What was the first Dell Comic?

Dell Publishing was founded by George T. Delacorte Jr. in 1921.[1]  For the first eight years Dell published pulp magazines.  In 1929, Dell Publishing began publishing The Funnies, described by the Library of Congress as "a short-lived newspaper tabloid insert".[2]  Each insert measured 10.5" x 15.5".  The magazine ran 36 weekly issues, published Saturdays from January 16, 1929, to October 16, 1930.  The cover price rose from 10¢ to 30¢ with issue #3.  This was reduced to a nickel from issue #22 to the last issue.

TheComicBooks.com describes the content of these early issues:[3]

It was a big tabloid-sized book that was distributed by the newsstands along with newspapers.  These books were probably intended to be mistaken for the Sunday color comics that came free with the newspapers.  Within were original comic strips, which were cheaper to buy since the artists probably had their strips rejected by the major syndicates by then.  Among the strips were Frosty Ayre by Joe Archibald, My Big Brudder by Tack Knight, Deadwood Gulch by Boody Rodgers and Clancy the Cop by Vic E. Pazmino (VEP). The series was edited by Harry Steeger who would go on to success in the pulp novels.

Noted comic historian, Ron Goulart, describes this early entry into “modern comic books” as more of a glorified Sunday comics section:[4]

At the start of 1929, George Delcorte, found of the Dell Publishing Company, also took a crack at inventing the modern comic book.  What he actually produced, however, was closer to a tabloid funny paper section.  Delacorte must have realized that that most interesting part of the Sunday newspaper was the comic section and set out to produce one of his own.

In Goulart’s “The Comic Book Reader’s Companion” he expands on the introduction of “The Funnies”:[i]

The first comic with this title [The Funnies] was a tabloid-sized publication that flourished briefly in 1929 and 1930.  […]  A weekly newstand offering, it consisted of 24 pages in tabloid format and initially sold for 10¢.  Edited by Harry Steeger, who was soon to found the Popular Publications pulp house, The Funnies consisted of nothing but original material.  This was an innovation and, as Robert Overstreet points out, The Funnies was also the first four-color newsstand publication.

[5] Goulart, R. (1993).  The Comic Book Reader’s Companion: An A-Z guide to everyone’s favorite art form, Harper Perennial, New York, pg. 70.Was The Funnies #1, published in 1929, the first Dell comic?  The Overstreet Price Guide has separated its listings by era: Pioneer Era (1500’s to 1828), Victorian Era (1646-1900), Platinum Age (1888-1938), and the Golden Age and Beyond (1938 – Present).  Funnies #1 (1929) is listed in the Platinum Age.  The first Dell comic listed in the Golden Age is Popular Comics #1 (Feb 36).  Both titles precede the start of the Golden Age.  Often the start of the Golden Age is considered the change in content from reprint material to original material.  Don Markstein’s Toonopedia posits format for the exclusion of The Funnies #1 (1929) as the first comic book:[6]

Dell Publishing, which got its start in pulp magazines, was a pioneer in comic books. Its first release, The Funnies, went on sale no later than 1929 — making it possibly the first periodical in America to specialize in comics, not reprinted from newspaper strips. The reason this weekly isn't listed in most guides as the first comic book is probably because it was published as a tabloid, rather than the size of a modern comic book. The Funnies lasted 36 issues, ending with its Oct. 16, 1930 release.

In addition to the 36 issues of The Funnies, Dell also published Clancy the Cop (2 issues, 1930), Deadwood Gulch (1 issue, 1931), and Bug Movies (1 issue, 1931).

Format would seem to be the key discriminator between inclusion in either the Platinum or Golden age.  Don Markstein’s Toonopedia describes the introduction of Popular Comics, which published reprint material in the “American Comic Book” format: [7]

Dell gained a more permanent foothold in comics in February, 1936, when it launched Popular Comics in what had by then become the standard comic book format — a monthly anthology, a little larger than a modern comic book, containing reprints of newspaper comic strips. This one concentrated on those distributed by The Chicago Tribune Syndicate — Dick Tracy, The Gumps, Gasoline Alley, Harold Teen, and several others. Later that year, Dell added a revived series of The Funnies, this time using newspaper strip reprints instead of original material, and in 1937 started another strip reprint series, titled simply The Comics. All three were packaged by M.C. Gaines, who went on to become one of the founders of DC Comics and, later, the founder of EC.

I find it interesting that many comic historians consider Famous Funnies (Eastern Color Printing Company, 1933) as the first modern comic book.  Famous Funnies was first introduced as a Proctor and Gamble giveaway with reprinted newspaper comics for content.  About a year later, Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics was sold on the newstand for 10¢.  Albert Ching opines in a blog[8]

"Famous Funnies" is the first publication "that a modern reader would instantly recognize as a comic book," because it was roughly the same dimensions and format as a current comic books, according to Don Markstein's Toonopedia, a website that gathers information about the world of cartoons.

The elimination of The Funnies as the first modern comic book is apparently based on the use a tabloid format on newsprint.  Despite its original content and news stand distribution, The Funnies that Dell published in 1929 just doesn’t look what is considered to be a comic by today’s standards.  This is also the case for Comic Monthly, a magazine sized comic that was distributed on newsstands in 1922, predating The Funnies by seven years.  Goulart’s description of this early newsstand comic certainly sounds similar to the size and format of Famous Funnies:[9]

Closer to the mark was a magazine that started appearing early in 1922.  It was named Comic Monthly, and each issue was devoted to a different comic strip – Polly & Her Pals, Tillie the Toiler, Barney Google, Little Jimmy, etc.  This magazine sold for a dime, gave the reader 24 pages with a black-and-white daily on each page, measure 8 ½ by 10, had a soft paper cover, and was published by the Embee Distributing Co.

The Funnies #1 (January 16, 1929)

Popular Comics #1 (February 1936)

Returning to the question: “What was the first Dell comic?”  If you ignore the eras and format distinctions, The Funnies #1 (1929) is the first Dell comic.  If you limit your consideration to the Golden Age of comics and restrict yourself to the modern comic book format, then the first Dell comic is Popular Comics #1 (Feb 1936).

[1] Putting Dell on the Map, William H. Lyles, Greenwood Press, 1983, ISBN 0-313-23667-4
[4] Goulart, R. (1986).  Ron Goulart’s Great History of Comic Books, Contemporary Books, Chicago, pg. 2-3.
[5] Goulart, R. (1993).  The Comic Book Reader’s Companion: An A-Z guide to everyone’s favorite art form, Harper Perennial, New York, pg. 70.
[6] http://www.toonopedia.com/dell.htm
[8] Ching, A. (2010). “What Was the First Comic Book?” Life's Little Mysteries Contributor, 08 June 2010 9:03 AM ET, http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/what-was-the-first-comic-book-0838/
[9] Goulart, R. (1986).  Ron Goulart’s Great History of Comic Books, Contemporary Books, Chicago, pg. 1.

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