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Did you know...
· In the 1930s, most newspapers in the American Northeast sent their Sunday comics section to Eastern Color to be printed.

· In 1949, at the height of an anti-comics crusade in the U.S., Harry Wildenberg disowned the medium he helped create, saying, "If I had had an inkling of the harm they would do, I would never have gone through with the idea."

Funnies on Parade

BEFORE 1933, COMIC BOOKS as we know them today didn't exist. The newspapers were where most of today's great comic writers and artists would have had to publish their work if they wanted to get into the business. Of course, back then comic strips were more detailed -- and a lot more highly regarded -- than they are today. Once the syndicates realized how popular their strips were, they published hardcover and softcover collections of the black-and-white daily strips and the color Sunday comics.

In 1933, those reprint books would become the inspiration for an interesting experiment. Three men at the Eastern Color Printing Company in Connecticut -- Harry Wildenberg, M.C. Gaines, and Leverett Gleason -- were amazed by the full-colour comics that rolled off their presses, especially their ability to increase the sales of newspapers in which they appeared. They figured that the brightly colored pieces of paper could also sell other products, if they were marketed in the right way. Then, according to legend, Wildenberg was playing with a sheet of newspaper one day, and discovered that a standard sheet could be trimmed to produce 16 pages. Even better, they found the comics of the day could be shrunk to fit without losing their readability.

Wildenberg made an arrangement with the McNaught and McClure Syndicate for permission to reprint some of its popular strips, and Gaines lined up Proctor & Gamble as a sponsor. The idea was simple: Consumers would clip coupons off their favourite P&G products and then send them in to receive a comic book in the mail.

The promotion was a success, and other manufacturers were soon sold on the idea. The comic book, at least as a promotional item, was born.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.