Thoughts from a sickbed about comics genres

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Ben Casey Cover 04.preview Thoughts from a sickbed about comics genres
While looking for a comics cover for a sick alert, I realized that the heyday era of the doctor comic was definitely the early ’60s. Licensed comics were such a big deal then, especially for Dell/Western. They licensed just about anything. The BEN CASEY and Dr. KILDARE comics were based on popular TV shows of the time. Dr. KILDARE lasted about 9 issues, BEN CASEY 10, although it did spin off into a comic strip which was written and drawn by Neal Adams.

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Doctor comics were, as we mentioned part of a larger licensing boom, and their main appeal seems to have been the opportunity to publish large images of impossibly dreamy actors Vince Edwards and Richard Chamberlain.

Led by visionary publisher Helen Meyer, Dell licensed just about anything in the ’50s and ’60s. like Westerns and comedians, leading to such immortal comics moments as this:

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but lots of other stuff:

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DC was also open to a wide range of comedy titles:

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That even ran into the ’70s:

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Dell’s spurt of TV comics in the early ’60s was due to need more than anything else: Western moved their best comics licenses, including Disney to its own Gold Key line of comics. It seems that Meyers was flailing about for a successful formula…one which Dell never found, phasing out its comics to remain in the immensely lucrative paperback and magazine businesses which it then dominated.

Anyway, these explorations into non-nerd-friendly licenses are a relic of a time long before the direct sales market. While today licensed comics remain as popular as ever—with such staples as Godzilla and PLANET OF THE APES making yet new appearances—they are very genre reliant.

Which is to say, you aren’t very likely to see anyone publishing Grey’s Anatomy or House comics any time soon.

Even if the doctors are still dreamy.

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Of course none of them can compare to the dreamiest doctor of all times, Darkplace’s Dr. Lucien Sanchez:

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And the greatest comics doctor of them all, Tezuka’s Black Jack:

BlackJack Thoughts from a sickbed about comics genres

Please note, these notes are fever-induced, and if the late Don Markstein were still around, I’m sure he could actually explain what I’m talking about with knowledge instead of just funny covers. The short version, however, is that nerd culture for comics won out.

Comments

  1. It’s too bad there aren’t more genre comics. I’d love to be doing romantic comedies or slapstick of some sort. For now, I’ll just have to be glad I finally finished my collections of Bob Hope and Dobie Gillis.
    And for those looking for some good art, Alex Toth, Russ Manning, Steve Ditko, and more did some of those Dell TV tie-ins. Ditko on Hogan’s Heroes. Boggles the mind.
    And is that Karen Valentine on the Camp Runamuck cover? She’s not listed in it on IMDB, but that sure looks like her.

  2. I LOVE the idea of a medical comic equivalent of Gray’s Anatamoy / ER / Private Practice, et.

    I tried to make a medical drama comic soon after I starting publishing with Image Comics. CODE BLUE was my attempt… but it was poorly done and that type of book has to be nourished more than other quickly accepted genres.

    The medical-based comics nowadays are spliced-genres (horror & medicine, or superhero & medicine, or sci-fi & medicine).

    Still, one day I’d like to give my effort a renewed spin. I think it’s a genre that’s deserves a chance.

  3. Er… I meant, *Anatomy*.

    Likewise, I agree with Andrew. I’d like to do a rom-com. In fact, I have one already outlined. But I’m the type to write and draw my own works… thus, time for me is limited.

  4. ~chris says:

    I don’t remember Camp Runamuck (I was 3 years old when it aired), but based on imdb’s info I suspect that the cover girl is Nina Wayne, Carol Wayne’s younger sister.

  5. I actually did an interview with Dell’s last Editor in Chief, DJ Arneson

    http://www.collectortimes.com/2010_04/Clubhouse.html

    In the interview he mentioned they only took on a license if they thought it would make a good comic book. He also said there was never any oversight from the licencor either. They got the book, they did it. Dell stopped publishing comics after DJ left. Helen Mayer just never bothered to replace him. Towards the end he was working part time as an editor and part time as a freelance writer. A good number of the uncredited Dell books were written by him. Dark Shadows and The Monkee’s in particular were written by him.

  6. Nice one, Jamie!

  7. Back when the Warren Ellis forum was still around, I was ridiculed for stating that the industry needed more “quality” mainstream licensed comics.

    This was before Buffy and Dark Tower. But those should be just the tip of the iceberg. We need more, and they need to be done well.

    But it is easy to say it not being a publisher.

  8. Just to add a little more. For so long, the zeitgeist of the industry seemed to be that “art house” books, if given more exposure, would be the salvation of the industry. This was ridiculous (as proven by the failure of the “art house” books to save the industry when given exposure in the bookstores), although at the time I wrote my piece, that was the popular thought. “Art house” movies are great (also, so are “art house” comics), but, commercially, they don’t keep the movie industry afloat.

    We need a Hunger Games comic, and we need it a month ago.

    I still contend that “quality” licensed books properly marketed would do great things for our industry.

  9. Quality licensed digital comics, preferably advertised on the licensee website would be ideal.

  10. Torsten Adair says:

    Is that Mort Drucker on Dobbie Gillis?
    Early 60s, matches his style from MAD, even has the square word balloons!

    How many hits did the “Pushing Daisies” digital comics get when that show aired?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pushing_Daisies#Comics

  11. This has nothing to do with your actual thesis, but that BEN CASEY issue features a (terrible) story in which Dr. Casey has to confront a knife-wielding junkie looking to steal drugs from the hospital, with said Junkie clearly photo-referenced from shots of the not-yet-famous Sean Connery! I assume the artist had reference for some pre-Bond role… maybe that Tarzan movie in which he played the villain.

  12. I smiled as I read the comment “…Dell licensed just about anything in the ’50s and ’60s.” While it’s true we (I was Dell Comics editor through most of the 60’s) did license a lot of stuff, some questionable in hind-sight…but at the time they were justifiable acquisitions in that the TV and movie tie-ins we published were available without royalty or other licensing fee, i.e., titles with solid PR. They were seen as win/win deals in that the comics promoted the film/TV material while the film and tv exposure promoted the comics. This note by way of explanation, not apology. Thanks to all for your interest in the comics. DJ Arneson

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