How many Dell comics are there?

How many Dell comics are there?  Well, it depends on how you count.  First we need to agree on what will be considered a comic.  The Overstreet Price Guide[1] lists comic books that span hundreds of years and virtually every format, including treasury sized, digests, magazines, promotional comics, and hardbound books.  However, Overstreet does not explicitly define a comic book.  One deeply thought through definition is offered by Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics:[2] “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the reader.”  This and other definitions continue to captivate many scholars and comic fans alike, exploring questions like “Is a comic without art a novel?” and “Is the Saturday Evening Post a comic book?”  Alas, this exploration is not the focus of the question at hand, but it does create the universe of discourse.

When I first approached the question “How many Dell comics are there?”, I thought I could simply go through the Overstreet Price Guide and count the number of Dell Comics that are listed.  Like many things in life, things are not as easy as they first appear.  For the purposes of this discussion, I will begin the definition of a “Dell Comic” as a comic book (using McCloud’s definition) that was published by Dell Publishing and sold through a retail outlet.  This definition intentionally does not restrict the size or format of the comic, allowing non-traditional comic formats such as those found with Nickel Comics, Large Feature Comics, and Told in Pictures to be counted.

Nickel Comics #1 (1938)

Told in Pictures – Twice Loved (1950)

However, there are some comics that are included in the Overstreet Price Guide that I have excluded:

·         Children Books – “comics” that have illustrations on one page with text on the opposing page, such as Dell Surprise Books and Ferdinand the Bull (an interesting note – The Emperor’s New Clothes is the only one of the twelve Dell Surprise Books that is listed);

·         Magazines – “comics” where the material contains a combination of articles and comics, such as Ape and Wild!;

·         Joke Books – “comics” that have single panel jokes (e.g. Knock Knock)

·         Portrait Publications – “comics” that are a collection of illustrations that do not include a story , such as War Planes and War Ships; and

·         Promotional Material – “comics” produced for advertisers (e.g. Bozo the Clown Apsco mini-comic, Davey Crocket Safety Trails, Gene Autry Adventure Comics and Play-Fun Book Pillsbury Premium) or as subscription premiums (e.g. Walt Disney Comics and Stories mailers).

This gets us close to the point where I can provide a count of all the Dell comics.  Variant editions can alter the count significantly.  In my next blog I will discuss variants in greater detail, in particular price variants, back cover variants, and second editions.  However, for the purpose of this question, I am not including variants in my count of Dell comics.

What about comics that do not exist?  There are some gaps in the numbering for several titles, most notably Four Color Comics, in which one or more issue numbers are skipped and those missing issues where never published.  Other examples include 3-D-ell #2, Dracula #5, and Wild Bill Elliott #’s 11 and 12.  Altogether, there are 35 issues that do not exist.  We need to take special care not to count these comics.

Finally, I need to decide where to start counting.  In my earlier blog “What was the first Dell comic?” I had answered with two possibilities:  The Funnies – Series 1 #1 (1929) and Popular Comics #1 (Feb 1936).  Using my criteria above, I will begin counting from 1929.

Before declaring a count of Dell comics, I need to make a brief word about titles. There is a large variety of ways in which Dell comic titles are organized by Price Guides, comic databases, and back-issue comic shops.  Although the distinction between titles will not affect the count, I am going to provide a list of issues by title so some explanation is in order.  The following titles require explanation:

  • Four Color Comics -- The Overstreet Price Guide has placed all of the Four Color Comics in sequence, but this anthology title was used as the launch pad for dozens of titles.  As an example, the first three issues of Uncle Scrooge were published as Four Color #’s 386 (#1), 456 (#2), and 495 (#3).  Then, when the title was started on its own, it began numbering with #4.  Some comic collectors and comic stores will list each of the separate titles in their database and not aggregate them under the Four Color title.
  • Movie Classics -- There are a large number of Movie Classic comics that are listed together in the Overstreet Price Guide.  I have listed each of these as separate titles because they have unique numbers, but I have preceded these issues with an “MC” to indicate they are a Movie Classic comic.
  • Large Feature Comics – This is a title similar to Four Color Comics but in a larger magazine size format that had sequential numbering with different titles (e.g. Dick Tracy, Phantasmo).  Like the Four Color Comics, I have listed these issues as a single title.  The Overstreet Price Guide lists them separately.
  • Dell Giants – These thick comics two (or more) times the pages of a typical issue.  Early issues were published as various series (e.g. Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Funnies #1 to #9, Bugs Bunny’s Vacation Funnies #1 to #9).  Later there was also a Dell Giant series that had individually numbered issues with of different titles.  As I had done with the Four Color Comics and the Large Feature Comics, the Dell Giant series is included as a single title, but the Dell Giants that have their own number are listed separately.  All of the Dell Giants are listed in the same section of the Overstreet Price Guide using this same numbering scheme.  In my listing I have preceded titles with “DG” if it is a Dell Giant comic.

With all of the caveats and exceptions as noted above, I believe the answer to the question “How many Dell comics are there?” is 6,546.  Using my conventions for delineating the various titles that Dell has published, there were 430 different titles sold between the first Dell comic (The Funnies – Series 1) published in 1929 and the final issues (Combat #40, Ghost Stories #37, and Alvin #28) published in October 1973.  A full listing of these titles with the number of issues published each year is included in a separate spreadsheet found here.

Below is a chart showing the distribution of the number of issues published each year from 1929 to 1973.  At its comic publishing zenith, Dell was publishing over 400 individual issues per year.  It averaged 339 issues a year from 1950 to 1959, dropping to an average of 17 issues per year in the 1970s.  Crawford’s Encyclopedia of Comic Books[3] states that more 2.5 billion (yes, billion) comic books were published by Dell between January and March 1953, “accounting for one-third of the combined total of all comics published during that three-month period.”  The steep decline from 1961 to 1963 was precipitated by Western Publishing moving its Disney and MGM properties from Dell to Gold Key and eventually Whitman.  This move, which is chronicled by Mark Evanier[4], occurred in 1962.

Number of Dell comics published each year – 1929 to 1973

[1] Overstreet, R.M. (2011).  The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (41st Edition), Gemstone Publishing, Timonium, MD.

[2] McCloud, Scott (1993), Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, USA, Harper Perennial, 224 pp.

[3] Crawford, H.H. (1978).  Crawford’s Encyclopedia of Comic Books, Jonathan David Publishers, Middle Village, NY. pg. 167.

1 comment:

  1. any idea where I can buy old blank comic book paper? Thanks, Steve Eisen in Md.