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
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 Kelloggs
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
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
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.
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 Eisners 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
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.