comic which varied from week·to-week and featured just The Spirit on WFIL. Though The Spirit was listed in the radio logs of THE PHILADELPHIA EVENING PUBLIC LEDGER,other sheets merely indicated the program as 'Dramatization' or refused to print any WFIL programs at the designated time.

   This conundrum illustrates a classic point for all OTR researchers in that all available newspapers in a given market should be consulted when seeking information on programs, especially those locally produced. Amusingly, issues of MOVIE-RADIO GUIDE which included WFIL programs (Edition 2, MidAtlantic versions) listed the program as 'Dramatization' for several months before finally giving the program its official title.


  from THE PHILADELPHIA RECORD (Nov. 30, 1940)
   With the episode of November 30th, readers of THE RECORD were encouraged to listen so that they could learn how to receive a mask similar to what The Spirit wore in the comics ... and get it FREE! The offer was also plugged on a different page than that of the weekly plot summary thus culminating in publicity for The Spirit on three individual pages of the issue. A Spirit mask is mentioned in THE STERANKO HISTORY and also in Hake's and Tomart's toy/premium guides. However, no direct tie-in with a radio program is stated. It is unknown if other premiums were offered during The Spirit's stint on WFIL.

   Ironically, the radio program was not promoted anywhere in the 16-page, Comic Book Section, an interesting absence of cross-promotion as the basic premise of the radio program was to entice listener's to purchase THE SUNDAY RECORD.

   During the first season which ended in May, 1941, The Spirit encountered a potpourri of criminals from gangsters to dictators and even a few femme fatales, all while having to rescue on occasion the romantic interest of the strip, Ellen Dolan, daughter of the police commissioner.

   There is no current explanation as to the reason behind the hiatus as the Comic Book Section continued throughout the summer in THE SUNDAY RECORD. The Spirit returned for a second season Saturday, September 6, 1941 at 7 pm on WFIL. THE RECORD continued to promote the program both on the radio page and elsewhere with a short synopsis. The scripts were again adapted by Enid Hager from stories of the Sunday comics. In September, 1941, THE BILLBOARD reported that each episode could now be heard twice each Saturday on a regular basis, now that a rebroadcast was slated for Philadelphia station WHAT.

   THE RECORD indicated on September 27th that a transcription of The Spirit was to be aired that evening at 9 pm on WHAT. According to this source, this is the only occasion in which a repeat performance was scheduled either in the radio logs or other publicity. Had THE RECORD encountered technical, contractual or copyright difficulties in procuring and airing a transcription each week? Nevertheless, this situation presents a fascinating scenario that a recording of The Spirit was made and that one may still exist.

   As of February 14, 1942, The Spirit was being promoted at a new time of 6:30 pm as the result of a new program, This is War, directed by Norman Corwin to be broadcast on all network stations across the country at 7 pm.

   Continuing the promotion in March, THE RECORD was still alerting new readers of The Spirit's 6:30 pm airtime.


  from THE PHILADELPHIA RECORD (March 7, 1942)

Also in March, accompanying the short plot summaries were such episode titles as: "Mr. Hush Runs an Election" (March 7th), "The Men Who Time Forgot" (March 21st) in which The Spirit clashed with Seventeenth Century Spanish explorers, to "Dr Jekyll & Mr. Ebony" or "Dr. Ebony & Mr. White" (March 28th), where Ebony exhibits some bizarre behavior after ingesting a noxious, blue liquid found in The Spirit's lab. In one of his last radio adventures (May 9th), The Spirit foiled Nazi spies in their attempt to sabotage a coastal artillery base.

 "Army Operas No. 2: Pvt. O'Toole"
THE SPIRIT (May 10, 1942)
[as reprinted in THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES #4]
[Quattro here: A likely reason why The Spirit radio program ended circa May, 1942 is that Eisner was inducted into the Army early that month. The contract he had with the show's producers may have been contingent upon his scripting of the strip, which he relinquished while in the service.]

During The Spirit's tenure on radio, the program received favorable reviews from Philadelphia critics, as both Maurie Orodenker [THE BILLBOARD, December 14, 1940] and Si Shaltz [(VARIETY, February 4, 1942] praised the program's writing, acting and overall production. Orodenker commented that each episode was complete. Does this imply that that the entire story of the Sunday comics was told in contrast to the cliff-hanger style Shaltz reported the following season? Or, did both series' stories leave listeners pondering The Spirit's fate and that Orodenker was informing his audience that The Spirit was not a serial with a continuing plot from week·to·week?

   The advantage of the cliff-hanger of course, was to entice listeners to purchase THE SUNDAY RECORD with accompanying Comic Book Section so that one could obtain the solution to the mystery. As no scripts or audio have been located of The Spirit, this and many other questions regarding the program remain unsolved. In his review, Orodenker mentions the names of the two prominent cast members, Sam Serata as The Spirit (likely a misspelling of long-time Philadelphia entertainment personality and executive, Sam Serota) with Salvatore Benigno as Ebony.

It is unknown if these individuals were credited at the end of the broadcast, or if their voices were recognized by Orodenker who gave them the proper acknowledgement. Serota would have been a choice candidate for the lead, as he had previously amassed a great following impersonating the comics as 'Brother Bill' on WIP, a rival of WFIL in Philadelphia. It is unknown if Serota continued as The Spirit in the second season and who assumed the role of Ebony when Benigno was inducted into the Army in March, 1941.

noted that Private Salvatore Benigno was to make an appearance in the episode of December 21, 1941 portraying Private Chuck Magoo, a former gangster encouraged by The Spirit to join the Army. This was one of the rare instances in which individual cast members of the program were identified in THE RECORD. The other two names cited in THE BILLBOARD review, were author/producer Enid Hager and WFIL organist Mil Spooner who provided the music. One name not mentioned in the review, but who was included in those of other WFIL programs was sound effects expert Jeff Witt. If not directly involved in each episode, he supervised those performing The Spirit's physical battles, especially the ferocious punches.

   Noteworthy is that The Spirit program also received high praise from Will Eisner, though he only had scripts sent to him by Enid Hager which to critique. In a November 29, 1941 letter (transcribed copy available on Ken's blog) to Miss Hager thanking her for the scripts, Eisner states that, " ... the dialog is great and the continuity positively absorbing ... ".

Was this the first time that Eisner had intimate knowledge of the program (he was unable to receive the program on his set in New York City)? Had The Spirit's creator not been consulted over a year earlier when a radio program had been initially proposed?

   Other interesting admonishments are illuminated in the letter. There was no mention of Eisner in the scripts as he had informed the program's author of this situation. He firmly suggested as a favor to himself that she include the by-line "Will Eisner" following The Spirit in the show's opening. Moreover, was Eisner alluding to any possible copyright infringement?

   On the front page of each of the weekly Sunday Comic Book Sections was found in tiny print, copyright credited to Everett M. Arnold. It would be years later before Eisner actually acquired the full rights from the Quality Comics publisher. Furthermore, to what extent Arnold was involved in the radio program awaits additional documentation.

In his letter, Eisner was optimistic that, " ... we can spread this idea far and wide ...". Perhaps this is when the program was developed in other markets yet to be discovered. Finally, it is unknown if Eisner was provided with any recordings. And, what of the fate of those scripts he received? There are none in his collection at The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

Why The Spirit did not return for a third season in Philadelphia remains a mystery. In March, 1943, Enid Hager departed THE RECORD for a position with Philadelphia's WPEN. Later that year she deservedly achieved the position of manager of the newly-formed radio department of Qualiy Comics. According to Mike Kooiman, who with Jim Amash, completed a comprehensive history of QCG entitled QUALITY COMPANION [TwoMorrows, 2011], virtually nothing is known regarding the endeavors of this ancillary Quality component.

Although The Spirit was technically not a QCG product, there may have been attempts by Enid Hager and colleagues to promote the radio program in the mid 1940s. In the Program Producer section of the 1944 RADIO ANNUAL, Quality elevates their entity to the Radio & Motion Picture Department, still headed by Enid Hager. Unfortunately, the seemingly lofty aspirations of QCG may have not come to fruition as no further projects have been identified. However, the popular Blackhawk, a major QCG title did make a brief run on radio in the early 195Os. This author encourages his fellow researchers in both fields to continue to investigate the obscure radio tenures of such pertinent comics.

So how did The Spirit find its way to THE RECORD and subsequently WFIL? One thought is that THE RECORD was not limited to comics from a single syndicate, as titles from seven such firms graced the pages of the daily and Sunday issues. The Register & Tribune Syndicate was a newcomer to those already supplying comics to the newspaper and the Sunday Comic Book Section was evidently an admirable addition.

had much experience in promoting itself on the airwaves. Prior to The Spirit, the newspaper had solidified relations with WIP for its Nine o'Clock Scholars program and also WFIL for the musical quiz, Sound Your A. These programs expanded the usual time-for-space agreement in that live productions were utilized instead of the banter going for spot announcements.
WFIL had a top-notch promotional campaign and was on its way to winning the 1940 annual exploitation award from THE BILLBOARD in the Regional Station Division when The Spirit was launched in October 1940. The station had been at the forefront in producing local dramatics since its founding in 1935; the result of the merger of stations WFI and WLIT More on the history of WFIL and Philadelphia radio may be found at the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers website

George Lilley, radio editor of THE RECORD in his December 22, 1940 column, echoed the praise for WFIL and its program director James Allan for their efforts in developing the current array of programs not only The Spirit, but also Drama Laboratory, Mystery History and the daily serial, The Ghost of Thunder Island. The extensive exploitation of WFIL included: ads, merchandising, billboards, school bulletins. and cards in cars, subways, busses, trains and even windows.

There is no doubt that The Spirit was afforded his share of such publicity in addition to the newspaper copy illustrated above. Moreover the discovery of such items is crucial to further chronicling The Spirit on WFIL and other stations. Furthermore, this exploitation may have been a major factor WFIL was selected rather than WHAT, a station which had been purchased by THE RECORD just months prior to The Spirit making its radio debut. WFIL was a full-time station rated for 1000 Watts, but was soon to be upgrading its signal strength to 5000 Watts. This is compared to the 100 Watt, part-time status of WHAT On his blog, Ken also suggests that general program format of WHAT precluded The Spirit from airing on the station.

Enid Hager who had previously been a member of the WFIL production staff before engaging in her current position as radio promotion chief of THE RECORD, took on the added task of script author in addition to her duties as producer of The Spirit. During the course of researching OTR, one may find a major source of pertinent material to be located in various advertising and ad agency archives. In the case of The Spirit however, this potential resource is not available. THE RECORD had negotiated directly with WFIL, thus no agency was employed, ultimately saving THE RECORD a tidy sum. This author does not imply, however, that correspondence, publicity, a script or even a transcription of the program would not have eventually made its way to any such archive.

   Additional leads on The Spirit are being pursued at Temple University, and other academic institutions along with collections of The Free Library of Philadelphia and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Spirit is still being elusive in Washington, Baltimore and in other markets but attempts are ongoing to remedy this situation. Thus, as of this writing, The Spirit can be classified as a local and not syndicated program.

Readers may contact Karl Schadow at

Friday, February 15, 2013

Men of Steal

An Editorial by Ken Quattro:

     To say I'm indebted to the Internet would  be a huge understatement. It has opened doors into research that were never available before it existed. It allows me to communicate with people all over the world in seconds. And it has introduced me to friends that I never would have met without it.
      Yet one cancerous side effect of this magnificent communicative tool is that it encourages laziness. Sloth. One of the Seven Deadly Sins if you believe sins still exist.
     Right click.
     It's so easy, isn't it?
     Recently I came across a website with a page devoted to the artist Elmer C. Stoner. As I have written my own piece about Stoner, I began reading it. I was only a few sentences in before I noticed a remarkable similarity between it and my article. While the "author" had padded the first part of his bio with info obtained (but not credited) from, and a few speculations based on nothing in particular, he followed the structure of my article exactly. The references to Stoner's patron Fred Morgan Kirby, his involvement in the Harlem Renaissance, his failed early marriage. There was a mention of the 1939 World's Fair children's book I also wrote about and the comic books he chose to list were all from my piece. He even included information that artist Samuel Joyner related to me in a personal letter. There was more, but you get the gist.
     I wouldn't have minded at all if the "author" had made the simple gesture of acknowledging my article as his source. But he didn't. Instead he employed the quasi-plagiarism  preferred by middle schoolers who change a few words of a Wikipedia entry and turn it in as a term paper.
     To add further insult, nearly all of the images he used to accompany his article were lifted completely from mine. And to put his intentions in an even worse light, he ran a copyright notice at the bottom of the page with the year 2009; one year earlier than my posted article that he swiped.
     I wish I could say that this was the only time I'd experienced such blatant theft, but it's not.
     Some years back I wrote an article about Archer St. John and his publishing ventures. This was the first comprehensive history ever written about St. John and an effort that took a decade of research on my part.
     Within two weeks of my putting the article online on my Comicartville website, a St. John Publications entry appeared on Wikipedia that was basically a Cliffs Notes version of my piece. The Wikipedia editor, who hides behind the username "Tenebrae" (which tellingly means "darkness" in Latin), that contributed this entry has gained the enmity of a host of legitimate comic historians for his unabashed thievery. When confronted about his theft of my St. John article, he shrugged it off by claiming mine was only one of his sources. A provable lie since mine was the ONLY source available at the time.
     Several years later, I published the testimony from the historic Detective Comics v. Bruns Publications trial on this blog. Again, this was the first time this information had been presented to the general public since the trial in 1939. Soon after, a publisher who I had previously allowed to reprint one of my articles, decided to download the trial transcript and publish it without any acknowledgement of where he had gotten it.
     These are but a few of my experiences. And I'm not alone.
     Jim Amash, artist, writer and the man behind some of the most historically important interviews ever conducted with comic creators, has been similarly victimized. He has many had quotes and anecdotes taken directly from his interviews and dropped into others writings without any credit to him. This practice occured so frequently and had become so prevalent that Jim decided in the past year to stop doing interviews altogether. His decision is a great loss to all of comic fandom, but one I can fully appreciate and have contemplated myself.
     Virtually every serious comic historian has a similar story. Dr. Michael Vassallo, Bob Beerbohm and Roy Thomas have all related tales of plagiarism and intellectual property theft. And yet it continues. If anything, it is getting worse.
     On the chance that some of the research-phobic freeloaders are reading this, I have to ask:
     What happened to common courtesy?
     What is gained by stealing someone else's work?
     What is lost by giving someone else credit?
     I understand that research isn't easy. It can be a painstaking, boring, and often, expensive undertaking. But if you don't want to make that effort, at least acknowledge the people who do.

Note: Please feel free to copy this post and reprint it anywhere you like. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sincerely Yours, Busy

     Before email, before texting, when only birds tweeted, people wrote letters. Letter writing was a craft, an art form in deft hands, wherein thoughts could be expressed with nuance not limited to 140 character bursts. For some, though, letters were a cudgel to prod the recipient down a certain path. Business letters were often of this type and when it came to writing them, Busy Arnold was all business. -- Ken Quattro

Dear Bill,

As I told you over the telephone today, Lou has been changing his costumes form month to month especially on The Ray. In the first installment of this feature, he had The Ray wearing a peaked headpiece but in the second installment he left off the peak on this, later it was restored. In some installments The Ray wore slippers and in others he did not have any. Also the stars around the neck of The Ray were omitted in some instances, although Ed Cronin usually added these.

I am enclosing a memorandum with some tear sheets and would appreciate having you tell Lou to make the costumes of both The Ray and The Black Condor the same each month.

Everett M. "Busy" Arnold (smiling)
Will Eisner (at drawing board)
circa 1941
[as reprinted in THE ART OF WILL EISNER by cat yronwode]
     Arnold was both Will Eisner's business partner (in The Spirit comic section) and client of his comic shop. It was in that role as owner of Comic Favorites, Inc. that Arnold wrote (more accurately, dictated) this October 1, 1940 missive. They would always come typed and on company letterhead. This was a business, after all, and Arnold's concern was for the product he was selling. The elegance of the artwork and the future status of Lou Fine as a Comic Book Legend wasn't even a consideration.

The Ray by Lou Fine
SMASH COMICS #15 (Oct. 1940), pg. 4

Try and build up the characters in both of these features so that they are more human and likeable. The Ray is in reality Happy Terrill, a reporter who works on The Morning Telegraph. His boss, the city editor, should have a definite name and other characters might be introduced from time to time.

While Happy Terrill leads a normal life at most times, he has the power to change to The Ray when he goes in a beam of light an then can perform his wonderful deeds. As The Ray he can also bring people to him by means of the ray forces which he has in his hands.

The same sort of build up should be given to The Black Condor and he should be a definite personality who operates as The Black Condor only in times of necessity. Originally you had The Black Condor brought up by birds when his parents (British) were killed by outlaws. I don't believe that he should be British and in any "build up", you should naturally assume that he is an American.

I assume that you will finish the next HIT and NATIONAL covers within the next few days so that Lou can start working on The Ray for the February issue of SMASH COMICS.

Sincerely yours, 

     Eisner once told interviewer Jim Amash, "Busy Arnold and I had a very interesting relationship. I regarded him as a partner and he thought of me as an employee."  1 When it came to the content of the comic books, it appears there was little doubt as to who was the calling the shots. By the next issue of SMASH, Happy Terrill was in more panels than The Ray and not long after, his boss finally had a first name.

The Ray by Lou Fine
  SMASH COMICS #17 (Dec. 1940), pg. 2

Panel from page 9 of The Ray
  SMASH COMICS #19 (Feb. 1941)

     For his part, The Black Condor had soon forgotten his rarely mentioned British origins and apparently his name (Dick Grey), becoming instead an American named Tom Wright. A U.S. senator no less.

The Black Condor by Lou Fine
  CRACK COMICS #13 (Dec. 1940) splash page

     Within in a few months, the business arrangement of Arnold and Eisner had evolved even further. On January 20, 1941, the pair agreed to a joint publishing venture. On that day they signed contracts specifying their co-ownership of two new properties: UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY and ARMY AND NAVY COMICS, soon to be retitled MILITARY COMICS. While Arnold agreed to pay the artists for their work, Eisner was to receive no money for his editing. Both shared any profits equally.
     Despite the parity suggested by this new arrangement, however, the hierarchy seemingly didn't change.

 Dear Bill,

The issue of MILITARY COMICS which Julian delivered here yesterday was handled in a very sloppy manner. So for the fifteenth time will you please ask your gang to go over things more closely so that we don't have so much work on this end of the line.

The ears which your boys put on page one and page 33 are very sloppy and you should have new ears made for these pages. Also, you should have whoever puts them on do a better job than they have done in the past. Not only are they ears always dirty and partly torn, but whoever drew the originals looks like they had the palsy. They have to be retouched here by Tony and this work could be eliminated if your office didn't do such a careless job.

Sincerely yours, 

     But he wasn't done yet. As he would many times, Arnold added a postscript in his own handwriting.

Please don't supply any more art work for Military by the artists who did Miss America and The Sniper. They are awful so put Jerry Robinson on these two features--he [is] to do everything except the lettering. Sniper is a good idea but this artist is impossible--also [the] Miss America artist.

The Sniper by Jerry Robinson
  MILITARY COMICS #7 (Feb. 1942) splash page

     The "ears" referenced by Arnold that needed retouching by in-house artist Tony DiPreta were likely paste-over corrections to the artwork. It's just as likely that poor Julian, Eisner's younger brother, received an earful from Arnold. Arnold got his wish as Robinson briefly filled in on The Sniper. Eisner must have agreed with the assessment of Maurice Kashuba's artwork on Miss America, as she disappeared from the pages of MILITARY soon after Arnold's September 17, 1941 letter.
     Arnold's comments weren't restricted to just the comic books. Just a couple of weeks later, on October 3rd, he had something to say about The Spirit, too.

Dear Bill,

I was able to correct the text on page three of The Spirit in the October 19 issue. It certainly was a good thing this happened on a number 1 issue of the weekly comic book since if it had happened on a number 2 issue, it would have been too late to change it.

I think that the October 19 issue of The Spirit was absolutely the worst you have done to date and I don't think you should run any stories in this groove. This particular episode was altogether too heavy and profound. It is on the philosophical side and will not interest most readers. I think you should make The Spirit more along the usual lines with a good interesting story and plenty of sustained rapid fire action. And the art work could certainly be much better than the October 19 issue which was pretty sad.

I think that you might try and get more close-ups of The Spirit, Ebony, Ellen Commissioner Dolan, etc. and eliminate some of these far shots you have been running.

Sincerely yours, 

"The Oldest Man in the World"
The Spirit by Will Eisner
(Oct. 19, 1941)

     This one probably hurt. It can be supposed that Eisner was used to Arnold's criticisms by now, but they usually were directed at the work of the artists he employed. This hit closer to home. Eisner was the principal artist on The Spirit at this point and probably plotted this story ("The Oldest Man in the World") as well.
     No detail was too small to escape Arnold's notice. On October 31st, he sent a letter to Eisner critiquing the work of a letterer.

Dear Bill,

Will you please get after Sam, your lettering man, and instruct him to make his commas properly in both the weekly comic book and the daily Spirit strips? He uses a straight line with no loop for a comma and this is very bad. Have him use regular commas in the future.

     Not content with this admonition, Arnold demonstrated in his own hand this punctuation that was causing him so much grief.

Busy's punctuation lesson for Sam Rosen

     Usually, though, Arnold's concerns were not so trivial. Money was the main subject of his November 6 letter. Along with a few suggestions, of course.

Dear Bill,

I am enclosing [a] check for $730.45 covering the material for issue No. 7 of MILITARY COMICS as per your statement dated October 17. However, there was no Diary of A Draftee in this issue so I deducted the $15 charge for this.

You had four pages of Inferior Man listed whereas this was cut to three pages. However, I imagine the cost of $40 was still the same. You also listed Death Patrol as being six pages whereas it was only five pages but the price of $75 was correct. The Sniper which was done by Jerry Robinson was only five pages in length and I believe you were a bit off on the figure of $104 for this feature. 

I hope you have the material pretty well in hand for the next issue of MILITARY COMICS. If Jerry Robinson isn't going to handle X Of The Underground, you had better get Borth or some other artist started on this right away so we can get out a complete book in another week or 10 days. 

Please have Chuck Cuidera do the next MILITARY cover and also make up a full page of promotion for MILITARY COMICS. In other words, you can make up the page of promotion on everything except the reproduction of the cover and I will have this stripped in by the engraver. I expect to have some covers available next month and will run a promotion on MILITARY COMICS in everything except FEATURE COMICS. 

Sincerely yours,

And he couldn't help adding a postscript.

Is Cuidera getting ahead on Blackhawk? If he only takes about 12 days for each 11 pages of Blackhawk in Military Comics, he should be able to turn out some work for the Quarterly now.

     The first inkling that events in the outside world were affecting their product were mentioned in Arnold's letter of December 12, 1941. After reprimanding Eisner for a continuity mistake in The Spirit daily, Arnold has some thoughts about the direction of the comic books.

In view of present war conditions, don't you think it wold be best to have the Blackhawks get a new base and operate from the Pacific? Also, have the Hero Stamps about Americans rather than Britishers. A good subject for the first American Hero Stamp is Captain Kelly who was killed sinking the Japanese battleship yesterday. 

I think this same applies to the material for UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY No. 3. I don't believer you should let Ed Cronin go through with the original plans on this magazine but should have new up to the minute stories written for the third issue. In UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY No. 3, I think that you should eliminate the four pages of illustrated poetry since this doesn't "ring the bell" with kids.

Sincerely yours,

     Arnold once again got what he wanted. UNCLE SAM #3 quickly took on a more sobering tone. No longer was the titular character circumspect in his choice of foes. The George Tuska drawn cover depicted a resolute Uncle Sam swatting down readily identifiable Japanese Zeroes. Over in MILITARY, soon gone was the Anglocentric Hero Stamp, replaced by a new United States Hero Stamp, with the first being the Arnold nominated Captain Kelly.

United States Hero Stamp #1
  MILITARY COMICS #9 (April 1942)

     It took the Blackhawks a bit longer to follow his orders, as they had to finish up an ongoing continuity in Europe. But eventually they too relocated to the Pacific Theater per Arnold's request.

Blackhawk by Chuck Cuidera
  MILITARY COMICS #11 (Aug. 1942), pg. 10

     Not all of Arnold's correspondence was directed at Eisner. One particularly blunt and detailed letter was sent to Eisner's former partner, Jerry Iger on December 26, 1941. And Arnold had plenty to say to him.

Dear Jerry,

The total combined loss on HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS for the June 1941 to the November 1941 issues (six issues of each magazine) was $10,704.87. During this period we were operating under our agreement dated January 13, 1941.

Starting with the December issues of HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS, we worked under the terms of a second agreement dated July 21, 1941, The loss on the December issue of HIT COMICS was $1,261.99 and the loss on the December issue of NATIONAL COMICS was $1,506.51 -- a total of $2,768.50. While I haven't as yet any exact figures on the January and February issues of HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS, they will be even worse than the results on the December issues. So for the period from June 1941 to February 1942 we will lose a total of nearly $20,000.00 on HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS. You must realize that we cannot operate any longer under the terms of our agreement dated July 21, 1941 and this letter is to officially cancel all past deals on HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS effective with the April issues  of each magazine. By then we will probably be in the red for a total of almost $25,000.00  and, if we are going to buy any material from you in the future for these magazines, it must be on an entirely new setup. Incidentally, HIT COMICS is now on a permanent bi-monthly basis and I plan to drop the May and July issues of NATIONAL COMICS so that temporarily this book will also be on a bi-monthly basis.

In the first place, the 20 per cent profit arrangement up to a total of $5,000.00 covered in our agreement of January 13. 1941 and the 30 per cent profit arrangement on HIT COMICS covered in our agreement dated July 21, 1941 are both cancelled by this letter. If we ever recover our losses on these two magazines we will be very lucky. The present features obviously will not sell HIT COMICS or NATIONAL COMICS well enough to enable us to make a profit on either magazine, so in order to try to get "out of the red" in the near future on HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS, I must add the best available material which I can buy independently to each book and kill several of your features which apparently do no sell comic magazines.

     Busy Arnold's methodically precise recounting of his profit and loss statements are a painful reminder that the content of comic books were driven by more than editorial whim. It's likely Iger read the above dense paragraphs with growing anger over the cancellation of his ongoing contracts with Arnold and trepidation at what was to come.

Strictly on a month by month basis, I will buy the following material from you for these two magazines in the future:


6 pages  Sally O'Neil  (by Bryant) --------------------------  $90.00
5    "       Prop Powers  (By Williams) ----------------------   75.00
5    "       Wonder Boy  (by Bryant) -------------------------   75.00
5    "       Kid Patrol  (by artist who did April job) -------   75.00
5    "       Kid Dixon  (by Nordling) -------------------------   60.00


6 pages  Betty Bates  (by Bryant) --------------------------  $90.00
6     "     The Red Bee  (by Williams) -----------------------  90.00
5     "     The Strange Twins  (by Blum) --------------------  75.00
7     "     Don Glory  (by Peddy) ----------------------------  105.00
5     "     Bob and Swab  (by Nordling)  --------------------   60.00

All of the above features (except those done by Nordling) are at the arte of $15 per page which is a fair price with conditions in the comic magazine field as they are at the present time. You are only paying Nordling $10 per page for his work and since he completes everything and writes his own stories, $12 per page is a fair price for Kid Dixon, and Bob and Swab. If you prefer, I will buy these two features direct from Nordling and pay him per page.

     This last line was surely included to tweak Iger. In no way did he want to lose his $3 per page cut by letting Arnold deal directly with an artist.

I may have Lou Fine or Chuck Cuidera handle Stormy Foster starting with the June issue of HIT COMICS. However, this feature is very second rate and it hasn't any character. So unless Lou or another top notch artist can do a first class job on it right away, I will get another lead feature for HIT COMICS. 

     Once again, Arnold casually tossed in a possibility meant to get Iger's goat. Iger knew very well that both Fine and Cuidera were in the employ of his former partner Eisner and losing work to his shop would be particularly galling.

So much for the material for HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS. I am also losing money at present on SMASH COMICS and POLICE COMICS and I can only afford to pay you the following rates for your material in these two magazines in the future:


6 pages  Rookie Rankin  (by Peddy) ----------------------  $90.00
5     "     The Purple Trio  (by Blum) -----------------------  75.00


6 pages  Phantom Lady  (by Peddy) ----------------------  $90.00
5     "       Eagle Evans  (by Williams) ---------------------  75.00
5     "       Steele Kerrigan  (by Bryant) -------------------  75.00

Although FEATURE COMICS is still operating at a profit, it has dropped considerably in recent months and we can only afford to pay the following prices for your material in this book in the future:

5 pages  Zoro, Ghost Detective  (by Bryant) -------------  $75.00
5    "      Samar  (by artist who did April Kid Patrol) ---    75.00
5    "     Spin Shaw  (by Williams) --------------------------  75.00

I will continue to pay you $20 per page for Crandall's features on a month by month basis. However, I am not sure whether I will keep The Firebrand in POLICE COMICS much longer as a six page feature after I jump Plastic Man into the lead position in this magazine. Like Stormy Foster, The Firebrand is very second rate even with Reed handling the art work in it.

It is understood that you will supply better and more timely stories for all of the above features in the future and will give first class art work on all of this material.

     Arnold's reconsideration of The Firebrand become a reality as it soon dwindled to a 5-page feature before exiting POLICE within the next year. With the bulk of the financial business completed, Arnold's letter takes a different tone and gets personal.

In closing may I take a crack at the statement in your letter of December 4th where you say "Maybe I'm a fool, but I've turned down considerable business so that I may better serve you in your books. What do I get in return?"  Are you trying to be funny or do you think I am a bit simple? You never turned down any business because of me and grabbed off all of the accounts you could get from such magazines as Pocket Comics, Champ Comics an Speed Comics. And aren't you the same Jerry Iger who started Great Comics and Choice Comics with Fred Fiore even though you were supposed to be concentrating on producing extra good work for E. M. Arnold and Thurman Scott? Don't make me laugh, Jerry.

     Arnold was just getting warmed up. As much as this paragraph probably irked Iger, it was the next one that was pointedly crafted to infuriate.

And please don't tell me again that you personally developed every top-notcher in this business including Bill Eisner. He was largely responsible for the success of Eisner & Iger as you well know. Bill always was a swell artist with a flair for writing interesting plots and nobody helped develop him except Wm. E. Eisner, a lot of natural ability and plenty of good hard work.

     Arnold knew this was the sorest of Iger's sore spots. The split between Iger and Eisner left the older partner with a lingering grudge toward his departing junior. A grudge that lasted his lifetime. Even in his later years, Iger would downplay Eisner's role in the creation of characters and contend that he was no more than a freelancer in his shop who worked on an "as-needed" basis. That Arnold took special glee in writing this paragraph is evident in his handwritten notation at the top of the copy he forwarded to Eisner.

Bill/  Maybe you better send Jerry some smelling salts and flowers. Is paragraph #5 on page 3 okay or did Jerry really develop W. Eisner?

     But he didn't stop there. He made sure to get in a few more jabs as long as he had Iger on the ropes.

As regards the $10,000 you paid Bill for his share of the business, may I remind you that I had nothing to do with this and it was a matter entirely between Wm. E. Eisner and S. M. Iger. We paid you several thousand dollars as a split on the first ten issues of HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS after Bill sold out to you and you got plenty more from Scottie about the same time. So I guess the deal you made with Bill was pretty fair to you both.

     And then back to business.

Don't think there is anything personal in anything I had done, Jerry. It is strictly a matter of good business and you can readily see why I cannot afford to pay $18 and $20 per page for material any longer. And please don't get me together with Sid Klinghofer as I don't care to waste a lot of time talking about something that will have to stand as outlined above.

Incidentally, in addition to dropping the May and July issues of NATIONAL COMICS, I am also dropping the April and June issues of SMASH COMICS and POLICE COMICS. So during the weak selling spring months (March, April, May and June issues), FEATURE COMICS will be our only magazine published on a monthly basis. If business improves by next summer, I will put NATIONAL COMICS, SMASH COMICS and POLICE COMICS back on a monthly basis, otherwise I will leave them all bi-monthly magazines. 

     Business must have improved, as all three titles were back to a monthly schedule by the following summer.

I hate to take so much work away from Nordling and, if you wish me to do so, I will drop a five-page feature from CRACK COMICS and put Pen Miller in this magazine (five pages instead of four pages). But I can't afford to give you an agent's fee of more than $2 per page for Nordling's features so the price for five pages of Pen Miller will be Sixty Dollars ($60).

In closing may I ask you to deliver the balance of the material for issue No. 2 of THE DOLL MAN QUARTERLY just as soon as possible. You are nearly three months late in delivering this book with the result that we have to call issue No. 2 Spring instead of Winter. Follow up with 11 pages of Doll Man for April FEATURE COMICS (we need this just as soon as possible), then have Crandall do six pages of The Firebrand.

Sincerely yours,

     His business (and evisceration) of Iger completed, Arnold recommenced his correspondence with Eisner on January 5, 1942.

Dear Bill, 

Will you please send me the script for the next eight pages of Secret War News and one page of The Atlantic Patrol. Alden McWilliams is about ready to start working on these pages and I would like to turn over the script to him just as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours, 

For very apparent reasons I would like to get Alden ahead on his comic magazine pages.

   Arnold's handwritten postscript reveals a concern then facing all publishers. The United States entry into the ongoing World War posed the real possibility of losing many of their artists and writers to the mandatory conscription. It made good business sense to stockpile some inventory as a buffer against the lack of artists to provide material for their comics.
   While that eventuality loomed, Arnold still had more to say about the work coming out of Eisner's shop, as in this short letter from January 13, 1942.

Dear Bill, 

Will you please have Nick spend more time on his backgrounds and eliminate the free-hand sloppy type of stuff. On the last set of Lady Luck which we sent to the engraver today, many of the backgrounds had doorways, windows, etc. done in free-hand which were pretty awful.

Sincerely yours,

P. S. 
Lady Luck for the past couple of months has been awful -- not even comic book quality.

     A similar letter dated January 26th critiqued Eisner's handling of a story-line before launching into yet another scolding about the work of Alex Kotzky.

The six pages of Espionage for SMASH COMICS which I picked up last week weren't completed. We have to do the lettering, heading and general clean up here. This was an awful set of Espionage so try to have Kotzky do a better job next month.

   By February, there was a sense of urgency to Arnold's correspondence. His letter dated February 10th covered a lot of ground. After reminding Eisner to keep Tuska working on UNCLE SAM and to get a script to McWilliams as soon as possible, Arnold once again confronts the inevitable loss of talent.

You now have Cuidera about two episodes ahead on Blackhawk as well as an extra cover for MILITARY COMICS. Better have Cuidera do a couple more covers right away, then start him on another 11 pages of Blackhawk. Try to get him as far ahead on everything as possible.

     Again on February 27, Arnold requests that Nordling get ahead on all of his features. Then, in a paragraph midway through his letter, Arnold indirectly refers to a coming editorial change.

What do you plan to do for issue No. 4 of UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY? Will you figure out the make-up of this book and have Nitkin and Bob Powell write the stories? Or should I plan to handle this? At any rate, you might have George work on the cover for the No. 4 issue (Autumn) now so it is done under your capable supervision.

     In those few lines, Arnold seems to be contemplating taking over the editorial reins from Eisner on UNCLE SAM. But why? His closing comments make the picture a bit clearer.

See you on Thursday. Hope Lou is working them so we can get quite a distance ahead on everything before you leave.

     What both Arnold and Eisner knew, why Lou Fine was apparently overseeing Eisner's comic shop, was that Eisner wasn't going to be around to run it himself.
     Eisner and Arnold had fought vigorously in the summer of 1941 to keep Eisner from being conscripted. Eisner wrote a lengthy affidavit detailing how he was solely responsible for the employment of "sixteen artists, some of whom are married". But even the inclusion of supporting affidavits from several of these artists as well as Arnold and the top executive of The Spirit's newspaper syndicate failed to convince his local draft board. He entered the Army in May, 1942.
     The relationship of Busy Arnold and Will Eisner wasn't easy to explain. They were business partners, though never quite equals. The publisher was the artist's biggest fan, though not really his friend. Arnold was a demanding client who would critically scrutinize the minutest details and a generous patron who funded their joint publishing ventures and shared ownership of various properties. The complexity of their relationship seemingly mystified even Eisner, who simply told Jim Amash, "We had a different view of each other."

1 Amash, Jim, "I Always Felt Storytelling Was As Important As The Artwork", ALTER EGO, (May 2005), pg. 9.

2  Affidavit of William E. Eisner to Local Board No. 121, Bronx, New York.

3  Amash, op. cit., pg. 9.