Recently on the Kirby List scholar Stan Taylor queried about a Boy Commandos ashcan that appears in the GCD. I am not sure what the proper Internet etiquette is so I do not want to link directly to GCD’s image of this ashcan. So to get the most out of what I will write here, it would be best to make a new window and following my link to GCD and search for Boy Commandos. You will end up with 3 results, one of which is clearly marked ashcan. Although the GCD lists two ashcans (1 and nn) an image is only provided for #1.
Ashcans are used by comic publishers to secure the copyrights to a comic book title. I have heard some people say it is to get the trademark, but I believe you have to register trademarks not secure them by publishing them. But I am not a lawyer so I could be wrong. Anyway only a few copies of a particular ashcan would be made and none would be sold. Generally existing artwork would be used, and the inside story might not even match the cover. Ashcans are typically black and white, without color. I have never had the opportunity to closely examine an old ashcan but since Xerox did not exist during the golden age I suspect the are made from stats. If so they could not have taken long to make, in fact they were probably made using whatever stats that were available on hand. Once an ashcan comic served its purpose the copies could be discarded, hence the name ashcan.
Detective Comics #68 (October 1942) by Jack Kirby
The Boy Commandos ashcan is dated Sept./Oct. and there is a copyright below for 1942. Notice that there is no trademark indication so at least in this case copyright seems to be the purpose. Stan’s original question was had the art for this ashcan cover been published before? By a coincidence I had recently borrowed Joe Simon’s copy of Detective Comics #68 for scanning and could verify that the cover was the same as the splash page for the Boy Commandos story in that book. There are some differences, mostly in all the paste-ups. The main difference in the artwork is a group of planes that appear at the top of the splash page show up on the center right on the ashcan cover, and one of the planes was left out in the ashcan version. The splash page appears to be the original because you can still see on the ashcan an abrupt stop to some smoke where the left edge of one of the paste-ups had been. The planes where moved because they would have been covered by the title of the ashcan. Some smoke lines were also added on the ashcan in a manner very different then what was done on the rest of the art.
Detective Comics #65 (July 1942) by Jack Kirby and Jerry Robinson
My original reaction to this ashcan was that DC was just trying to cover their basis and protect copyrights in case they ever decided to actual publish a Boy commando comic. I thought that it was probably too early for DC to realize that the Boy Commandos were a hit. The Boy Commandos were introduced in Detective Comics #64 (June 1942). They were a backup story to a comic whose principal feature was Batman. Judging from the date and art of this ashcan it was made only four or five months after the first Boy Commandos story. That means that when the ashcan was made the first story had only been out on the newsstands a month or two. I did not think that would be enough time for DC to realize that it was successful enough to warrant its own magazine.
Boy Commandos #1 (Winter 1942) by Jack Kirby
What convinced me that my original impression was wrong was the logo. The ashcan cover does not use the same logo as the splash page. I have not seen all the early Boy Commando stories but all that I have seen use the same logo. The logo for the ashcan is instead the logo that would be used on the actual covers for Boy Commandos Comics. I do not think DC would have gone through the trouble to make a proper logo for the comic if they did not think they were actually going to create a book to use it on. Even in the short time the Boy commandos had been out there must have been some sort of response that convinced DC that the feature deserved its own title. Joe Simon has always said that Boy Commandos was a top seller. Sandman and the Newsboy Legion, other Simon and Kirby features for DC, never got their own titles.