Dell is one of the largest publishers of crosswords and puzzle
But it is famous among comic collectors not for the mind-stumping
quizzes, but because it was once the largest publisher of comics.
It dwarfed its competitors when the publishing company that
George Delacorte Jr. hatched in 1921 as a purveyor of pulp peaked
in 1953 with monthly comics circulation at 26 million issues.
Yes, 26 million copies a month, times 12 months, equaling 312
million comics that year. It's no wonder DC Comics and Timely/Atlas
Comics, the precursor to Marvel, scrambled to mimic and copy
funny animal stories.
Delacorte was a pioneer in the comics field, publishing The
Funnies, the first modern comic book with original material,
in October 1936, after printing the same-titled tabloid-sized
comic in the 1920s and early 30s.
The test of time hurts, as many of Dells titles are
now obscure except to only the most focused of collectors, like
Nikki the Wild Dog of the North and Toby Tyler.
While many of its more obscure movie titles remain ignored
and unloved in comic store bins despite the great art, much of
its cartoon character titles remain popular in the collectors
market. The key is to find them in higher grade, a difficult
task because the books were well loved and well read.
Bugs Bunny and Sylvester, Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker,
Felix the Cat and Howdy Doody, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and
everything else animated from those eras were part of the Dell
And among the coveted comics issued by Dell were two series
of square-bound 25-cent comics called Dell Giant. And despite
the difficulty in finding them in higher grades, they are fairly
reasonably priced on the retail collectable market, well, considering
whats happening in the superhero side of the hobby.
first published series ran between 1949 and 1958 and according
to the Overstreet Comics Price Guide, it wasn't called Dell Giant
until 1954. Number one was Christmas Parade, a 132-page book
with heavy stock covers and very difficult to find in a higher
grade (about $110 U.S. in Near Mint).
The company dropped the number of pages to 100 a year or
two later. There were 160 issues, including some variant covers
and back covers, that is, some editions had an ad, while others
didn't. There are also a few Canadian editions among some titles.
Plus, to make things more confusing, there are 30- and 35-cent
variants also and they command a premium.
Other titles in this series include bevy of Boomer Generation
childhood titles such as Peter Pan Treasure Chest, Pogo Parade,
Lady and the Tramp, Silly Symphonies, Sleeping Beauty and Tom
and Jerry. It also included an excellent 25-comic sub-set called
Western Roundup, with Wild West stories of Gene Autry, Rin Tin
Tin, Buffalo Bill Jr. and Tales of Wells Fargo.
In September 1959, the Dell Giant series re-launched and
they command higher retail collectable market prices. The first
was MGMs Tom and Jerry Picnic Time (about $225 U.S. in
Near Mint). The cover says it is # 21, but it really is # one
of the series. Most others are under $200 U.S. in Near Mint,
but among the higher priced coveted titles are #26, Walt Disneys
Christmas Parade (about $410 in Near Mint and $30 in Good), #43,
Mighty Mouse in Outer Space ($360 in Near Mint and $25 in Good)
and #48, The Flintstones ($385 in Near Mint and $27 in Good).
Three books in that series - numbers 26 (see value above),
38 and 39 (each $250 in Near Mint, $18 in Good) - also stand
out, as their covers were based on sketches drawn by the ultimate
Donald Duck artist and creator of Scrooge McDuck, Carl Barks.
(For a great roundup of his life and work, see www.facebook.com/CarlBarksFanClub/).
The 26-issue series ran until December 1961, just before
the falling out between Dell and Western.
These books command attention from a wide range of collectors
in part because they retain their value, offer wonderful art
and stories and because collectors in the know realize they are
difficult to find in higher grades.
Dell and Western parted company in 1962, Western continued the
concept of the 25-cent, 80-page Giant books known as Move Comics
under the Gold Key label and that 22-year run of comics will
be the topic of another column.
A brief, quick explanation about Dells intertwined
relationship with Western Printing that allowed it to become
the top producing comic book publisher. Delacorte cemented a
deal with Western, which owned the rights to many of the cartoon
characters, including Disney and Warner Bros., in 1938. Dell
distributed the books with its imprint while covering the costs
of Western producing, drawing and printing the comic books.
Dells imprint through Western covered stories and characters
from movies, cartoons, television, newspaper comic strips and
radio. As well as using drawings and photographs for front covers,
the books regularly used beautiful painted art.
A financial disagreement in 1962 ended the Dell-Western partnership.
Since Western held the rights to the licensed characters, it
published those titles and a string of original characters under
the Gold Key label and to a lesser degree Whitman.
Dell continued with its own characters. Its attempt at super
heroes in the 1960s and 70s was anemic. Brain Boy? Cmon.
There were a number of licensed products from television and
movies for a while, but the books never really caught on and
the company shuttered its comics operation in 1973, where today,
it publishes crosswords - easy, medium and hard - and other puzzle
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.