‘Comics, Porn and the Mob’ – Superhero Comics’ Sordid History
I came across this fascinating article by Steve Duin (author of Comics: Between the Panels) on the historical mob involvement in pulps and comics publishing. It was all quite sordid and money-grubbing; I once read that the mob still had connections to the publishing side of superhero comics as recently as the 1970’s. Duin describes a WonderCon panel by Gerard Jones and Mark Evanier, the authors of Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and The Birth of the Comic Book:
Gerard Jones is telling tales of the various Mob-related folks who were involved in the comic-book distribution network back in the ’50s, and Evanier telling about the Senate subcommittee hearings of the same era. Evanier notes that one reason the Senate got intrigued with comics in those days was because the Mob controlled the magazine circulation business. “As early as 1910,” Jones adds, “there’s a relationship between publishing and organized crime. I think everyone knew the circulation business was Mobbed-up, at least in the major cities.”
Martin Goodman, of Timely and Marvel Comics fame, was publishing both girlie magazines and comic books in the late ’50s because, Evanier notes, “Naked women were where the money was.” Because the comics and magazines were published by the same company, they often arrived on the same truck, meaning they ended up adjacent to one another on the magazine racks.
Of course, if you’ve seen the great Golden Age covers from Fox and Fiction House, you know there was always a rather thin line between pornography and comics. Stan Lee, Goodman’s nephew and a notorious lightweight in the business until he sparked the Marvel Age of comics, put in some time on the men’s magazines before he hit paydirt with Spidey and the Fantastic Four Harvey Kurtzman, the singular genius at Mad magazine, ended up doing “Little Annie Fanny” for Hugh Hefner at Playboy.
Hugo Gernsback, who gave us science fiction as we know it, was the original employer of Martin Goodman, Jones notes. All these guys knew each other and came out of the same neighborhood. Gernsback also published sex magazines, not pornography but “let’s be enlightened about our body” magazines. They wanted to liberate us from our Victorian ideas.
Ever heard of Herbie Siegel? He led tours at DC and pasted the masthead on DC comic pages. No one could ever figure out how Herbie kept a job at DC for nigh on eternity, but the story Evanier and Jones have heard is that when the cops showed up one day to haul DC publisher/owner Harry Donenfeld off to jail for revealing a tad too much in one of those girlie magazines, Donenfeld promised ole’ Herbie that he’d have a job for life if he agreed to masquerade as Donenfeld and take the 90-day rap. Knowing the DC comics of that era, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few guys remained on staff for similar reasons.
Darn. I never knew that the guys who formed Charlton Comics met in prison.