Category Archives: Comicscope

The Comicscope and Captain America

I previously posted on the part that the Comicscope played in the early copying of Captain Freedom from Captain America. But in that post I was still left with a question about how the owner’s of Comicsope got an image of Captain America before the release of his first issue. In the light of new information I will be reviewing the entire issue again but for those interested in what I had to say originally here is a link to my previous post.

Wonderworld Comics #13
Wonderworld Comics #13 (May 1940)

The Comicscope was the creation of Victor Fox and Bob Farell, or at least they filed for the patent. If you are interested it how the Comicscope actually worked please see another post that I wrote, there is no reason to repeat that here. Victor Fox was the owner of Fox Comics and Bob Farell has been described by Joe Simon as Victor’s right hand man. However the Comicsope business was separate from Fox Comics. If I read the patent correctly, Victor handed off the rights to the Comicsope to Bob. Still as they were involved with both enterprises, it is not surprising that there was a special relationship between Fox Comics and the Comicsope. Early advertisements for the Comicsope that appeared in Fox Comics were actually promotions for those comics. Kids who wanted to get a Comicsope had to send in not just money, but also coupons clipped from five different Fox Comic titles. This promotional aspect of Comicscope ads disappeared in later issues of Fox Comics. Joe Simon has said that Comicsope received free advertisements in the Fox Comics. Note that in the ad shown above image projected on the wall is of Samson, one of Fox Comics characters. This makes sense since the whole purpose of the Comicsope was to project comic images and what better image to show then that of a Fox Comic hero.

Daring Mystery Comics #7
Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941)

As I said the Comicsope was really not part of Fox Comics so it is not surprising that they might want to advertise it in the comic books of other publishers. One was Martin Goodman’s publishing company which today is referred to as Timely. But is understandable that Timely might object to a advertisement that included an image of another company’s hero, in this case Samson. So the ad was reworked to include Timely heroes. In the advertisement above you can see Captain America has been placed on the side of the Comicscope. This was done rather crudely with parts of previously images still showing. The image of Samson being projected was also replaced. It is a little hard to make out in the scan of the entire page above, but as you can see in the close-up below the new projection is of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner.

Daring Mystery Comics #7
Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941) close-up

The Comicscope ad that I show above is the new information I mentioned at the beginning of this post. It is from the inside front cover of Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941). Daring Mystery was one of Timely’s less successful titles. It was supposed to be a monthly publication, but in fact its schedule was rather sporadic. The previous issue (#6) was cover dated September 1940. So although the ad was actually published after the release of Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) work on it may have begun much earlier.

There are good reasons to believe that this Comicscope ad was done earlier then indicated by its cover date. The version of Cap portrayed is that used for the first issue, notice the triangular shield and “skull cap” headpiece. These features were changed for all subsequent Captain America Comics, including that for issue #2 that also was cover dated April. The projection of the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner includes Toro. Toro was introduced in Human Torch Comics #2 (Fall 1940).

Speed Comics #13
Speed Comics #13 (May 1941)

Farell would also go to Irving Manheimer to have his Comicscope advertisement placed. Irving Manheimer was president of Publisher Distributing. Although Manheimer’s business mainly dealt with distribution he also published a few comic book titles, including Speed Comics. The Comicscope advertisement would appear in Speed Comics #13 (May 1941). Once again the ad was altered, returning Samson as the projected image replacing Timely’s Human Torch and Sub-Mariner.

Speed Comics #13
Speed Comics #13 (May 1941) close-up

But the image of Captain America on the side of the illustrated Comicscope remained in the ad. While the Timely ad was in black ink only, the Speed advertisement was printed in two colors (black and magenta). Notice that the colorist, working without a color guide, made a mistake in Captain America’s uniform. Flesh color was added to the legs. Presumable the colorist mistook Cap’s shorts to indicate that he had bare legs.

Speed Comics #13
Speed Comics #13 (May 1941) Captain Freedom, page 1

Unlike Goodman, Manheimer was probably not bothered by showing other comic publisher’s heroes in the Comicsope advertisement. In fact it looks like he took advantage of the information he gained from the ad. For Speed #13 was also the issue where Captain Freedom was introduced. The correspondence between Captain America and Captain Freedom is obvious. Similar placement of red and white stripes, a circle of stars replaces a single star on the chest, and shoulder pads replace mail armor. The “skull cap” is similar particularly to the Cap in Captain America #1. And of course the rank of Captain is shared by both. Captain Freedom also has bare legs, but this is only in common with the mistaken colorist’s rendition of Captain America for the Comicsope advertisement.

Captain America Comics #1 has a cover date of March while Captain Freedom starts with a cover date of May. It took at least three months to get a comic book published; one month month or more working on the art, a month for printing and a month for distribution. That being the case Captain Freedom was created at least a month before Captain America Comics #1 hit the stands. But with knowledge gained from the Comicsope ad, Manheimer would be able to get a jump on the competition and produce his own Captain America knock-off.

Irving Manheimer would shortly sell off his comic titles to Al Harvey. Al Harvey was a good friend of both Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. In fact Harvey had asked Joe Simon to come join him and invest in his new publication company. Joe declined, he probably felt he would do better with the share of the profits from Captain America that Martin Goodman promised him. But the promise was not fulfilled and Simon and Kirby would eventually leave Timely to go to work with DC. But they also did some moonlighting, including doing some covers for Harvey’s comics. It is one of those ironies that having created the phenomenal Captain America, Joe and Jack would end up doing some of the best art for Captain Freedom, a knock-off of their own creation.

The Amazing New Comicscope

Comicscope Advertisement on the back of Wonderworld #13 (May 1940)

Not a toy, but a real projector! Show your own films at home – charge admission. Now for the first time you can use comic strips in the Comicscope and screen them in any size and in full color.

In the above ad, the Comicscope was used to promote Fox comics. Sending in the coupons from 5 Fox comics, along with 15 cents and 3 cents in stamps would get you this marvelous invention. Add it up and the total cost would be 68 cents, and that includes being able to read the comics. Later the Comicscope would be sold for 25 cents plus 3 cents in stamps. How could anyone possible sell a real projector for 28 cents? Sure this was back in the early 40’s and 28 cents was worth a lot more. But comic books were printed on the cheapest paper using the crudest printing process and they could be bought for 10 cents.


Well if nothing else Comicscope is a marvel in cost saving design. It is little more then a cardboard box, a cardboard tube and a cheap simple lens. There is a hole in the bottom so that a light can be used but I suspect that the light was not actually supplied. The Comicscope had slots on the side through which a comic strip could be inserted. The slot is a little under 3.25 inches high, just enough room for one panel row from a comic book. Forget about splashes or covers. The “screen them in any size” of the ad refers to the projected image, not the source material. Even the size of the projection is misleading. The projected image is not very bright, the Comicscope could only be used in a very dark room. The image size is adjusted by the distance of the Comicscope from the “screen”. The lens tube is moved in or out to achieve proper focus. However the larger the projected image the lower the relative brightness. No matter how dark the room, light leakage from the Comicscope itself would make larger projections difficult to see. To make it even worse, the device reverses the image. In order to get the correct vertical orientation you have to slide the comic strip in upside down. But that fixes what side is up, but not what is left or right. All text comes out backwards. But you would have a hard time reading text anyway. Only a circular image is projected and that covers only part of a standard size comic book panel.

I doubt that anyone would get away with selling such a product today, despite the cheap cost. I say that not only because of the poor quality of the final projection but because of the safety hazard. It would seem to me that putting a light bulb in a closely confining cardboard box is a receipt for a fire. The material is rather denser then typical cardboard but I have got to believe it is still flammable.

Comicscope with cartoon characters

Comicscopes seem to come up for sale from time to time. Most that I have seen are plain like the the first photograph I provided. But there are some with printed cartoon characters on the side. They are all cartoon type and funny animals. None are superheroes like shown in the advertisements from the early 40’s.

So who made this wonder? Well the box has on it Remington Morse (“American Made, Quality Products”). It provides no address but says New York and Chicago. The flap provides the further information that Remington Morse was a division of Hamilton Ross Industries. A quick google search for Remington Morse does not provide much. There was a Remington Morse in Chicago that made some 78 records. As for Hamilton Ross Industries I have come across references to toy sewing machines and a real electric hand grinder.

The original ad states that the Comicscope has been registered and is patent pending. The earliest ad I have seen is May 1940, but that may not mean much since I have limited access to early Fox Comics. I have seen an August 1939 issue of Wonderworld #4 which does not advertise Comicscope. We will see below that the date of the introductory of the Comicscope is important so I would greatly appreciate it if anyone could tell me about the appearance, or lack thereof, of Comicscope in Fox Comics before May 1940. The Comicscope I first illustrated does have a patent, No. 2,301,114. Through the marvels of the Internet you can actually see this patent.

But the image provided is somewhat small so you may need a large monitor to read it. The patent was filed March 20, 1940 and actually issued on November 3, 1942. Comic cover dates are advanced two months so the ad I showed above came out about the same time as the patent filing. So it may in fact be the earliest ad for Comicscope. The patent says that Victor S. Fox (New York) and Robert W. Farrell (Bronx) are the assignors and “by mesne assignments, to said Farrell”. Don’t you just love lawyerese? Such an elegantly incomprehensible language! I think what they are saying is that Fox and Farrell took out the patent but that Farrell was going to be the one that actually used the patent and have it manufactured.

Victor S. Fox was from England and previously had been a stockbroker. He was indicted for mail fraud and related activities on November 27, 1929. The outcome of this is not known. In a story that is now a legend, Fox was an accountant for the company that became DC Comics. Seeing how well Action Comics was doing, Victor launched his own company which, with his usual immodesty, he named Fox Comics. Gerard Jones in “Men of Tomorrow” says that this legend is actually false. After all these years who can say one way or the other what is legend or history? We can say say with more confidence that Victor went to Eisner & Iger studio and asked them to create another Superman. They developed Wonderman and DC Comics quickly sued. Eisner & Iger refused to take the blame so Fox started his own bullpen and hired Joe Simon as editor. Joe only stayed about three months before moving on to Timely. A move that Joe says was not taken kindly by Fox. I previously posted on the connection of Comicscope to the early copying of Captain Freedom from Captain America. The use of Captain America in an ad for the Comicscope was surely meant to be parting shot at Joe by Fox and Farrell. With Captain America’s great success, Timely probably would not allow Cap’s continued use in these ads.

Less is known about Robert Farrell. Joe Simon has described him as Victor Fox’s right hand man. Bob ran the operation when Victor was out of the office. According to Joe in his book “The Comic Book Makers” the Comicscope was Bob Farrell’s product but never made a profit. However an Comicscope ad from 1942 declares that 63,458 had been sold. That is a lot of Comicscopes to have been sold without a profit, and I believe they continued to be sold into the 50’s. Surely the makers of such a fine product would not exaggerate about the sales!

Comicscope 3D diagram from the patent.

The patent for Comicscope includes the above diagram. The electric bulb provides the light for the comic strip which the lens projects. The reason for the low light level of the projected image is that the light source shines onto, not through, the source image. The hole in the bottom of the box for the light is just big enough for the neck of a standard bulb. Further the box is just wide enough for the that bulb. The bulb had to be screwed into the socket from within the box.

Comicscope plane view (before folding) from the patent

The patent statement starts off describing the construction of the box from a single flat blank of cardboard or sheet metal. Actually I believe the use of sheet metal would be unrealistic as the metal would become too hot from the lamp. The patent says the box would be easily constructed, “can be readily assembled by children”. However it appears the Comicscope was always sold assembled and never flat.

Comicscope plane view (before folding) as actually manufactured by Remington Morse.

The original patent shows some unusual features. In the figure 42c and 42d denote slots cut into the top. When the box was folded up the set of slots from the two flaps were meant to line up to provide a way for heat to be exhausted. But actually it would be hard to keep the manufacturing of the box accurate enough to line up the slots properly in order to accomplish their purpose. Even if they did succeed to align, the slots would not only let out heat but also light from the bulb immediately below. Because the projected image is so dim, this light leakage would be very undesirable. These slots were eliminated in all the Comicscopes that I have seen. A similar problem appears for the holes 16a, 16b and 16c. After folding these holes are meant to line up well enough for inserting the neck of the light bulb. But such alignment of three parts seems unlikely and in the final product two of the flaps are greatly shortened so only a single hole is use.

The lens assembly is made by placing the lens into a cardboard tube. Two further cardboard tubes are just smaller then the first so as to fit very snuggly inside. These two smaller tubes are inserted from both sides thereby holding the lens in place.

Halfway through the second page of the design there is the statement: “Having thus describe our invention, what we claim and desire to secure by Letters Patent is:”. Five detailed paragraphs follow that seem to repeat the same statement in slightly different forms. I am not a lawyer but I suspect they wanted to insure that it was not just the exact design they wanted patented. Remember that the actually manufactured Comicscope did not follow the patent exactly. What seemed more important to Fox and Farrell was having an optical projector that used an opaque image lighted by a light bulb. That there would be slots in the side for inserting and moving the source image. They seemed concerned about protecting the use of the device.

Junior's Television
Junior’s Television

Above is an image of device that seems much rarer then the Comicscope. But when you look at the top box and the lens assembly there can be no doubt that there is a close relationship between Junior’s Television and the Comicscope. Mike Schultz provides a webpage on Junior’s Television. On the box there is an address which does not include a postal zone code and to Mike suggests a date before 1943. Postal zone codes were used in the US between 1943 and 1963 after which zip codes were used. Mike further goes on to guess that a date of about 1939-40 “to capitalize on the publicity that TV generated at the New York’s World Fair”. But with the lack of firm evidence all that can be said for certain is that it appears two practically identical devices both came out in the early 40’s.

There is a web page in Tomorrow’s Heroes that shows a comic book ad for Junior’s Television. The image is a bit fuzzy by it includes two addresses. One seems to be the same address as on Mike Shultz’s box, only this time using a different name (Enterprises Unlimited) and with the postal zone code. Besides the box and stand of the image above the ad says it comes with a carrying case, a television screen, an electric cord and a light socket. Much more then it would seem is provided by Comicscope, but for a heftier price tag of $2.98. Again it is fuzzy, but the ad appears to indicate that the patent is pending while the box itself only says trade marked. The trade mark protects on the name Junior’s Television and not the device. If Enterprises Unlimited had approval to use Fox and Farrell’s patent it would say so.

So we have Comicscope and Junior’s Television coming out at about the same time. Obviously one is copying the other. I doubt very much that either Fox or Farrell actually did the Comicscope design themselves. But that does not mean they copied Junior’s Television. They could have come up with the idea and had one of their artists draw up the plans. I have got to say that Junior’s TV seems like a well thought out assembly while Comicscope is just the essential box and lens. But we need better dating for both devices before we can guess who stole from who.

Speed #18 (May 1942)

A damsel in distress. A fiend finishing off a gravestone just before performing the final act. But have no fear, it’s Captain America to the rescue. But wait, where’s Bucky? But wait again, that’s not Captain America! Captain Freedom was Speed Comics’ patriotic hero. In the hands of Jack Kirby, Captain Freedom would look even more like Captain America then he already had. It must have brought some satisfaction to Simon and Kirby that they could still show how Cap should be done.

Speed Comics #18

Captain Freedom first appeared in Speed #13 with a cover date of May 1941. This was before Al Harvey was publisher for Speed. According to Joe Simon, Irving Manheimer (president of Publisher Distributing) did the publishing of Speed Comics then. The distributors loved comics at that time. Captain Freedom was created by Franklin Flagg, do you think that could be a pseudonym? Once Captain America become a big seller, copy-cat patriotic heroes became abundant. But even so, Captain Freedom seems particularly close in design to Captain America. Similar placement of red and white stripes, a circle of stars replaces a single star on the chest, and shoulder pads replace mail armor. The “skull cap” is similar particularly to the Cap in Captain America #1. And of course the rank of Captain is shared by both.

Speed Comics #13

What makes the similarity surprising is the Captain America #1 was cover dated March while Speed #13 is dated May. According to Joe Simon, comics typically took about a month to create, a month to print, and another month to distribute. But that would put the creation of Speed #13 to at best a month before Captain America #1. So we seem to have a case of an obvious copy-cat patriotic hero created before the original hit the new stands. How was that possible? I think part of the answer lies in a adverisement on the back cover of Speed #13.

Speed Comics #13

If you missed it, below is a close up of the comicscope. On the sides is a clear depiction of Captain America and Bucky. If maybe a little hard to notice because it is behind a star, but Cap carries his triangular shield. Further Cap is wearing his original “skull cap”, with his neck bare. Interestingly, Cap and Bucky are mistakenly depicted as wearing shorts, just like Captain Freedom. A similar ad, without Cap, was on the back of Speed #12. Cap and Bucky were crudely pasted over the original ad’s art, parts of which are still visible around the edges. With the placement of this ad in the same issue, and presumably with an explanation of who the hero was, Manheimer had advance notice of Captain America. He therefore could respond with the creation of their own patriotic hero.

Speed Comics #13

But having answered what source Manheimer used to launch Captain Freedom, we now have to wonder how the comicscope ad could have known about Simon & Kirby’s creation? Comicsope was the invention of Bob Farrell, who was Victor Fox’s right hand man. According to Joe, Farrell got free advertisement for comicscope in Fox comics. That is Fox’s Samson that is being projected on the wall in the ad from the Speed #13. But according to Joe, he never saw Bob Farrell for a number of years once he (Joe) left Fox Publications. So how Bob Farrell got to see Simon & Kirby’s new creation before it was published remains a mystery.

This Speed #18 cover was primarily penciled by Jack Kirby.