Sunday, May 16, 2010

Number 737

The old-timer

When it comes to the history of comic books and men who began their careers when comic books were first published, you can't find anyone more historic than Sheldon Mayer. He was not only with comic books when they were born, but when they were embryonic. Before he went to work for Max Gaines at All-American Comics as an editor/cartoonist, Mayer, who was barely 18 in 1935, was working as a production assistant to Gaines, cutting and pasting up comic strip original art into comic book format.

Mayer's career is recounted in The Amazing World of DC Comics #5, published in 1975 when Shelly was still working for DC, albeit on a mostly part-time basis. He had trouble with his eyes and gave up cartooning for a time. The examples of original art shown here, culled from Heritage Auctions, are of strips done after the operation to remove his cataracts.

The Sugar and Spike story, from The Best of DC #41, is from 1983.

There's a story to the autographed digest comic you see at the top of this posting. I found it a few years ago in a thrift store. I always pick up and look at comic books in thrift stores and when I saw the autograph I...well, you've heard the expression, "clutched it to my bosom." I held it in a death grip until I paid the 50¢ they wanted for it and was out the door. I still puzzle over why it was there, who "Steven" is, or why he let this go. It has a good home with me, though, and I'm glad I was the one who got it. Whatever collecting gods there are made sure I was in that junky store on that day, at that time, and that I, of all people, was the one who found it.

The original art featured in this post is taken from Heritage Auctions web site.

Sheldon Mayer, cartoonist, editor, writer, and one of the most important men in the early history of American comic books, died in 1991, aged 74.

There's another great story by Shelly Mayer in Pappy's #664.


Gabriel said...

Pappy! You made my day!! I'm a devoted fan of Mayer, so thanks so much for this esceptional post.

Mykal Banta said...

Pappy: What a nice piece of comic book history. To say they don't make them like Mayer anymore is an understatement. The kids today speak of Frank Miller's work as if dipping way back in the archives of comic pre-history. It's so nice to see an appreciation for a true master.

I love when Toth, writing about the lessons learned from Mayer (simple, direct story-telling), says: "Today, comic strip and books offer an infinite number of muddled mazes for our eyes to travel, panel to panel, page to page, overprinted with ill chosen color to further outrage the eyes' ability to perceive the "story" buried within!"

And that was written in, what, 1975? Every now and then I can't resist. I buy a current comic book. Zero storytelling. Just ugly, stupid splash. Ah, come back to us, oh, spirit of Mayer!

Jeff Overturf said...

Thanks for this! As a kid my mother would never go for letting me "send away for a funny book" so I would drool over the omnipresent ads for "Amazing World of DC Comics". I've coveted this particular issue for 30+ years!

Pappy said...

I appreciate your comments, guys; it makes me think I'm on the right track when I get away from the usual material I show.

I think Sheldon Mayer was lucky to have the talent he had at a very young age, but he also had a lot of great precedents to follow. The popular cartoonists of that pre-war era were some of the best this country has ever seen, and they were widely available in daily and Sunday newspapers. Shelly learned from a master class, conducted every morning over a cup of coffee and bowl of corn flakes!

Gabriel said...

I searched Plop! series and Sheldon Mayer's story doesn't appear in none of the 24 issues. The series just contains a little collaboration with Alfred P. Alcalá on pencils: it's a wordless two page gag story for #1. I thought it could be of interest to you!

Cyn said...

Wow, what a great coincidence! I bought the Sugar and Spike Blue Ribbon Digests from eBay just a few weeks ago, and have been scouring the WWW for more information. Thanks SO much for all the story scans! I read S&S in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it's been amazing to read the reprinted stories in the Digests. I start reading, and all the memories come back. The "new" stories in the Digests hold up well, too. What a talent Mayer had.