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February, 1935

Did you know...
· Before publishing, Wheeler-Nicholson's career path was rocky, to say the least -- he was kicked out of the army for insubordination, his self-syndicated comic strips didn't sell, and he was fired in 1934 from his job as a pulp magazine writer.

· The first issue of New Fun Comics measured 10 by 15 inches, and its original pages were in black and white. Only the cover's strip, Lyman Anderson's "Jack Woods," appeared in colour.

· Despite its changing roster of heroes, New Fun Comics (rechristened More Fun Comics with issue #7) lasted for 127 issues, finally bowing out in 1947.

New Fun Comics #1

NEWSPAPER COMIC STRIPS were hugely popular in the early decades of the 20th century, and it was only a matter of time before someone got the idea of repackaging the more popular strips in a magazine format for collectors. When Eastern Color launched Famous Funnies, a collection of reprinted Sunday comics, its success encouraged others to get in the game.

One entrepreneur by the rather odd name of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was keen on the money to be made in the new-fangled comic books. As he saw it, the big problem was that the newspaper syndicates charged exorbitant fees for the rights to their strips. Wheeler-Nicholson figured that publishing new material would cost less, and so he hired writers and artists to produce original material. His creation, New Fun Comics #1, thus became the first comic book to present all-original material.

The artists and writers in his stable were not exactly calling the shots. A ragtag collection of Depression-era artists looking for work and young up-and-comers looking for their break into newspaper strips (where the real money was to be made in those days), many of them went unpaid for their efforts.

And their stories weren't all that memorable, either -- more often than not, they contained knock-offs of popular characters (for instance, "Don Drake of the Planet Saro" looked awfully familiar to Flash Gordon fans). The stories were a variety of adventures, westerns and humour strips, most of them stretching over no more than a page and all of them trying to emulate the look and feel of the Sunday funnies as much as possible.

New Fun Comics doesn't belong on the list because it introduced a famous character or set any astounding sales record. It's here because it was the first book to feature original stories (not to mention the first book published by the company that would later become DC Comics), and sometimes being first is all it takes.

A footnote: Despite slow sales, Wheeler-Nicholson increased New Fun to 68 pages with issue #6, the same issue that saw the debut of Dr. Occult, a trenchcoat-wearing mystical adventurer. He was created by two young fellows by the names of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who went on to somewhat bigger and better things in the years to follow.