Previously in Chapter 1 I discussed the disasterous appearance of Bill Gaines before a Senate committee and the creation of the Comic Code Authority. Simon and Kirby launched their Mainline comics just prior to these events.
But what was the comic industry like at that time? Without sales figures we can only guess based on information gleaned from the comics themselves. But Joe and Jack’s arrangement with Prize meant that they received a share of the profits. They must have had some idea how things were going with Prize Comics at least.
Judging from events that shortly followed the launch of Mainline, things were not going well for Prize. For comics having a September 1954 cover date, Prize had 4 monthly (Justice Traps the Guilty, Young Romance, Young Love and Young Brides) and 5 bimonthly titles (Black Magic, Fighting American, Frankenstein, Headline and Prize Comic Western). When we arrive at a cover date of May 1955 Prize only has 1 monthly (Justice Traps the Guilty) and 5 bimonthly (Headline, Prize Comic Western, Young Romance, Young Love, and Young Brides). This is a substantial decline in production, one way to look at is is to consider a bimonthly as half a monthly. From that view point Prize went from 6.5 to 3.5 titles a month. For Simon and Kirby the affects were even more drastic. At this time S&K were producing Black Magic and the three romances, they stopped producing the crime comics for Prize some time ago. Using the same type of calculations, S&K went from 4 to 1.5 titles a month for Prize. Remember Joe and Jack received a share of the profits, this drop had to have an affect on their cash flow.
The timing of the changes by Prize could be interpreted as a reaction to S&K’s becoming competitors. That would not have been a wise business decision on the part of Prize, but sometimes emotions rule over logic. But that does not explain the cancellation of Frankenstein Comics since S&K had nothing to do with it. With the last Frankenstein having a cover date of October 1954, this was too early to have been due to the The Comic Code. Comic code stamps would not appear on comics until April or May of 1955. I believe the best explanation is that Prize comics had not be selling that well recently, possibly as a result of the rise in anti-comic sentiment.
When the Comic Code did come into affect, Prize did not seem to have much problems with it. Despite all the adverse publicity directed at Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty, the contents of the Prize crime comics really were not objectionable. I don’t find much of a change in these titles with the arrival of the Comic Code. Nor did the stamp seem much of a problem for the Prize romance titles.
With Prize seemingly having problems, what about other comic publishers? Bill Gaines got a lot of undesireable attention at the Senate committee hearings, and not only because he came to defend the comic industry. I think it would be fair to say that Gaines’ publishing company, EC, exemplfied many of the things Dr. Wertham and other critics complained about. I am really not knowledgeable enough about EC to say whether he was experiencing sales problems before the Senate hearings. But clearly Gaines was well aware of the problems his comic line would face with the Comic Code Authority. His first approach to this was to launch a series of new titles just as the Comic Code was coming into effect. These titles (Aces High, Extra, Impact, Incredible Science Fiction, MD, Psychoanalysis, and Valor) had titles that seemed designed to avoid issues with the Comic Code. And all of these new titles showed the Comic Code stamp for the May 1955 covers. But although these titles avoid Code problems, they still seem to have sales problems. All these titles would disappear after a relatively short run, the last has a January 1956 date. Another approach to the code that Gaines tried was to publish his material in a magazine size format, and avoid getting Comic Code approval at all. This allowed him to use new titles like Shock Illustrtated and Terror Illustrated, titles that would be rejected under the Comic Code. Unfortunately this approach also seemed to fail after just a couple of issues with the last having a May 1956 cover date. But there was one exception to the magazine size format failure, that was the juvenile humor comic Mad. Mad remained popular and after the failure of all the rest of Gaines’ comic line, it would become the only publication for EC.
Artist Ross Andru and Mike Esposito started their own comic publishing company, MikeRoss Publications, even earlier then Simon and Kirby’s Mainline. I do not know the specifics of either their company or their publications, but their company also failed during this period.
We have seen from Prize, EC and MikeRoss that there is reason to believe that this was a difficult time for comic publishers. Apparently this was true with Simon and Kirby’s Mainline. April 1955 was the date for the last Mainline publication. Other then one Foxhole cover rejected by the Comic Code Authority that had to be replaced, S&K did not seem to have much problems with the new code. Final issues of Mainline comics had the code’s stamp on the cover. But Simon and Kirby’s attempt at become comic publishers had failed.
Mainline’s problems may not have only been due to low sales. Mainline, MikeRoss and EC shared one thing, they all were using the same distrubuter, Leader News. Now Mainline and MikeRoss were probably a very small part of Leader’s distribution, but EC was not. EC sales problems affected Leader News, and it is likely that Leader’s difficulties got passed on to Mainline and MikeRoss in late payments. Leader News would become bankrupt in July 1956. It is just possible that had Joe and Jack used a different distributor Mainline may have lasted longer. But it was a difficult time for comic books, so who can say?
Frankly this has been a lengthy post without any images. So this seems a good place to examine Prize romances during the period from April 1954 and September 1955. During this interval the Prize romance comics had no Kirby art. April was the same month that the Fighting American started. Also, probably without Prize knowing about it, Simon and Kirby started preparing for the launch of Mainline. It seems typical for Jack to do most of his penciling for new titles. Jack continued to pencil some work for Black Magic but that title would be canceled after issue #33 (November 1955). But it would appear that S&K continued to produce the romance comics. They were listed as editors in the postal declaration in April issues for 1954 and 1955 of Young Love and Young Romance and the May issue of Young Brides. Another indication that S&K were still producing the romances is that Joe Simon still has in his collection proofs for some of the covers during this period.
A couple of other changes occurred to the Prize romance comics in about this period. One was that photo covers were discontinued. Most of the romance comics used a photographic cover starting in 1949. There was one exception, for the period from August 1950 to June 1951 all the Young Love and four of the Young Romance had art covers. But the last photographic cover would be used in March 1954 and this time they would not return. Recently I asked Joe Simon about the printing the photo covers and he said that they cost a little more then art covers but with the large print sizes of the comics it was not much of a differance.
Also starting in 1949 was the use of a label a “Simon and Kirby production” on the first page of the lead story. Once started this label would appear in all S&K productions except for three issues. That is until after September 1954, when the the label disappears on all comics. They would remain off until returning in Young Love #64 in April 1955. But they would not always appear and in December 1955 the the last S&K production label would be used in Young Romance #80. The absence of the label does not necessarily mean that S&K did not produce those comics. The label was also missing from Black Magic #33 but that issue includes art by Jack Kirby and was almost certainly produced by S&K.
Up to this point Kirby was the primary penciler for all the covers for S&K comics that did not use a photograph. So who did the these covers while Kirby was busy elsewhere? Well if you have been reading my posts it may not come to a surprise that most of these covers were done by the usual suspects Bill Draut, Mort Meskin and John Prentice. In fact for me their continued presence is the most convincing evidence that Simon and Kirby were still producing these romance comics.
I have already included Young Brides #21 (March 1955) in a post I did on Bill Draut. Bill did 13 of the 39 covers in question. Below is another Draut cover.
Young Romance #70 (June 1954) by Bill Draut
My discussion on Mort Meskin included his cover to Young Love #66 (August 1955). Mort provided 8 of the 39 non-Kirby covers. Let me provide another example.
Young Brides #16 (June 1954) by Mort Meskin
John Prentice, the last of the usual suspects, did 15 of the romance covers. In my post on John I have already provided an image of the cover he did for Young Love #58 (June 1954). So here is another example of his fine work.
Young Love #55 (March 1954) by John Prentice
Did anyone add up the numbers? If you did you would have noticed that the usual suspects did 36 of the 39 covers that Kirby did not do. I admit I am not sure who did one of these covers, but the other two covers were done by Ann Brewster. I have not classified Ann as one of the usual suspects because she only did work for S&K for two limited periods. But she was a fine talent at least for romance, which is the only work I have seen of hers. But there is something quite unique about the two covers the Brewster did. Both covers were made from enlarged and flipped stats made from the splash page of Ann’s stories. I know that the covers were made from the splash and not the other way around because Joe Simon still has the “original art” for the cover to Young Romance #79 (Octover 1955). Except for some very minor touch ups, the cover is entirely stats. This is the first time that S&K have done this sort of thing, but Joe Simon would use a similar technique in the future for Adventures of the Fly #1 and Blast-Off #1.
Young Romance #79 (October 1955) by Ann Brewster