Saturday, April 7, 2012

Four color comics for just a dime!

With the success of Superman in Action comics #1 new publishers where popping up hoping to catch some of the magic that Superman was. The comics were produced quickly and cheaply so that they could get out there before the craze died down and so that the publishers profit margins could be larger.
One of the very early publishers of comics was Quality Comics. Their first comic was Smash Comics (Aug. 1939) featuring master spy Espionage, the exotic Abdul the Arab, humorous Archie O'Toole, adventurous Wings Wendall, and super robot, Bozo the Robo the iron man and his human friend Hugh Hazzard.

Because this was an early comic, the creators didn't have the experience or sophistication that the new paper comics had at the time. They were created by inexperienced creators and with limited resources so it showed in the product. While the art is competent, the colors seem to have been picked haphazardly. While the robots color is a logical choice for a metal man the strong orange background seems inappropriate and blends in with many other elements of the cover like the gorilla, and the red background of the first and third balloon. The title is ok with the white "Smash" and the blue "Comics" standing out against the strong red background but when you get to the illustration the same blue and red combo doesn't really work as the strong orange blends in with a lot of the red elements of the cover.
The colorist was obviously inexperienced as a more experienced colorist might have used a gray color that would have worked much better here, either gray orange or gray blue or purple. Even a pail red would have worked nicely. But such was the infantile industry that allowed such garishness.
The insides of this comic must have been by a different colorist because they are significantly better than the cover.

They use this technique of putting light, pastel half tones in the background and bold pure colors for the main characters and objects. Panel 5 and 6 look pretty natural but in other panels they still use strange color choices like in panel 7 they use a light yellow for the wall and in panel 2 they use a yellow and green for the building. Though, as unnatural as it is, it is still a big improvement over the garish cover.

They seemed to use the same colorist for the covers because the same garish combinations kept showing up issue after issue.

In Smash #3 the pure blue and red inks of the background scream for your attention making the more subtle and interesting coloring of the main figures and the side characters seem like superfluous decoration. Ideally the color combos should be switched around. On the other hand the blatant ridiculousness of it is fun and after all comics are made for kids, not discriminating adults.

On Smash #5 the strong orange background blends into the the pure red title background and the pure red panels on the left. Add to this the fact that the orange is the same tone as the green of the gators and blue of the water causing everything to blend together in a kind of gray. Again, a much lighter background would do wonders for this cover.
Later interiors of issue 22 are not much better.

This colorist has something with pure colors. He's got a jumble of reds, yellows, blues, and even some orange and green secondary colors. They seem to have the ability to do more subtle colors judging by the light blue cloud and the blue/green, gray sky in panel 2. Panel 5 and 6 are particularly interesting color choices.I guess the colorist just loved pure ink colors, or maybe a more plausible answer would be that the printer let the house wife/color separator choose the colors because there seems very little logic behind any of the choices.
Though as garish as these early use of color is, there is something very fun and exciting in the naiveness of it all.

You can check out some other garishly colored Smash covers at the Comic Book Database.
the whole episode of Bozo the Iron Man's first appearance can be seen at Pappy's Golden Age Comic Blogzine

And you can see the Bozo story from issue #22 of Smash at Panelological Pantheon complete with an interview of his creators.


  1. Hey, I love your blog, but what's with the "house wife" crack?

  2. Love? Wow, thank you! It's very rewarding to know that someone likes what I'm doing.
    I didn't mean anything by the "house wife" crack. It was based on something that I read in another blog. In Deesaturate
    the author wrote, "and these were turned over to a separator, often house wives paid by the page." I made the logical step that it's possible that because of the need for speed the publisher may have gotten inexperienced color separators (house wives according to the article) to choose the actual colors for the covers. I have nothing against house wives, the comment was more referring to a work force that is inexperienced with making art or coloring. On the other hand I do know some very talented artists who are house wives. One is a the co-creator and artist for a comic I work on called the Brilliant Bella
    Thanks for reading!

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