|Parent company||Dell Publishing|
|Founder||George T. Delacorte, Jr.|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Headquarters location||New York City|
|Key people||Helen Meyer|
|Publication types||Comic books|
|Fiction genres||Licensed material|
Dell Comics was the comic book publishing arm of Dell Publishing, which got its start in pulp magazines. It published comics from 1929 to 1974. At its peak, it was the most prominent and successful American company in the medium. In 1953 Dell claimed to be the world's largest comics publisher, selling 26 million copies each month.
Its first title was The Funnies (1929), described by the Library of Congress as "a short-lived newspaper tabloid insert" rather than a comic book. Comics historian Ron Goulart describes the 16-page, four-color, newsprint periodical as "more a Sunday comic section without the rest of the newspaper than a true comic book. But it did offer all original material and was sold on newsstands". It 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 end.
In 1933, Dell collaborated with Eastern Color Printing to publish the 36-page Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics, considered by historians the first true American comic book; Goulart, for example, calls it "the cornerstone for one of the most lucrative branches of magazine publishing". It was distributed through the Woolworth's department store chain, though it is unclear whether it was sold or given away; the cover displays no price, but Goulart refers, either metaphorically or literally, to the publisher "sticking a ten-cent pricetag [sic] on the comic books".
In early 1934, Dell published the single-issue Famous Funnies: Series 1, also printed by Eastern Color. Unlike its predecessor, it was intended from the start to be sold rather than given away.
The company formed a partnership in 1938 with Western Publishing, in which Dell would finance and distribute publications that Western would produce. While this diverged from the regular practice in the medium of one company handling finance and production and outsourcing distribution, it was a highly successful enterprise with titles selling in the millions. Most of the Dell-produced comics done for Western Publishing during this period were under the Whitman Comics banner (later also used by Gold Key Comics); notable titles included Crackajack Funnies (1938–1942) and Super Comics (1938–1949).
Comic book historian Mark Carlson has stated at its peak in the mid-50s "while Dell’s total number of comic book titles [was] only 15% of those published, it control[ed] nearly a third of the total market. Dell [had] more million-plus sellers than any other company before or since".
Dell Comics was best known for its licensed material, most notably the animated characters from Walt Disney Productions, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Walter Lantz Studio, along with many movie and television properties such as the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Felix the Cat, Howdy Doody, Yogi Bear and other Hanna-Barbera characters.
From 1938 to 1962, Dell's most notable and prolific title was the anthology Four Color. Published several times a month, the title (which primarily consisted of standalone issues featuring various licensed properties) saw more than 1,300 issues published in its 23-year history. It often served as a try-out title (much like DC's Showcase) and thus the launching pad for many long-running series, a number of which (such as The Twilight Zone) were continued not by Dell, but Gold Key Comics, the competing company formed when Western ended its partnership (see below).
Responding to pressure from the African-American community, the character Lil' Eightball (who appeared in a handful of Walter Lantz cartoons in the late 1930s and in those initial appearances constituted what animation and comics historian Michael Barrier described as being a "grotesquely stereotypical black boy") was discontinued as one of the featured characters in the Lantz anthology comic book New Funnies; the last appearance of the character was in the August 1947 issue.
In 1948, Dell refused an invitation of membership in the nascent Association of Comics Magazine Publishers. The association had been formed to pre-empt government intervention in the face of mounting public criticism of comic books. Dell vice-president Helen Meyer told Congress that Dell had opted out of the association because they didn't want their less controversial offerings to serve as "an umbrella for the crime comic publishers". When the Comics Code was formed in 1954 in reaction to Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, Dell again refused to join and instead began publishing in its comics a "Pledge to Parents" that promised their editorial process "eliminates, rather than regulates, objectional [sic] material" and concluded with the now classic credo "Dell Comics Are Good Comics."
Bart Beaty in his book Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture describes a concerted campaign by Dell against publication of Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent to the extent of recruiting several of the companies that it licensed characters from (including Warner Brother Cartoons, the Lone Ranger Inc. and Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.) to send letters of protest to Wertham's publisher Stanley Rinehart.
Dell in this period even burnished its image by taking out full-page ads in the Saturday Evening Post in late 1952 and early 1953 that emphasized the wholesomeness of its comics.
From mid-1950 to Spring 1959 Dell promoted subscriptions to its non-Disney titles with what it called the Dell Comics Club. Membership was automatic with any one year subscription to such titles and came with a certificate of membership plus a group portrait of the most prominent non-Disney characters published by Dell. Dell also offered various subscription premiums during the 1940s and 1950s (in some cases these were prints of covers or other character artwork and in one instance a cel from a Warner Brothers cartoon) in what Mark Evanier has dubbed a coordinated concerted "aggressive subscription push" and offered the option of an illustrated note or card be sent to the recipients of a gift subscription for birthdays or Christmas.
Multi-year subscriptions were also available (in the case of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, at one point in the 1940s subscriptions for up to five years were offered).
In 1961, Dell issued two atypical, comic-book like paperbacks without coloring, with cardboard covers and heavier-weight paper than standard comics, and selling for one dollar when most comic books were 12 cents: the 116-page The Flintstones on the Rocks and the 117-page Huck & Yogi Jamboree One historian describes the latter as "a collection of drawings with text (there’s not a word balloon to be found). But there are drawings that are sequential which tell stories.... [T]his was intended for Huck and Yogi’s adult fans. Of which there apparently were more than a few, given the format and high price — $1!"
In 1962 the partnership with Western ended, with Western taking most of its licensed properties and its original material and created its own imprint, Gold Key Comics.
While most of the talent who had worked on the Dell line continued at Gold Key, a few creators like John Stanley stuck with Dell and its new line. Dell also drew new talent to its fold, such as Frank Springer, Don Arneson, and Lionel Ziprin.
Dell Comics continued for another 11 years with licensed television and motion picture adaptations (including Mission: Impossible, Ben Casey, Burke's Law, Doctor Kildare, Beach Blanket Bingo) and a few generally poorly received original titles. Among the few long lasting series from this time include the teen-comic Thirteen Going on Eighteen (29 issues, written by John Stanley), Ghost Stories (37 issues, #1 only written by John Stanley), Combat (40 issues), Ponytail (20 issues), Kona Monarch of Monster Isle (20 issues), Toka the Jungle King (10 issues), and Naza Stone Age Warrior (9 issues). Dell additionally attempted to do superhero titles, including Nukla, Superheroes (starring the Fab 4, as the group's name was spelled on covers), Brain Boy, and a critically ridiculed trio of titles based on the Universal Pictures monsters Frankenstein, Dracula and Werewolf that recast the characters as superheroes.
Dell Comics ceased publication in 1974, with a few of its former titles moving to Gold Key Comics.
Dell was acquired by Doubleday in 1976. Doubleday was acquired by Bertelsmann in 1986, who formed Bantam Doubleday Dell as its US subsidiary. Bertelsmann acquired Random House in 1998 and renamed its US business after the acquisition. After the merger, Bantam was merged with Dell Publishing. In 2001, Random House purchased Golden Books' book publishing properties effectively reuniting the remnants of Dell and Western Publishing. Bantam Dell became part of the Random House publishing group in 2008. Ballantine Books was merged with Bantam Dell in 2010. In 2013, Random House merged with Penguin to form Penguin Random House.
After Dell ceased publication, a number of its obscure characters were brought back in independent comics. In August 2016, InDELLible Comics was formed in tribute to the public domain characters orphaned by Dell. In July 2017, All-New Popular Comics #1 was published, and was #1 in its category on Amazon upon release. Founded and edited by the team of Jim Ludwig, David Noe and Dærick Gröss Sr., the first issue featured some original characters as well as stories and cameos with many Dell characters.
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