Let's Talk Comics

Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
They were voraciously read during their time, but now they are barely noticed and most people would probably pass them over at antique and flea markets.
Promotional comics - giveaways comic that often advertised a product - are not seen often at the major conventions, but there is a respectable market for them. Among the hot ones include Disney characters.
I picked up, in the purchase of a collection some time ago, a batch of Wheaties Premiums, pocket-sized comics with 32 pages of Disney characters, which were distributed through a cereal campaign in the 1950s.
At the time, I had no idea what they were, other than they supposedly commanded a decent market price and the art was excellent. Collectors didn't know what they were either and ignored them.
I purchased, from a dealer, a Buck Rogers Kellogg’s giveaway that was distributed by mail in 1933. The book I bought also included a letter from the cereal company, something the Overstreet Price Guide doesn't mention.
What the guide does highlight is the envelope used to ship the book, which I don't have and would boost the price. But be wary, there is a 1995 reprint that doesn't even come close to commanding the $600-plus market price of the original in very fine, the highest known condition.
The importance of the book can't be overstated. It is the first comic book appearance of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Giveaways, or promotional comics, were free and were mostly advertising. Others were religious, some educational, while others were political propaganda. There were also a few used to entice teens into enlisting into the U.S. military. Some saluted the Boy Scouts.
Santa Claus is a popular fellow in promotional comics, but in 1939, the greatest red nose of all, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, appeared for Montgomery Ward in an astounding print run of 2.4 million copies. All were given away to shoppers. It was reprinted in 1951 and, in this case, the reprint is more valuable than the original.
The giveaways often highlighted popular characters, including Superman, Roy Rogers, Buster Brown, Red Ryder, Lassie, Little Dot, Joe Palooka, Flash Gordon, and President Harry S. Truman and Stalin. Some characters were created especially for a comic advertising or information campaign, such as Miss Flame, who narrates the history of natural gas production in the 1947 comic giveaway History of Gas.
Among the most popular and sought after giveaways is the March of Comics series, all 488 of them over 36 years, published between 1946 and 1982 by K.K. Publications and Western Publishing. The first 32 issues were full size comics. In 1952, they were trimmed to half size, read oblong until 1960 when they were printed upright again.
March of Comics has a long list of prime characters, including Our Gang, Andy Panda, Rin Tin Tin, Woody Woodpecker, Daniel Boone, Popeye, Yogi Bear, Smokey the Bear and so many more. They were printed sponsoring various companies, retailers and manufacturers.
But entwined in the story about promotional comics is also the tale of the birth of comic books.
Proctor & Gamble was convinced to sponsor a comic book and in 1933 the the format we now know as the comic book was born with Funnies on Parade. It appeared in the same 8" x 11" format that comic books are printed in today.
A print run of 10,000 with newspaper comic strip reprints was given away via coupons for P&G products. The people who developed the idea were George Janosik, Harry Wildenberg, and a salesman named M.C. Gaines.
Gaines was so impressed by the success of these giveaway comics that he turned to the medium full-time. He had a role in the development of DC Comics, home of Superman and Batman, before founding EC Comics, which under the command of his son, William, became the source of great war and horror comics in the 1950s and. of course, Mad.
Giveaway promotional comics are still being printed, but they don't have the same flair and panache of the ones printed decades ago, such as a comic about railroads, All Aboard, Mr. Lincoln. There's The Adventures of Big Boy, and Brer Rabbit in Ice Cream for the Party.
And among the most collectable is the weekly newspaper comic insert of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, which was distributed through various newspapers between 1940 and 1952.
So keep an eye open for Captain Marvel hawking Wheaties, or Richie Rich and Little Dot hamming it up in Tastee-Freez Comics. It just might be worth it.
1 - The front and back covers of the 1933 Buck Rogers giveaway from Kellogg's cereal
2 - Little Orphan Annie giveway from 1941, a Quaker Oats Puffed Wheat Sparkies promo
3 - The Spirit comic from the Detroit News and other newspapers is highly collectible
Next column: Cowboy comics
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
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