When one looks back on the Golden Age Of Comics , generally considered to have been from 1938 (Action #1) and ending with Showcase #4 (1956), it is easy to think of the big three publishers DC, Timely and Fawcett. To be sure those companies DID dominate the early days of what we would come to recognize as the modern comic books. Superman, Batman, Captain America and Captain Marvel among others are all enduring characters who began during the Golden Age and were published by “The Big Three”
However it would be less than accurate to think of “The Big Three” as the only successful publishers of the era. MLJ would be a major factor with Pep, which began as a Superhero title and would later feature a new character named Archie Andrews. EC comics would dominate the latter part of the Golden Age with more adult fare like “Weird Fantasy” and “Tales from the Crypt”. In fact there was a litany of publishers. Quality, Sun, Better Publications, Harvey, Kosmos and Nita just to name a few.
Comics were everywhere. Superman and Captain Marvel regularly sold well over a million copies per month! Today if a comic book title tops 150,000 copies sold in a month it is at the very top of the charts.
Why? Because during the Golden Age comics were sold in literally TENS of Thousands of locations. Every little candy store and news stand in the country (and many international) had a comic book rack. Today comics are largely sold in a couple of thousand comic specialty shops and over the internet. During the Second World War almost 40% of all printed material shipped to the military was COMIC BOOKS. It was a period of popularity in the hobby that has never again been approached. It was a BOOM.
DC, Timely and Fawcett along with the 45-50 other publishers of the time would produce nearly 700 titles during the Golden Age.
And there was Fiction House.
Fiction House was a Comic Book publisher that began life in the 1920,s with a line of Pulp Magazines. Their early publications focused primarily on Aviation and Sports. Fight Stories was a particularly popular title during the 1920’s and focused primarily on boxing. Over time Fiction expanded their pulp line into other genres such as Westerns, Romance, Detective and Science Fiction. The covers often featured GGA (Good Girl Art) with leggy scantily clad females often having nothing to do with the stories therein.
By the late 30’s the Pulp market was starting to decline due to the rising popularity of the infant comic book industry in the wake of such characters as Superman and Batman. Fiction House made the decision to add a line of comic books to their offerings and released Jumbo Comics #1 in September of 1938. Jumbo Comics was not an in house creation. In fact the company purchased it whole from Eisner & Eiger. They were “packagers” of comic books and would sell fully finished product to publishers looking to enter the comic book field.
Jumbo Comics would feature the character that would become the centerpiece of Fiction House, Sheena Queen Of The Jungle. Sheena was created by Will Eisner of Spirit Fame and S.M. Iger. She would go on to become the very first female character to carry her own title, preceding Wonder Woman by several months. Sheena would also embody a central feature of Fiction House offerings….Good Girl Art. Good girl art does not refer to the character of the girl. In fact often the girls were NOT so good. Good Girl Art (GGA) is an artistic pinup style that features beautiful, often leggy women clothed in as little as possible.
However, Fiction House did not usually feature these women as “damsels in distress’. On the contrary Fiction House heroines were tough as nails, guns a blazing CAPABLE women who did not need the men to save them. Considering the time and the way women were generally used by other publishers, Fiction House was remarkable far sighted.
Fiction House had several big selling titles that they called their “Big 6”. They were Jumbo Comics, Wings Comics, Planet Comics, Fight Comics, Jungle Comics and Rangers Comics.
In addition F.H. had a wide range of secondary titles. Among these were Firehair, Ghost, Man O’Mars and Ka’a’nga Jungle King.
Fiction House was remarkable in another area. Their practice of non discrimination. In a era when comic books and business in general was all boys and all white, F.H. employed men of color and women. Matt baker, or maybe I should say (THE GREAT Matt Baker) who is best remembered for his iconic Phantom Lady (Fox Pub.) was a featured cover artist . Baker, who passed away from a heart attack at the young age of 39 was inducted into the Comic Artist’s Hall Of Fame in 2009.
In addition female artists such as Ruth Atkinson, Fran Hopper, Lily Renee and Marcia Snyder were major contributors in the Fiction House Bullpen.
Fiction House would ultimately fall victim to a shrinking post war comic book market and the attacks of Frederick Wertham (Seduction Of The Innocent) who castigated the company for it’s depiction of sexy females. Their last titles would be distributed sometime late 1954 or early 1955 and the company quietly went out of business.
Today Fiction House titles in high grades, particularly Planet Comics, are particularly sought after by comic collectors. Sheena Queen Of The Jungle is an enduring character still seen today .
The legacy of Fiction House as a producer of high quality comic books endures.