Blog: Commentary from the den of a pulp super-fan

From comic strips to pulps

Posted by at 10:00 am Friday, February 10, 2017 in Comics, Hero Pulps
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

From comic strips to pulps

'Dan Dunn Detective Magazine' (September 1936)Several pulp heroes made the transition to comic books (and one case comic strips). A few comic book characters became pulp heroes. And very few comic strip characters did the same. Strangely, the three that did were done by the same company.

In late 1936, CJH Publications put out a trio of short-lived pulp magazines using popular comic strip characters: Dan Dunn, Flash Gordon, and Tailspin Tommy. Not much is known of this short-lived company that lasted about a year, other than the “H” in the company name was for Harold Hersey, founder of Ace Magazines, who at the time was doing a variety of new publishing efforts after selling Ace off several years prior.

Interestingly, these pulps were not like your typical pulps. The cover artwork was more comic book/strip line art than the painted covers we would expect, and, from descriptions, were saddle stitched. Each issue came out in short succession, and it’s unclear what killed the line. Poor sales? One article claimed the rights to one of the characters weren’t properly secured, which sounds kind of sloppy but happens. But as the three characters used were from different syndicates, that hopefully wouldn’t kill the whole effort. Sadly, I was only able to get access to reprints of a couple of the original stories.

Overall, the scheduling was:

  • Dan Dunn #1, September 1936
  • Tailspin Tommy #1, October 1936
  • Dan Dunn #2, November 1936
  • Flash Gordon #1, December 1936
  • Tailspin Tommy #2, January 1937

Dan Dunn

Dan Dunn was one of several imitators of Dick Tracy, with a bit of a checkered career. Frankly I had never heard of him until recently when IDW’s Library of American Comics, which has been reprinted several great adventure series like Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Tim Tyler’s Luck and others announced a reprint of the Dan Dunn’s daily strips from 1933.

In looking into it, I learned the strip was created by Harold Marsh and first appeared in a 1933 proto comic that only lasted one issue before starting as a daily strip later that year. He was billed as “Detective Dan, Operator #48,” later Dan Dunn, Secret Operator #48. He was really more of a secret agent than detective, but the stories and art were more similar to Dick Tracy. Marsh did the series until leaving it in 1942.  While the strip seems imitative of Tracy, from what I gather it was original in its own ways.

The character was popular enough that he got seven Big Little Books (one had him go after a character named “Wu Fang“!) and later a radio show in addition to the pulp magazine.

The pulp magazine had two Dan Dunn stories. The first issue had “Death Before Midnight” by James Calvert Jr. “Fight or Die” appeared in the second issue.

'Tailspin Tommy Air Adventure Magazine' (October 1936)

Tailspin Tommy

The first aviation adventure comic strip, Tailspin Tommy started in 1928 and lasted until 1942. It was followed by Skyroads, Scorchy Smith and Flyin’ Jenny, and many more after that. The strip focused on youth aviation enthusiast Tommy Tomkins who soon become a pilot and had lots of adventures.

Tommy wound up getting a couple of movie serials, some short movie features, several Big Little Books, reprints in comic books, and even an original novel.  So fairly popular in his days.

The pulp magazine had two Tailspin Tommy stories. The first one had “On Wings of Disaster” by Arnold Evan Ewart, and the second one had “Doomed in the Air” (though the first issue promised “The Secret of the Scarlet Squadron”).

'Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine' (December 1936)

Flash Gordon

Do I really have to explain Flash Gordon? Probably one of the best-known science fiction adventure comic strip, followed closely by Buck Rogers. With the Earth threatened by the approach of the rogue planet Mongo, professor Hans Zarkoff blasts off in his rocketship with Flash Gordan and Dale Arden, where they have wild adventures on Mongo fighting off Ming the Merciless and the various menaces they find there and elsewhere. Created by Alex Raymond and later taken over by others including Mac Raboy.

Flash spawned movies series, movies, TV series, comic books, etc., etc.

The one pulp magazine gives us the original (well, based on the strip) “The Master of Mars” by James Edison Northford. “The Sun Men of Saturn” was promised for the next issue.

If you want to read these stories and can’t find the originals, you have some options. All five have stories have been reprinted by various publishers. Best chance is that Adventure House has reprinted the first Tailspin Tommy issues as a pulp facsimile. Tom Johnson‘s Action Adventure Stories reprinted the first Tailspin Tommy story (#68) and Dan Dunn (#74), which may still be found. Maybe Adventure House will do pulp facsimiles of the second Tommy issue and the two Dan Dunn issues. Flash Gordon is just too high profile to do that without permission.