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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #56

This is the fifty-sixth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous fifty-five.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The creator of Crime Does Not Pay went to jail for killing a woman

STATUS: True

In the early days of comic books, pretty much any idea was always close to being the next big “thing.” Lev Gleason Comics stumbled upon the next big thing when his editors Charlie Biro and Bob Wood came up with an idea – why not do a comic book about real-life criminals?

Gleason quickly allowed them to turn Silver Streak Comics (a standard superhero title) into Crime Does Not Pay with issue #22.

As you might have expected, the comic was a hit, and led to many imitators.

Years later, though, sales in the crime genre were slowing (as most fads are wont to do), and due to the strict new Comics Code installed by the comic publishers, the gore of the standard crime comics were toned down and in fact, even the word CRIME could not be bigger than the other words in the title!! So look at the title of the last issue of Crime Does Not Pay, #147, which limped into oblivion in 1955.

It is a real shame, too, that the comic folded, because soon after, in 1958, one of the creators of the comic himself was involved in a true crime story!

Comic writer/artist Bob Wood was always involved in the somewhat seedier side of New York City, with gambling debts constantly coming up. However, in summer of 1958 (years after the successful Crime franchise he helped created was over), Bob Wood was arrested for killing a woman in a drunken argument.

In his excellent book, The Comic Book Makers (pgs 167-68), Joe Simon describes the events, as laid out in the August 27, 1985 New York Daily News,

A cab driver had picked up Wood in the highly fashionable area of New York’s Grammercy Park, near the Irving Hotel. Grammercy Park was known as a bastion of primness where the rich and well-to-do lived among the Victorian archictecure and private gardens of a world shielded off from the rest of the city by tall iron fences.

The disheveled Wood rambled nerbously in the back of the cab, at one point telling the driver, “I’m in terrible troub;. I’m going to get a couple of hours sleep and jump in the river.”

“What happened? Did you kill somebody?” the driver asked, jokingly.

“Yes, I killed a woman who was giving me a bad time in Room 91 of the Irving Hotel. Why don’t you call someone at a newspaper and make yourself a few dollars?”

There are all kinds of characters in New York City and most cabbies get to meet their share. But Wood’s words, cut with urgent anxiety, seemed real, and after the cabbie dropped Wood at the Regina Residence Hotel in Greenwich Villege he drove the cab around the city streets until he found a police officer. The cabbie recounted Wood’s story to the officer who in turned reported the cabbie’s story to his superior at the East 22nd Street Station.

Police soon entered the Regina hotel where they questioned the manager. The manager told the police that the guy they were looking for had signed in under the name Roger Turner. The guy was shaking so much, said the manager, that he had to hold his hand to steady the pen on the registration card. The officers went upstairs. Wood was found on the bed, stripped to his shorts, the blood-stained suit rumpled on the floor. Wood’s clothes were so bloodied, police borrowed a pair of pants from the hotel manager to take Wood in for questioning.

At the same time as Wood was being taken into custody, another team of police had arrived at the Irving Hotel where they used a pass key to enter Room 91. Inside, they discovered empty whisky bottles and the woman’s battered body clad in a blood-splattered negligee.

Wood pled guilty to first degree manslaughter and served three years in prison. A year after his release, he was murdered by some former prison acquaintances over unpaid loans.

Pretty amazing, eh?

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jim Shooter and Dave Cockrum once shared an apartment.

STATUS: True

As seen from this earlier installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, Dave Cockrum was not exactly a big fan of Jim Shooter’s by the time Cockrum left his staff assignment at Marvel Comics.

Jim Shooter Dave Cockrum

Therefore, it is amazing to know that only a few years earlier, the two men shared an apartment!!

The interesting fact was discussed in a 2002 interview for TwoMorrow’s Legion Companion (Page 73)…

Q. True or False: you and Jim Shooter used to be roommates.

Dave Cockrum: Yes. True.

Q: I find that hard to believe.

Dave Cockrum: (laughs) So do I. My first wife and I broke up, and I had this nice three-bedroom apartment in Queens. Shooter was looking for an apartment, and I said, “Well, I’ve got one.” And he wound up moving in. We lived together for a year, and actually got along pretty good together, most of the time.

Some odd couple THAT was!

Thanks, again, to H from the awesome comic blog Comic Treadmill, for sending me this bit!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jack Kirby wrote comics under the pseudonym of Martin Burtsein during the 40s.

STATUS: False

In the early days of comics (and even later), the big money was in freelance work. However, freelance work was also very risky, so artists were reasonably worried about losing their salaried staff positions. So when they did freelance work, they often used pseudonyms. This is where the very name Jack Kirby originated.

The sheer amount of pseudonyms ended up with artists and writers who did not do a lot of work to be considered to be pseudonyms.

One such creator was Martin Burnstein, who folks thought was a Jack Kirby pseudonym for years (In his History of Comics, Jim Steranko even credited Burnstein as a Kirby pseudonym!).

Burnstein was, in fact, a friend of Joe Simon’s from growing up, who made contact with Simon in the early 40s and did some work for Timely (including a story in the comic below).

Burnstein went on to work in public relations and politics, working alongside the Republican Party as they attempted to woo the Jewish vote in the 60s. In fact, years later, Burnstein would return the favor from Simon giving him some work by hiring Simon to work on a number of comics for the Republican party!

Weird, eh?

(Info courtesy of the aforementioned awesome Joe Simon book, The Comic Book Makers).

Well, that’s it for this week, thanks for stopping by!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!!

15 Comments

Brian, Brian, Brian:

Crime comics were not a “fad.” Anything that lasts eight years is not a “fad,” and sales on the book weren’t slowed so much by dwindling reader interest, though of course by the mid-’50s there was dwindling reader interest across the board, as by the creation of the Comics Code, CRIME DOES NOT PAY being one of the things the Code was specifically instituted (basically by an alliance of Archie Comics, by then viewing itself as the bastion of all that’s right and decent in American comics, and DC Comics, which controlled much of comics distribution through IND distributors) to shut down. (EC Comics being the other, ironic considering the Code was originally Bill Gaines’ idea, which Archie and DC took and shut him out.) Superhero comics were, in fact, deader than San Fernando Valley orange groves by the time CRIME DOES NOT PAY shut its doors, and had the Comics Code not come along and comics survived anyway (which they almost certainly would have, since the heat on them was dwindling by that time as well), crime comics might well be the dominant force in the business today rather than superheroes. But we’ll never know for sure.

– Grant

Holy crap, that first story’s insane.

I have to second what Steven Grant says in the first post. Just because we look at comics today from a post-Marvel, superhero dominant perspective does not give us the right to dismiss non-superhero genres. Superheroes were the initial fad/catalyst that got comics going, but they barely lasted through the war with very few exceptions. War comics, western, romance, crime, funny animal, teen humor, horror, educational ala Classics Illustrated and Treasure Chest, all were significant genres for far, far longer than superheroes in their initial flurry. And they proved their worth as genres in a highly competitive market when almost all children and close to 50% of adults responded that they read comics at least sometimes. It was only well after the Code, the Wertham scandal, and the rise of TV hit comics with a whole sequence of knockout punches that comics went back to the two genres that they could still do more easily than TV or movies: Science Fiction/fantasy and superheroes. But the market for those genres has never been as strong as the other, more mainstream genres, and the continual sales decline for comics since the 50’s has only borne that out.

One Urban Legend I’d like to see verified/debunked/explained: I’d heard that at one point, Marvel tried/threatened to sue Valiant Comics over the use of the letter “X” in “X-O Manowar”, claiming copyright infringement. Was this true, was it more complicated than that, or was it just one of those things comic book owners hear third-hand and pass along to fans as their inside knowledge?

I would like to see an explanation about whether or not Grant Morrison really intended Beast to be gay in New X-men, or if it was just an off-handed joke as it was explained away as later.

How about that lawsuit.. I think it was First Comics (or maybe Now) that sued Marvel/DC in the early 80s for anti-competitive behaviour and won (but only got a very small dollar amount – as in $1).

I believe the arguement was DC/Marvel had figured out the direct market could support 75 ongoing titles. When the indy publishers began to get popular, they then flood the market with the thought that the indy readers were Zombies with money left over and they’d drop the indy books and spend it on the new Marvel titles.

The lawsuit stopped a discussion/negotiation between Marvel and DC in where DC would stop making comics themselves and just license the characters to Marvel to make.

I, too, agree about the other genres, and was totally disappointed in DC’s “Greatest 1950s Stories Ever Told” tpb. So many superheroes which were actually in decline at the time, and no Roy Raymond TV Detective at all. Even the few westerns presented involved double-identity heroes. One of the text pieces let slip that there was an executive edict that only series entries were to be included, which didn’t justify the selections anyway (and an exception for romance was obviously made in the event).

“I would like to see an explanation about whether or not Grant Morrison really intended Beast to be gay in New X-men, or if it was just an off-handed joke as it was explained away as later.”

That’s not really a fair approximation. When Beast originally said it, he was obviously not being serious. It was pretty clearly a sarcastic, deadpan joke.

The explanation that came later was for the people who didn’t get the joke the first time.

I saw Shooter at a convention circa 1983. Despite all the terrible stories I’ve heard about him since, he was great toward this 13 year old comic fan. He talked about living with Cockrum, and according to Shooter, the splash page in X-Men 103(?) with Firelord flying into the scene was based on a pose of Shooter in his briefs and holding a broom (for Firelord’s staff). He acted out the whole scene.

Ha!

That’s a great story, Cej!

The rumor is that Wolverine’s mask changed from its original, animalistic look to the one with the big head-wings because Gil Kane drew it wrong (either accidentally, because he didn’t know, or intentionally, because he didn’t like it) on the cover of Giant Size X-Men #1, and that Dave Cockrum then had to go through the entire issue, which was otherwise finished, and re-draw the mask.

It’s a good story – the image of Cockrum, called in at the last minute, furiously inking new ears on every drawing of Logan and handing the pages off to a waiting copy boy, who would run them downstair to the camera – but is it true? And if it is, why did Kane redesign things on the fly?

>

This happened. Marvel sent Valiant a letter (probably a “cease-and-desist” letter) which I remember seeing in one of Mile High’s monthly subscription service catalogs (Mile High’s Chuck Rozanski is a good friend of Jim Shooter).

One of the early issues of X-O Manowar then featured a Steve Englehart character named “X-Calibre” (who had originally appeared in the creator-owned “Coyote” comics published by Marvel), in order to show that there had been in the past other non-Marvel characters whose names began with the letter “X”.

>

It was First Comics, this case was extensively covered by the Comics Journal.

Ok, something happened to the formatting of my previous message. In case it’s not clear: the first part is in response to John Seavey’s question about Marvel threatening to sue Valiant for “X-O Manowar”, and the second part is in response to Jamie Colville’s question about whether First Comics or Now Comics sued Marvel and DC in the 80’s.

“That’s not really a fair approximation. When Beast originally said it, he was obviously not being serious. It was pretty clearly a sarcastic, deadpan joke.

The explanation that came later was for the people who didn’t get the joke the first time. ”

Thats what I always thought, but a lot of people thought Morrison was going for some radical shift there and that the explanation was Marvel backtracking. I was just wondering if we could get a full-on examination you know? So the official story would be out there.

Okay, I’m a little late to the party but Joe Simon’s friend was named Martin A. Burstein, not Burnstein. The rest of the info is basically accurate.

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