Forgotten Masterpiece: ALL FUNNY COMICS #16

I only became aware of this story recently, and it has an aspect to it that may have been overlooked to some. So I’m going to feature it here. In the postwar era, the public’s taste in comic books shifted away from super heroes towards other genres. Notably, humor comics became quite popular, and like everybody else, DC jumped on the bandwagon, converting some of their existing titles (such as MORE FUN COMICS) into humor anthologies, and launching other new humor titles, like this one, the on-the-nose ALL FUNNY COMICS. (DC had a habit of liking titles with ALL in them at this time.) It featured a number of different short stories every issue. But hidden in teh very back of this issue, #16, is a very interesting little story.

It’s an entry in the PENNILESS PALMER series. Penniless had made his first appearance some years earlier in teh pages of STAR-SPANGLED COMICS #6, the creation of R. L. Ross. He was a down-on-his-luck private detective whose shtick was that he was almost never recompensed for his efforts. His secretary Bunny, whose father was wealthy, kept the lights on and the office open most of the time. It was a lightweight strip, but one that lasted for six years, occasionally even taking the cover slot on ALL FUNNY COMICS, where it had migrated.

Most of the Penniless Palmer stories are undistinguished. But this one is something a little bit special. The writer is unknown, but the artist was Thurston Harper, one of a few people who’d draw the strip over its long run. The story concerns Penniless and his buddies being hired by O. Howe Tragic, a comic book publisher who is being haunted and bedeviled by characters who have come to life out of the pages of his bound collection of comic books. The characters in question include Superman, Batman and Robin, the Vigilante (who was a bit more well-known at that moment, as he was then starring in a live action motion picture serial) and Green Arrow, as well as Tragic’s own character, the Pink Eyebrow.

So right off the bat, this is a rare instance of a story that features a number of different characters from throughout the DC line in a single adventure. Of course, the comic book heroes prove to be fakes, criminals who have been hired by a rival publisher, Taymer of Taymer Comics, to coerce Tragic to sell his business and characters to Taymer. Despite their typical bumbling manner, Penniless and his friends do get to the bottom of things, and prevent the sale of the assets. But of course, they are paid in old Pink Eyebrow comic books instead of cash, fulfilling the shtick of the series.

Here’s the element that adds some additional spice to this story. Shortly before this, DC/National Comics owner Harry Donenfeld had acquired the publishing firm and characters of Maxwell Gaines’ All-American Comics group. Donenfeld had been an investor in All-American Comics from the beginning, which is why the All-American books sported the DC logo most of the time, and why their characters shared space with the national heroes in the Justice Society of America. But in 1945, things grew uncordial between the two companies, reportedly due to friction between gaines and Donenfeld’s money-man Jack Liebowitz, who was likewise entangled in All-American’s business. For several months, All-American dropped the DC bullet, pulled the national characters out of ALL-STAR COMICS and the JSA, and operated as a completely separate entity.

But as the war was reaching its conclusion and the situation between the two companies grew more dire, Gaines eventually wound up selling his entire operation to Donenfeld and DC/National. The two companies were merged into a single entity, and National got not only Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and many other seminal characters, but also the services of All-American’s staff, which included editors such as Julie Schwartz. It is said that, following the merger, the All-American employees were treated like second class citizens for a time until they earned their stripes. So what this story really seems to be is a thinly-disguised complaint about the state of affairs, put together by somebody who may have preferred it when All-American Comics was its own entity rather than under Donenfeld and Liebowitz’s direct control. In that context, it’s a bit of a ballsier proposition–but hidden in the back pages of this random issue, it doesn’t seem as though it caused much of a stir.

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