FAWCETT PUBLICATIONSPrimary Cartoon Product: Comic Books
Producing From: 1919-87
Noted For: Captain Marvel, related characters, and more
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During the late 1930s and early '40s, American magazine publishers flocked to comic books, one of the few sure-fire money-makers around. Most of them were experienced in pulp magazines, which were aimed at a similar audience people seeking cheap, lurid fiction of the sort we now think of alternatively as "pulp-style" or "comics-like". Martin Goodman of Marvel (Captain America); Coyne, Silberkeit and
Goldwater of MLJ (The Black Hood); Thurman T. Scott of Fiction House (Sheena); and more all came from that segment of the publishing industry. But there were others Novelty Press, which did The Target and Young King Cole, was an imprint of Curtis Publishing, which did The Saturday Evening Post; and Fawcett Publications, which entered the comics field in 1940 with Whiz Comics, had gotten into publishing with Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, which mostly consisted of cartoons and jokes.
"Captain Billy" of the title was Wilford H. Fawcett, who had attained that rank during World War I and, like Captain Joseph Patterson of The Chicago Tribune Syndicate, continued to use it all his life. "Whiz Bang" was a name popularly given to a type of artillery shell used in that war. Captain Billy had worked on Stars & Stripes magazine, the military publication where, in the following war, Hubert, Willie & Joe, and more started. Back in civilian life, he used that experience to launch his magazine. It started in October, 1919 with only local circulation, but soon grew into a publishing empire comprising a whole line of nationally-distributed magazines, paperback books and comics.
Captain Billy died in 1940, and the operation was taken over by his sons. That was about when the company got into comic book publishing, which began with a title reminiscent of the one that started it all Whiz Comics, one of those generically-titled anthology comics with a superhero in the lead position and the back pages filled with variety, that were increasingly common in the nascent comic book industry. The hero was called Captain Thunder at first, but the first issue was done only to secure copyrights. By the time #2 (the first "real" issue) came out, with a cover date of February, 1940, his name was Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel proved to be one of the most popular and enduring heroes of the 1940s. He was spun off into both a boy and a girl official knock-offs and even a whole team of them. He was the first comic book character adapted into a movie serial. For a time, he even outsold Superman. And he was "awarded" perhaps the ultimate distinction among Superman imitators DC Comics attempted to sue him out of existence.
Of all the heroes who sprang up in the wake of Superman, very few became the subject of legal action on DC's part. There was Wonder Man, of course, because such an exact clone could hardly be tolerated; and there was Steel Sterling, which was also pretty blatant. But Amazing-Man, The Blue Bolt, The Human Dynamo and others also seemed pretty close; yet, DC put up with them. But Captain Marvel, who didn't really look or act all that much like Supes, was subjected as ferocious and tenacious a copyright-violation lawsuit as DC ever waged. The most likely explanation is, they felt very threatened by Captain Marvel.
The Big Red Cheese (as his enemies sometimes called him) was soon in a title of his own; and Fawcett followed up Whiz's success with Wow Comics (Mr. Scarlet), Master Comics (Bulletman) and more. As superheroes fell out of fashion, they were replaced by westerns like Lash Larue, war comics like Battle Stories, licensed properties like George Pal's Puppetoons and more, but the comics line continued to flourish at least, until the entire comic book industry hit its first major slump in the 1950s, with social reformers creating the uproar that eventually resulted in the formation of The Comics Code Authority.
Meanwhile, DC's lawsuit continued. As the years went by and the comics line's profitability diminished, it seemed less and less worth fighting. Finally, Fawcett threw in the towel and agreed to stop publishing Captain Marvel and took that as its cue to get out of comics altogether. The last superhero comic it published was Marvel Family #89 (January, 1954. A few years later, it got back into comic books with an adaptation of Dennis the Menace, but the properties it had developed were gone.
Dennis lasted until the late 1970s, but prevented from using its most popular character, the line never prospered again. Fawcett's remaining inventory was sold to Charlton Comics, which also took over several titles, such as Six-Gun Western and Strange Suspense Stories. The other publications were eventually acquired by Diamondis Communications.
As for the comics, DC licensed the Captain Marvel characters in 1972, and the other superheroes in '73; and bought them outright in '91. So instead of providing stiff competition, as they did in the '40s, they're now part of DC's ever-expanding universe of characters.
Fawcett Publications articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: