Fiction House began producing pulp magazines in the early 1920s, branching out into comics in the late ‘30s. Their publisher, John Glenister, was a colourful character worthy of a pulp adventure novel or three himself. A champion athlete, boxer, and swimmer, and a fiercely vocal opponent of Prohibition (a law which made alcohol illegal throughout the 1920s and boosted criminality across the board), Glenister was not the sort of man to have anything to do with the nerds and gangsters who created the early comics; super-hero fantasies were not of much interest to a man who had jumped into the Niagara Falls Rapids for the thrill and fame of it and survived.
By the time he was middle-aged he had a family to feed and was an executive at a publishing company, when—with a colleague—he launched his series of successful cheap but classy adventure magazines. Persuaded by comics packagers Will Eisner and Jerry Iger to launch a line of comic books as the ’40s beckoned, Fiction, now run by Glenister’s son-in-law, Thurman Scott, launched six titles, some based on their popular pulp magazine brands—Jumbo Comics, Jungle Comics, Planet Comics, Wings, Fight, and Rangers. Once successful, Fiction started employing their own writers and artists to supplement the Eisner/Iger material and expanded their line to include other titles, although the Big Six reigned supreme, so promoted as such to create crossover interest between readers of specific genres.
Their most popular and enduring character was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, who premiered in Jumbo Comics in the late ’30s (nothing to do with elephants, it was large format for reasons too tedious to go into); their most impressive creation was perhaps Planet Comics, a generic pulp SF title with classically pulpish content along the lines of Burroughs and Buck Rogers, and wonderful covers. Aimed at a slightly older readership than super-hero and funny animal books (although they dabbled in both), Fiction became known for their strong, beautiful, powerful, and alluring cover girls. Unapologetically aimed at appreciative males, feminist cartoonist Trina Robbins noted in her 1996 book The Great Women Super-Heroes, “most of their pulp-style action stories either starred or featured strong, beautiful, competent heroines. They were war nurses, aviatrixes, girl detectives, counterspies, and animal skin-clad jungle queens, and they were in command. Guns blazing, daggers unsheathed, sword in hand, they leaped across the pages, ready to take on any villain. And they did not need rescuing”.
While no-one pretends that these women were anything more than thoroughly enjoyable and welcome male sex fantasies designed and drawn to sell comics and magazines (most female readers of the ‘50s still preferred soppy romances), they were not busty space-bimbos or damsels in distress, and the company also employed a fair number of female staff members in a variety of roles throughout the entire creative process, either directly or indirectly through Iger and his partner Ruth Roche—doing everything from the most important work to the most basic: editing, writing, drawing, inking, book-keeping, paste-up, and lettering. Publisher Craig Yoe, pandering to contemporary social engineers as he did in his Jungle Girls collection, makes much of this commendable facet of Fiction House, relegating the male staffers to afterthoughts and also-rans in a separate section, rather than considering the contributors as a whole.
Forced into semi-retirement by ill-health in 1940, Scott supervised covers and content from Florida, while promoting staffers John Byrne and Malcolm Reiss to oversee production in New York (coincidentally, Byrne’s sister Olive was one third of the curious menage-a-trois presided over by William Marston, creator of DC’s Wonder Woman). One of the many victims of the persecution of comics in the early ’50s by misguided and grandstanding politicians, Fiction closed shop in 1954, although it remained in business for another ten years to sell rights and reprints (Sheena became a TV star). They had become a target not for horror or violent content, but for the uncomfortable sexual stirrings their artwork created in the butt-clenched groins of what Glenister, in his campaigning years, referred to as “blue-nosed Johnnies and long-faced Annies”, those sorts who spend their lives trying not to live them and to spreading their misery around to the rest of us. Sadly, this vociferous defender of life’s pleasures was no longer around to give the Senate Committee a piece of his mind.
Well, this far-from-blue-nosed Jonny brought this impressive and beautifully produced selection from the Big Six on the strength of the Jungle Girls collection from the same producer (I have a number of relaxing vintage reads from Yoe Publishing in my bookcases), and once again have enjoyed admiring the stunning covers and smiling at the somewhat cruder interiors. There is a section devoted to each of the main six titles, and like Edifumetto, Italy’s racier counterpart in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Fiction put much more effort into their covers than interiors, knowing full well that the cover sold the contents. Although the art is good to look at (and yes, many pages are dominated by the perfect lines of the female characters), the stories are mostly badly written, unclear drivel with inept and peculiar dialogue (sci-fi historians will be intrigued by the way in which the aliens talk in Planet’s Lost World strip, clearly yet another source of ‘inspiration’ for Star Wars). Despite the occasional flash of originality, one once again marvels, if you’ll pardon the pun, at the massive jump in quality that hit comics in both script and art around the early to mid-’60s, led by, but certainly not limited to, Lee and Kirby/Lee and Ditko.
So this is very basic, corny and primitive stuff, but hugely enjoyable on its own terms. However, the reader must respect and understand the time period, perhaps even learn from the values and attitudes of the era, not all of them as distasteful and wrong as implied in the editorial text, which is by and large agreeable and well-written. There is a potent whiff of contemporary prejudice and virtue signalling in the IPW books which is particularly hypocritical given the nature of their business in repackaging the past, and I should imagine it doesn’t sit well with the audience or the content, although it shouldn’t be found embarrassing or offensive enough to deter prospective purchasers. What Fiction produced and achieved for the time deserves to be remembered, respected, and revered, and there is no need to over-egg the pudding for modern audiences.
Added to the mix is a mini-tribute to the cover artist Joe Doolin, a serious talent I was unfamiliar with. Accompanying his finished covers are the often superior pencil roughs he produced, a delight to look at in their own right. There were many fine cover artists working for Fiction, and almost all the company’s covers for both their pulps and their comics were superb, and always stand out in the various collections of vintage covers that are currently available.
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About the Author
Craig Yoe is an author, editor, art director, graphic designer, cartoonist and comics historian, best known for his Yoe! Studio creations and his line of Yoe! Books. In 2016 Yoe won the Eisner Award forBest Archival Collection/Project. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.
- File size : 507662 KB
- Publisher : IDW (8 November 2017)
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- Print length : 297 pages
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B01MY9NYGS
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The fascinating worlds of Fiction HouseReviewed in the United Kingdom on 8 May 2020
One person found this helpful
Very goodReviewed in the United Kingdom on 9 July 2019
Very decent history of Fiction House with many fine examples of comic reproductions throughout. I wish there had been more information about the writers and artists etc but still a very interesting book
thomas darren kirk
Great book, lots of good art work and great ...Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 21 December 2017
Great book,lots of good art work and great comic book covers,hope there will be similar books on Fawcett, Quality etc
One person found this helpful
Not your usual Comics History book!!!!Reviewed in the United States on 29 November 2017
From Roy Thomas's excellent intro (is anyone more fun to read when it comes to Golden Age comics than Roy Thomas?), to Hames Ware's forward, which gives us, among other things, a nice little historical perspective (I love history), to "The Secret Origins of Fiction House", where we learn, among other things, that "Bearcat" Glenister, the founder of Fiction House, was, besides being a shrewd businessman, quite a colorful character and very adventurous, to "All In Color For A Dime (Well, Almost, Anyway!) where we get an abridged history of pulps and comics- here's a quote- "A full 4 years before Superman, it was clear that there was money to be made by publishing comic books.". This chapter respects our intelligence (if you're buying this book you don't need a point-by-point history of the comics) and explains where the term "Pulp Fiction" came from, and also goes into some detail regarding the relationship between the Eisner & Eiger Shop and Fiction House, to "The Women Of Fiction House" (not Sheena, etc. but biographies and photos of the women artists!) this book is a treasure! Then there's a shorter chapter on the men artists, which is fine with me because most of them (Eisner, Elder, Feldstein, etc.) we already know pretty well. Another great thing about this book is, despite the massive information it provides, the text is fairly small, but very readable, which leaves more space for ILLUSTRATIONS. And, thank God, IDW and Craig Yoe are not squeamish about scantily-clad gals. There is a teeny-tiny bit of nudity in here, in a cover-rough or 2, and especially in a joke Planet Stories cover that Joseph Doolin did (in the Joseph Doolin monograph "extra book" section). Full page. Thank you, Craig Yoe and IDW. This "extra book" alone is worth the price of admission. And I didn't even get to the massive "The Big Six" section, which includes delightful descriptions of the big 6 Fiction House titles (Jumbo, Wings, Fight, Planet, Jungle and Rangers Comics). Not only this, it includes oversize reprints of entire stories as well as tons of very rare original art. An incredible tome. Thank you, Craig Yoe and IDW!!!!
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