Let's Talk Comics

Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
Dell is one of the largest publishers of crosswords and puzzle books.

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 Dell’s 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 universe.
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 what’s happening in the superhero side of the hobby.
The 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 MGM’s 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 Disney’s 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.
When 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 Dell’s 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.
Dell’s 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? C’mon. 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 books.
Previous column: Comics morphing into movies
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.
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