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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Senator, The Director & The Comic Books: Kefauver, Hoover and the 1950 Anti-Comic Book Questionaire

Senator Estes Kefauver and FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover, had an interesting relationship over the years.  Files reveal a raft of correspondence between the two, almost all of it complimenting each other, however the relationship between Kefauver and Hoover got off to a rocky start.  In January, 1947, Hoover was offended enough by remarks made by Kefauver to raise them with the then US Attorney General Tom Clark.  Hoover took umbrage at a report issued by Kefauver in which the FBI were painted as novices and that the Truman administration was planning to cut funding to the FBI as a whole.  Hoover’s outrage was passed on to both Clark and also Kefauver directly, resulting in an instant apology from Kefauver in which he claimed ignorance to the remarks and deflected the blame onto his underlings.  “Certainly no one on the Committee, or connected with the committee wish to do you or the wonderful work of the F.B.I. an injustice,” Kefauver wrote to Hoover, “and I regret exceedingly if any injustices were done. The report you will notice is by the Staff to the Members of the sub-Committee.  It was not prepared by the sub-Committee.” This apology and even the deflection would have appealed to Hoover who forgave Kefauver, but never forgot the slight.

Files also reveal that Hoover wasn't that enamored of Kefauver in private, often complaining about Kefauver using Hoover’s image without permission and especially irate with Kefauver’s constant requests to the FBI for background checks and information, with Kefauver going as far as to request that the FBI provide the same kind of protection to him as the Secret Service did to the President – a request that was denied – and that his son be given use the FBI shooting range to ‘try out’ a pistol that he had been gifted as a Christmas present in 1962.  But, no matter what the FBI might have privately thought of Kefauver, it was always noted that Kefauver was on a first name basis with J Edgar Hoover and such a relationship came with a high degree of discretion and politeness.  The connection between Hoover and Kefauver had its advantages though.  In 1960 Kefauver was the subject of a smear campaign run by the Ku Klux Klan as he was running for re-election. The smear was that Kefauver was far too liberal to be effective as a Southern senator, that he had met black leaders in private and public and was sympathetic to communists and coloured people. The FBI investigated the smear campaign fully and was able to both identify the people behind it put a stop to it. Along the way they were able to thwart death threats and other accusations levied against Kefauver, which seems to be the usual practice for politicians worldwide.

Whatever Hoover and the FBI might have thought of Kefauver and vice-versa was irrelevant to the two major committees that Kefauver headed during his time in the Senate.  In his first, the Investigation into Organised Crime in 1951, which was famously televised, Kefauver did the FBI a major favour by turning the spotlight onto the Mafia and avoiding the tricky question as to why the FBI had never properly investigated their activities.  In 1954 Kefauver released remarks by Hoover (from 1951) in which Hoover praised the work that the Crime Committee were undertaking, commenting, rather disingenuously, that Kefauver’s committee had brought to light a part of crime in America that was previously hidden from view, and thus giving the impression that the FBI had been acting all along.

Despite the assurances of friendship towards Kefauver from Hoover, it didn’t stop the FBI from collecting information about Kefauver’s private life, all of which was passed onto an eager Hoover.  Kefauver’s files contained information about potential bribes and bumbling, along with his apparent interest in young women who were not his wife, the FBI gleefully passing onto Kefauver a letter from one Marion Horio who, in 1952, complained about the ‘fat headed’ Kefauver keeping ‘concubines’ and ‘B-Girls’. If the FBI had chosen to act upon this information in 1952, then history might have been forever altered in regards to the Senate Hearings into comic books in 1954, but, as noted, Kefauver had protection at the highest level and the senate investigation into juvenile delinquency was one that Hoover and the FBI gleefully leapt into with gusto.

In 1948 Hoover became aware of Kefauver’s interest in juvenile delinquency in January 1948 when he read Kefauver’s remarks in the Congressional Record. The comments so moved Hoover that he dashed off a quick note of praise, the results of which would see the FBI providing its resources to Kefauver and his Senate Committee.  In May, 1950, Kefauver visited Washington and attempted to meet Hoover with a view of obtaining information.  It wasn’t to be as Hoover was out of the office when Kefauver stopped by, resulting in a memo being dashed off to Hoover’s right hand man, Clyde Tolson.  The memo mentioned how Kefauver was keen to get his hands on speeches and articles by Hoover about the ‘evils of comics’ and general advice on how to screen people in his office.  Hoover later wrote on the memo, “Ok to send articles but I think we should avoid telling him how to run his investigation”.  In this way Hoover was able to keep his distance, while appearing to be assisting.

In August, 1950, Kefauver wrote to a number of Government agencies, professionals, academics and comic book publishers asking them to complete a questionnaire.  The answers to the questions – seven in total for non-comic related people and four for comic book related people – resulted in over seventy respondents.  The answers themselves took up 254 pages of a report tabled during the senate hearings, but this report was not made freely available to the public, thus the questions, and answers, have remained unseen but for a few people. Here, for the first time since 1950, are the questions and answers that were submitted both to and from the FBI.

The ten pages that the FBI sent back to Kefauver were quoted during the senate hearings as absolute proof that comic books corrupted the youth of the day.  This is despite the FBI pointing to other factors in the community at the time and the overall positive effects that non-crime and non-horror comic books could have on children. Education standards, religion, lack of parental guidance, poverty, lack of respect for law and authority and more were cited in the report, yet these were glossed over during the senate hearings.  One answer that was certainly overlooked and ignored was the FBIs response when asked for statistics to prove juvenile crime can be directly linked to comic books. “The FBI does not have statistical data regarding the number of crimes which can be traced directly to the reading of comic books.”  Either the FBI had no record, or there simply was no proof anywhere. The truth, as history as shown, was more the latter than the former. Still, this didn't dissuade Kefauver from his campaign to eliminate comic books from the face of America and, by proxy, the rest of the world.

Immediately after the senate hearings, in June, 1954, Kefauver made arrangements to appear on national television and in doing so managed to anger Hoover.  The FBI were contacted and informed that Kefauver planned to directly quote a 1951 letter from Hoover on the subject of juvenile delinquency, and as such the television station required a “good photograph” of the director.  The memo was passed on to Hoover who angrily wrote at the bottom, “I certainly don’t approve of this” and the matter was closed.  Kefauver made one more attempt to link his crusade on juvenile delinquency with Hoover, extending an invite in October 1957 for Hoover to appear on a proposed new television show about the subject.  This time the message got across, Hoover did not appear on television, had no desire to and it would be a waste of the producer to even approach the FBI.

Despite the often bizarre and inappropriate requests Hoover and Kefauver remained in close contact, exchanging books and letters.  1960 saw the major investigation into the smear campaign which would have brought the two men together yet again.  In their last noted exchange, Hoover wrote to Kefauver when the latter fell ill in May 1963 and was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Kefauver wasted no time in responding and when Kefauver passed away in August, 1963, Hoover instantly sent a telegram to his wife, expressing his deep sorrow at her loss.  Ironically the comic book industry that Kefauver had done so much to destroy in 1954 was starting to re-emerge with Marvel Comics beginning to establish its super hero universe and DC also following suit, ironically in the same month Kefauver died, linking their pre-Kefauver era with their post-Kefauver era with Justice League of America #21 with a cross-over between the Justice Society of America and the Justice League.  It was proof that the comic book industry could survive almost anything that was thrown at it.  It was hit by Kefauver, and the FBI, and hit hard, but the blow wasn't as fatal as first thought. People whose careers Kefauver had ruined with his crusade slowly started to find work in their chosen industry, some never returned, others thrived and became bigger and better than ever.

Kefauver would have hated what was published after his death. That alone is a worthy epitaph.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Praise For Newton Comics - The Rise & Fall

The long awaited full history of Newton Comics, the Australian publisher of the 1970s, has been out for a fortnight and the praise is rolling in. Here's some of the comments that have been received.

"​I loved this.  Just loved it.  Fascinating stuff." - Mark Waid (Eisner Award-winning American comic book writer)

"A pretty amazing story of Australia's history with Marvel and what people do for the love of comics. Great book that I think joins your others as a fine addition to the medium's history." - Michael Netzer (Artist/writer; Marvel Comics, DC Comics)

"I really enjoyed it. It rekindled a lot of memories for me. As a kid Newton was a "gateway" into Marvel Comics for me - as I suppose it was for many kids in the mid 70s. I had my wales adorned with their posters - had a couple of shirts with the dodgy iron-on transfers on them and I still kept all those comics." - Mark Ptolemy

"Thoroughly enjoyed, and highly recommend, Daniel Best's new book on the history of Australia’s Newton Comics. Melbourne based, Newton Comics burned brightly but briefly in the Australia of the mid-70s, introducing many Aussie kids of that era to the Marvel roster of superheroes for the first time. Certainly it was the first time kids like me got to read some of those classic early origin stories and art by the likes of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, even if it was only in black & white. Newton Comics also offered cool extras like pull-out posters, iron-on transfers, prizes and swap cards (to be placed in an album that seemingly no one who sent in their hard earned dollar for ever received)." - John Harrison (author, Hip Pocket Sleeze; Blood On The Windscreen)  You can read more of what John has to say about the book here.

"Author Daniel Best has written a comprehensive and exhaustive document in his well researched book, “Newton Comics - The Amazing Rise & Spectacular Fall.” Best tells the tale of Newton Comics, the 1970s outlet for Marvel Comics in Australia. Newton was a character worthy of an Ian Fleming series. That his comics empire crashed in less than a year is almost incidental. That he attempted it at all in the midst grave strife gives testimony to his mettle. All this, and profusely illustrated. Every cover. Full credits. A lost piece of Marvel history. Don’t miss this fascinating account."  - Alan Kupperberg (Artist/writer - Marvel Comics, DC Comics, National Lampoon)

Newton Comics: The Amazing Rise & Spectacular Fall, published by Blaq Books.  Features an introduction by noted Australian comic book historian Kevin Patrick and an afterword by long time Newton Comic collector and author Robert Thomas.

In this book you'll read how a maverick publisher, Maxwell Newton, was able to get the license to publish Marvel Comics by stealth in the 1970s. You'll read how the comic book line started, how successful it was and how it all fell apart with spectacular results.  This is a story that anyone who has an interest in comic books - especially Marvel Comics and publishing needs to read. It's a story that has never been told in it's entirety before, even people who were at Marvel at the time had no clue as to what was happening.

The book is in .pdf format, which can be viewed on your tablets, iPads and computers. It is 228 pages and is lavishly illustrated with over 250 images.  And it'll cost you a mere $5:00.

You can order the book via the PayPal link below.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Original Art Stories: Stolen Swamp Thing Art Alert

This message was posted on Facebook and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Steve Bissette
With SWAMPMEN out this week (from Jon B. Cooke, George Khoury, TwoMorrows, 2014), it's time to remind everyone in the community that the painted cover art to SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING #34 and the final page of that issue ("Rites of Spring") are STILL STOLEN PROPERTY. These belong to John Totleben and yours truly, Stephen Bissette—only they don't, because they were stolen right out of the DC Comics offices in 1984-85.  
These are STILL STOLEN PROPERTY. Anyone owning, trafficking, trading, or harboring this original art—SOTST #34 cover painting and the final story page—is involved (knowingly or unknowingly) in criminal activity. John and I also have children; mine are now adults. They are looking, too. Even after we're dead and gone, this will be sought-after STOLEN PROPERTY.  
This is not going to 'go away.'

It's disgusting to think that there'd be people within the comic art collecting community who would know exactly where those pages are and would do their best to justify their 'ownership'.  They'd be framed up and hanging on a wall somewhere, the 'owner' proudly showing them off to everyone who visits.  What the 'owner' wouldn't be telling people is that these pieces of art are stolen. They have been obtained, and probably sold on, by theft.  They are illegally owned and should be returned to their rightful owners immediately.

John Totleben also has pointed out that the cover art to Swamp Thing #32 also went 'missing' in the same batch of art, so that can also be considered stolen.

If you know who has these pieces of art then do the right thing and tell someone.  If it helps, email me and I'll pass on the information without telling anyone where it's come from. The goal is to get this art returned to Steve Bissette and John Totleben. This art has been in the wrong hands for far too long. There's far too much stolen art out there, time to start returning it to the rightful owners.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Death Of The Australian Comic Book Industry #1: 4,000,000 American Comics

There's been several theories on what killed the Australian comic book industry at the end of the 1950s. Some of them are very valid - publishers such as K.G. Murray, Horwitz and the Yaffa Syndicate clearly found it to be more economical to import material, and in some cases smuggle material into the country (that's a topic for a future post), and some theories no longer hold up under the glare of historical research - for example, Len Lawson did not single handedly kill the comic book industry.  Comics thrived after Len was convicted in 1954 and it was finished when he was convicted again in 1961.  So what helped kill the Australian comic book industry? 

The relaxation of import restrictions appears to have contributed more than anyone has ever acknowledged. As soon as the ban on importing was lifted towards the end of 1959 Lilliput Productions cut a deal with Woolworths, a major retail shopping chain, to sell American comic books. Lilliput would import the comics and Woolies would sell them for a discounted price, comparable to Australian comics.  But where the Australian comics were, for the most part, black and white and published on newsprint, the American comics would be colour, glossy and look more exciting.  Once the deal was sealed all that was needed were the comics. 

Lilliput duly secured approximately 4,000,000 backdated comic books from America and began the process of shipping them over. To give it some perspective, the population of Australia in 1959 was a mere 10,056,479, thus this was a major flood of product which had the potential to hurt the local market. And hurt it it did. As soon as the details of the shipment became known in November, 1959, complaints were officially made to the Federal Government by K.G. Murray, Australian Consolidated Press (owned by the Packer family), Gordon & Gotch (distributors) and the Newsagents Association.  The complaints were that the importing and dumping of so much stock would adversely affect Murray and ACP's own publishing of the same product, and would cause unfair competition for the newsagents and Gordon & Gotch. The import price on American comics had been set at 5 1/2 cents (American) and there was nothing illegal in what was happening. 

Customs listened to all parties but ultimately decided in December, 1960, that no compliant had been successful. They then placed a nominal value of four American cents per comic as import, which meant that the comics, which by that stage, were in dock in Sydney, could be imported and legally sold. They were then put out on sale, cheaper than Australian products, at supermarkets and other outlets. The local industry took decades to recover from that blow.

NEXT: How the Yaffa Syndicate and K.G. Murray resorted to smuggling art...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Newton Comics - The Rise & Fall: eBook Available Now

Finally it's here.  The long awaited full history of Newton Comics, the Australian publisher of the 1970s, complete with scans of every single comic that was issued and a plethora of rarely seen collectibles, most of which have never been seen since they were published, and a host of previously unseen and unearthed documents. Features an introduction by noted Australian comic book historian Kevin Patrick and an afterword by long time Newton Comic collector and author Robert Thomas.

In this book you'll read how a maverick publisher, Maxwell Newton, was able to get the license to publish Marvel Comics by stealth in the 1970s. You'll read how the comic book line started, how successful it was and how it all fell apart with spectacular results.  This is a story that anyone who has an interest in comic books - especially Marvel Comics and publishing needs to read. It's a story that has never been told in it's entirety before, even people who were at Marvel at the time had no clue as to what was happening.

The book is in .pdf format, which can be viewed on your tablets, iPads and computers. It is 228 pages and is lavishly illustrated with over 250 images.  And it'll cost you a mere $5:00.

You can order the book via the PayPal link below.

Here's a sample of what you can expect to see...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Norm Breyfogle Stroke Fund - Donate Now

 As people who read this blog would be aware by now, my good friend and legendary Batman artist Norm Breyfogle suffered a stroke last week.  As he lives in America his medical costs are through the roof.  Right now all his life savings are being pumped into making sure he recovers fully, but it's not enough - more is needed.

Norm's brother, Kevin, has set up a page to raise funds for Norm's on-going rehabilitation.  If you've ever read a comic, or like art then go and donate.  If you're an artist then grab some art, throw it onto eBay or elsewhere, sell it and donate the proceeds to Norm.  And you should do this.  I've known Norm for over ten years now and I know for a fact that each and every time he's been asked to donate for a fundraiser for an artist, a writer or anyone really, he's been there.  He's given art freely, he's drawn sketches, offered commissions and donated valuable pages in order to help his fellow human beings.  He's given a lot of himself and now it's time to show him some love and pay him back.  So, go and donate because he would help you if you asked.

Every little bit will help. Every cent donated will go to help Norm make a full recovery and get back to doing what he does best - drawing!

You can find the page here:

Thursday, December 04, 2014

How DC Comics Sold Alan Moore In 1980 - The Swamp-Thing Movie Contract

People often ask, how is that DC Comics can license characters such as Constantine without worrying about crediting or even paying the creators? How is that the second Swamp Thing movie was made, using concepts and, in some scenes, entire dialogue lifted directly from the Alan Moore/Steve Bissette/John Totleben run without fear of retribution? 

Well, here is your answer. This is the rarely seen contract that DC Comics signed with Swampfilms Inc in October 1980. Swampfilms Inc was one of those faux Hollywood companies set up with the sole purpose to register a copyright, obtain rights and make a movie. Its VP was none other than Michael Uslan, who also managed to get the rights to Batman for every Batman film from the Tim Burton reboot to The Dark Knight Rises, and the forthcoming Batman v Superman. As an aside, Uslan, whose name appears on films generally before, and with far more prominence than the creators of the works he produces, is a very, very rich man due to his business savvy and his ability to obtain the rights to classic DC Comics characters for next to nothing. He now ‘Executive Produces’, which means he controls the film copyright, meaning he sits back, allows the movie to be made and cashes in. In the case of Swamp Thing, for a small consideration, DC Comics signed away not only the past works and characters, but all (then) future works and characters that would appear in the comic, Swamp Thing. 

This means that when Alan Moore and Co came onto the scene, years later, they had no idea that whatever they would do was already, for all intents and purposes, sold. They had zero right of recourse, other than to leave the book, but then who was ever going to tell them. Thus when they created Constantine, he was already spoken for. All Swampfilms Inc and Uslan had to do was continue renewing the rights, as per the contract, and they’d own anything and everything created. And nobody would ever have to credit them in the adaptations, although, by all accounts, the creators do get paid for having their work strip-mined. However no matter what the amount, what the creators get paid is a fraction of what the producers, such as Michael Uslan, realise from the same projects. 

As Alan Moore himself commented in the excellent booklet, Alan Moore’s Exit Interview (Bill Baker), “Now, ever since I started to do work that attracted interest from the film industry, which was pretty close to the beginning of my career, actually, I had taken a rather dim view of it. Possibly because my first exposure to having my work filmed was when they made the regrettable Return of the Swamp Thing which, due to the perhaps unwise contract that DC had signed with the producers of The Swamp Thing movie, back when DC were desperate to get any of their books filmed, the contract stated that the filmmakers were at liberty to take anything from The Swamp Thing title, from any point during the book's past or future. That was why the second Swamp Thing film featured ideas and lines of butchered dialogue that had been taken from my comparatively thoughtful comics, making them travesties of my work, basically, which I wasn't too happy about.” 

In the same booklet, Moore touches on the Keanu Reeves version of Constantine. “…as it turns out, the Constantine movie was made under that same open-ended deal that The Swamp Thing film had been made under. Constantine was a character that appeared in Swamp Thing, so, therefore, the filmmakers had got the right to make a movie of it, and use any of the materials they wanted.” 

(To be perfectly clear - the contract that follows is between DC Comics and Swampfilms Inc. It is not Alan Moore's DC Comics contract. This contract was drafted and executed years before Moore began working on the title)

And people wonder why Moore and Bissette have turned their backs on mainstream comic books. It’s one thing signing a contract for a work-for-hire deal; it’s another to enter into such an agreement not knowing that anything you create has been sold years before you walked into the deal.