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Sunday Funnies

I’ve talked here pretty often about my first superhero comics, the DC Giants of the late 1960s. But I was reminded not too long ago that those weren’t my actual FIRST comic books. No, those I got… in Sunday School.

I hadn’t thought about this in years. Decades really. It’s been a long time; I’ve racked up lot of sins since I was in Sunday School.

But Julie brought home a book from Goodwill not too long ago that unlocked a flood of memories.

One of the most successful graphic novels of all time, and long before anyone thought of calling them 'graphic novels.'

“I just thought it looked interesting,” she said. “And maybe you could get an article out of it.”

I flipped through it, muttering. “Hmp. Never saw this one before. The ones I remember from Sunday School were more…. polished.”

Definitely getting a Golden Age vibe from the art and writing.

“Is it worth anything?”

I shook my head. “Doubtful. it’s more of a curiosity really… the comics look like something from the forties, but the copyright’s 1973– Oh, wait a minute.”

At seeing me perk up, Julie perked up. “What?”

“The original copyright’s here too. M.C. Gaines, 1942. I’ll be damned.” I looked up at my bride, who was patiently waiting for me to explain. “Sorry. What you found here is an odd little piece of comics history, or at least a reprint of it. M.C. Gaines was one of the first guys to publish comic books– I think he actually invented the format, saddle-stitched booklets off a web press. He mostly did comics like this, historical and educational things, stuff that was supposed to be good for you. He died in a boating accident in 1947 and his son Bill took over the comics publishing. And Bill Gaines, who’d always been kind of a rebel, went from doing stuff like this to EC’s Tales From The Crypt and all the other horror books that got Congress all freaked out, and all that eventually led to MAD Magazine. But this is where it started. EC stood for ‘Educational Comics,’ once upon a time. I’ve read about these Bible comics– every comics historian knows about them– but I’ve never seen them before. These Scarf Press people must have bought the rights from Gaines back in the seventies.”

You have to admit, artistically it's a pretty big leap forward, though I daresay most Sunday schools would have disagreed.

Julie was pleased at finding something of historical interest, but it had awakened a memory of my own Sunday School days that kept buzzing around in my head like an errant mosquito. What were the Bible comics we used to have back then?

It wasn’t the Gaines stuff. There had been a series of original stories about some sort of missionary with orange hair. A serial in the booklets they used to give us. I had vivid memories of what the comics looked like– even at six, the printed page made much more of an impression on me than real life– but the name kept floating just out of my grasp.

I took to the internet and asked a couple of friends of mine who work in the Christian press. They thought I was losing my mind. Church comic books? was the incredulous reply I kept getting.

Oddly enough, my comics friends were more open to the idea, but they didn’t know anything either. The two suggestions I kept getting were the two things I was certain it wasn’t. It sure wasn’t Jack Chick…

My friend Rick swears Jack Chick is unique, a twisted comics visionary, and that might well be true. But so was Mike Diana and HE went to jail. Somehow, and this baffles me, Chick is a hero to many Christians; one of life's great injustices considering how creepy Chick's comics actually ARE. Personally I think any Sunday school teacher handing out these little nightmares to six-year-old kids ought to be fired.

No way were Chick’s tracts, seething with twitching paranoia and sweaty hatred, the comics being handed out to kindergarteners at our staid little suburban church. Those nasty little booklets are pure nightmare fuel. Even looking at them now, as an adult, they creep me out.

A better guess was that it was something from Spire or Logos Comics.

Neither Spire nor Logos were doing what you'd call boffo box office, even by comics' low standards. But they did have a couple of hits adapting these stories.

For a time there in the early 1970s both The Cross and The Switchblade and Run Baby Run were fixtures in many suburban Sunday Schools. I did remember having a copy of Run Baby Run. (Growing up as I did in Lake Oswego, Oregon, one of the whitest places in North America this side of Stepford, Connecticut, it never occurred to me to wonder why everyone in the story of a Hispanic kid’s inner-city gang experience was drawn to look so Caucasian.)

Interesting trivia tidbit-- In the sixties Spire partnered with Al Hartley at Archie to produce an incredibly pious series of one-shots, aimed squarely at combating those dirty hippies. One can only assume this was before the Archies toured with Josie and the Pussycats, because we all KNOW what rock bands are like on the road.

But those weren’t the comics I was thinking of, either. They weren’t actually comic books– they were serialized comics stories in some sort of weekly kid ‘zine. I walked this around for about a week, trying to remember and failing, getting increasingly annoyed about it. It was an itch I couldn’t scratch.

And, as usual, the day I gave up and quit thinking about it, the memory bubbled up out of nowhere, unbidden. I was binding a bunch of textbooks down at the printshop, mind wandering hither and yon, thinking of nothing in particular, when suddenly I saw a vision of one of those old Sunday-school booklets sitting on the dark pine table in the kid’s room in the old Oswego church on Country Club Road. After a week of trying to remember and nothing, it was just there, clear as a photograph. The title was Pix.

Sometimes it’s like that. I looked it up on the net and sure enough, that’s what it was.

We got one of these every Sunday; it was a weekly, about 16 pages. Prose, comics, puzzles.

Sunday Pix, to my mild amazement, has been around since the forties and is still being published.

Sergio Cariello from THE LONE RANGER did some work for them not too long ago, in fact.

But it’s not nearly as popular as it used to be; its heyday was from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, it was much heftier then. It had prose stories and activity pages, but it was primarily publishing comics.

These reprints of PIX are the only good pictures I could find of the old stuff. Comics made up anywhere from half to three-quarters of the contents of PIX, which is why I liked it. Without question, getting this every week was the high point of my Sunday school experience.

And I soon discovered who my orange-haired adventurer was. That was Tullus, the creation of one Joseph Hughes Newton, back in 1943.

In the actual comic, Tullus did NOT sport that Laura Petrie flip 'do.

Youthful me had thought the Tullus comic strip was pretty cool for a Sunday-school handout, and certainly the comics are the only part of the experience I remember with any fondness, forty-five years later. So naturally I wondered if the strip was available anywhere.

Back issues of Pix go for insanely high prices on eBay and Amazon– anywhere from 15 to 30 dollars for sixteen pages. But the Tullus comics, the only part of the magazine I was really interested in, had been reprinted in a number of paperbacks and those, to my great delight, have no collector interest at all. I invested roughly five dollars total and soon had four Tullus collections on their way here.

And you know what? As it turned out, they were pretty good.

There were two different sets of reprints. The first two books to arrive were smaller, 1970s-era paperbacks– standard paperback size, like the old spinner-rack Peanuts or Wizard of Id collections.

I rather enjoyed these. Heavy on the adventure, light on the preaching.

The interiors were in black-and-white, standard for the time, and each book reprinted three or four complete stories. I didn’t actually remember any of them but I was still pleased to have them complete… the old Pix serialization used to drive me nuts because I could never keep up. (Even in kindergarten I wanted my comics in a complete run.)

The nice thing about these stories was that the Christian message isn't terribly overpowering, and they actually work just as straight Silver Age adventure.

The stories usually feature young Tullus ambling around the Roman-governed Middle East, visiting friends who inevitably are in some sort of jam– often it’s the oppressive Roman local magistrate who’s up to no good– and Tullus has to try and bail his friends out. Interestingly, there’s not really very much proselytizing. Sometimes he’ll say a prayer first, but the plots of the stories never hinge on repentance or divine intervention. Tullus is a good Christian and doesn’t use violence, but he does use his wits and courage, and often wins by out-maneuvering the villain somehow.

Sometimes he wins just because he is a better driver.

The reason six-year-old Greg responded to the original Tullus strips in Pix wasn’t hard to suss out once my package arrived and I was looking at the books. The art has a real DC Silver Age look to it. Apparently I was destined to start as a DC comics fan before I even knew what DC was.

In a weird way it was like reading something out of DC Showcase, around 1965, but with a clear theological point of view.

There are no credits anywhere in the books, which is really irritating. It took me a fair amount of research even to uncover some possibles for the writer and artist on any of these– though I was able to rule out Joseph Newton almost immediately. None of the stories in these black-and-white collections are by the strip’s creator, I feel sure. These paperbacks from the seventies are reprinting what Cook considered the current stuff, and by then Mr. Newton had long since relinquished his creation to other hands without getting so much as a Created By. Despite their Christian content, Cook Publishing was as ruthless about doing everything work-for-hire as any other comics publisher of the time, apparently.

You would think a publisher of Sunday-school curriculum would be a better example of Christian fellowship when it came to sharing credit, but no. Everything is credited solely to David C. Cook Publishing.

No, by this time– late sixties, early seventies– the comics in Pix were all being packaged by Al Stenzel’s studio, who was also packaging the comics section of Boy’s Life and a bunch of advertising stuff as well. If you were a kid in 1969 sooner or later you ran into a Stenzel magazine comics page, whether it was in school or in church.

One of Al Stenzel's SPACE CONQUERORS strips from Boy's Life.

Stenzel had a bunch of guys in his stable that also worked for DC– one of them was Irv Novick, and I can’t be sure but I’ll bet he drew SOME of the stories in these collections. Lou Fine and Tom Sawyer did work for Stenzel as well. But I don’t have a good enough eye to pick anyone out for sure, especially when they’re working in a house style like Stenzel’s.

The other Tullus collections were put together in the 1990s with the interiors in full color. They’re also larger, prestige-format comics, featuring new covers by Dave Dorman and David Darrow. (Those at least got credited. Still nothing for the actual comics inside, though, which leads me to speculate that probably nobody’s left at Cook that actually knows; it was over forty years ago, after all.)

These are the classier editions. Still available for pennies, though-- collectors just are not interested in these.

These are much nicer packages overall, but the stories themselves aren’t as engaging. The plots are much thinner and the art isn’t as good.

It's not to my taste, anyway. These might actually be the original TULLUS comics from Joseph Newton; the style somehow looks older than the black-and-white books, but that's just my guess.

Beyond that, I can’t tell you much more. I don’t know that I’d call these good– the Stenzel-packaged stuff is much better, certainly. My hunch– and it is strictly a hunch, there’s no copyright anywhere inside the book other than the 1993 edition’s required information– is that these color books are reprinting earlier stories, probably from the fifties.

I might go out on a limb and speculate that they've been scanned and then relettered, since the word balloons don't quite match the lettering itself. But that's, again, strictly my opinion.

There’s no information anywhere on the net that I can dig out, other than what I’ve told you. Comics historians, for the most part, are writing about Marvel and DC. There are a few more writing about Golden and Silver Age superhero books from other publishers, and a few others writing about syndicated newspaper strips. But when it comes to oddities like these, there’s next to nothing. I’m pretty sure I’ve written more about Tullus and his adventures here today than everyone else on the internet combined… and it’s annoying to have to sum it up by admitting that I don’t know that much about the people behind those comics, and that probably no one else does either.

Still, I enjoyed revisiting those stories and it’s nice to have them here. As my wife guessed it would when she brought home that hardcover comics Bible, it did indeed turn into an interesting little mystery for me… and it looks like I did get a column out of it.

See you next week.

24 Comments

I’ve got a bunch of comments.

I so would have enjoyed Sunday School more if there’d been comics. I know we did get some little pamphlet things with the messages and all, but they were prose with maybe a few illos. I know I still have a bunch buried around somewhere.

I kept wondering: is it Treasure Chest? Solely due to the George Carlin routine.

“Dusty was a Cath-o-lic, and Buddy…WAS NOT!”

DC just recently (like, last 2 months) put out a HC of The Bible, which probably features that Pictures Stories one that Julie brought. That stuff sure looks like it could have been the same people doing Superman at the time.

Wouldn’t it be funny if Scarf still had the rights, and now DC was violating the copyright? HA!

The only place I’ve come across Jack Chick comics has been laying on the side of the road. Seriously. At least 2 different times, 2 different areas of town, I was walking along, and there they were on the side of the road. I think I paged through each, but as pack rat as I am, I wasn’t bringing home side of the road Chick tracts.

I actually have a couple of those Archie religious ones. For some reason I had to go to the local bible store, and they had either a spinner rack or a small rack of comics, and I got a couple in the early ’90s. There was Archie’s Car, Archie’s Family Album. I think Hartley also did an Adam and Eve one that I have, too.

In ’90, Kitchen Sink did a book of the World’s Worst Comics Awards, and one thing they pointed out was that Archie had the religious comics, but also had an issue of Sabrina with a lot of witchcraft and devilry. The people who did the WooWoo comic suggested that Archie got away with some fairly graphic witchcraft depictions because the head of Archie also served on the Code board.

Bob Ross is so shocked at all the squares in Riverdale!

I saw in a local Walmart relatively recently a collection of Cariello Bible comics, which I’m now presuming were from Pix. Neat.

Very cool column.

DC just recently (like, last 2 months) put out a HC of The Bible, which probably features that Pictures Stories one that Julie brought. That stuff sure looks like it could have been the same people doing Superman at the time.

Wouldn’t it be funny if Scarf still had the rights, and now DC was violating the copyright? HA!

I’m pretty sure DC’s reprinting the Kubert one, the 1970s tabloid.

But there are a bunch. David Cook has two, the one that was serialized in Pix when I was a kid, and the new one with the Sergio Cariello art. The thing that makes the Gaines edition interesting is that it was the first. It does have a sort of Joe Shuster vibe but then there were a LOT of Golden Age guys that drew like that. Honestly, at first glance it reminded me more of Fred Guardineer’s old stuff. The actual artist credited is Don Cameron– you can see another sample of his work here.

Ah, I checked DC’s site and it says it’s the 1975 version. Although that’s ALL the info they give.

It’s like, we could tell you Kubert fans that it’s him (since he’s inking the damn BW Nite Owl book!!!), but we don’t want to, y’know, SELL any!

I guess for us heathens, the fact that it’s the Bible should be selling point enough.

Anyway, I looked up the book you got from Julie on the GCD, and while it doesn’t list any info for THAT version, there apparently was a later version from Scarf, presented by Jimmy Swaggart. That one has credits listing Don Cameron as the artist, and that name rings a bell. Looks like he did work with Siegel and Shuster, wrote the early Toyman story, the original Vigilante, and so on.

I assume he is NOT the same Don Cameron who drew Darkhawk and Cyberella in the ’90s, although that would be friggin’ awesome if it was ;)

Of course, Crumb’s recent Book of Genesis looked good, from what I saw of it.

Travis Pelkie

June 23, 2012 at 1:04 am

OK, yeah, your comment didn’t have that Cameron info at first, so I just look like I’m copying you.

But that lady in the Cameron pic you link to wouldn’t fit into the Bible stories.

They hadn’t invented torpedoes yet.

Hot-cha-cha! I kill me!

This is indeed an interesting column; I didn’t know anything about Pix or Tullus before. Of course, since I went to a Catholic elementary school, there was no need for Sunday school – the nuns took us through the catechism and other religious indoc–er, instruction every school-day morning. Unfortunately I guess, none of that included use of comic books distributed by Protestant-affiliated publishers as study aids, even though I see nothing in that Tullus material you posted here that would have been inimical to Catholic instruction. It looks pretty non-denominational and the setting – the Roman period of early Christianity – often came up anyway, as the nuns loved to extol that early, heroic period of Church history.
Interestingly enough, though, our school library did have a few Spire comics in it, including the legendary “Cross and the Switchblade.” I also remember during my Archie phase, I once accidentally bought one of those Spire Archie books. That was a trip – although I was hardly the jaded infidel I am today, even back then I found those Spire comics really odd and, frankly, insipid. And seeing Archie or Jughead quoting scripture is just wrong.

And you’re right about the Chick tracts. I only ever heard about those as an adult, and first saw them online a few years ago. Those aren’t actually given to children in Sunday school classes, are they?

Wow, those Jack Chick pages are… interesting.

Love the idea of DC getting Geoff Johns and Jim Lee to do the bible. Jesus with a high collar and lots of pouches.

Fantastic stuff, Greg. I’ve still got collected Old and New Testament editions of the Gaines Bible, nice red hardbacks my grandma bought from the local auction house when I was a kid in the early Seventies. I see them on eBay UK for between £4-£45. I loved being able to read all those stories in a big lump.

Maybe my art eye isn’t great either – to me, the coloured Tullus pages that don’t look as good to you as the earlier mono pages, look to me like the same artist, just coloured. I’m sure someone will know!

Tullus is still around today, of course, as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes (ducks).

Hugo Sleestak

June 23, 2012 at 6:55 am

Treasure Chest was great, and was not always overtly religious. It was obviously aimed at kids, and much of it is corny today (although not any cornier than a DC Comic from the same era), but Treasure Chest employed some of the best artists in the business, and while it reflected its time (a dreary series on the dangers of communism drawn with verve by golden age great Reed Crandall), it also was pretty progressive when it came to race relations.

OK, yeah, your comment didn’t have that Cameron info at first, so I just look like I’m copying you.

I know. I thought of it at the last minute and edited it in; I answer these ‘backstage,’ where it’s easier to get at the WordPress tools without having to type a lot of HTML, so I tend to edit the same way I write anything back here. I can’t help myself. (In fact, most of the time if you wait twelve to eighteen hours after the column goes up you’ll often find it’s been added to; I’ll spot a mistake, or someone else will, or maybe I’ll find a better photo of something. My goal is to always get it on the first draft but somehow there’s always the one glaring typo…if it’s something really HUGE I’ll put UPDATED! in the title, but most of the time it’s minor and I just fix it.)

Sometimes this happens in the comments too but I don’t often edit those after-the-fact unless it’s right then and there– less than five minutes later, I mean. Somehow, you saw it in the three-minute window between the original posting and the corrected one. Anyway, let the record show that Travis looked up Don Cameron literally at the same moment as I did, he does read what people answer.

Ah, I checked DC’s site and it says it’s the 1975 version. Although that’s ALL the info they give.

It’s like, we could tell you Kubert fans that it’s him (since he’s inking the damn BW Nite Owl book!!!), but we don’t want to, y’know, SELL any!

I guess for us heathens, the fact that it’s the Bible should be selling point enough.

I really have no idea what DC is thinking. It’s a beautiful book and worth getting just for the art. Same thing with the Kirby SPIRIT WORLD. Somehow, even though DC is pretending they support them, they’re still acting just as vaguely ashamed of the books as they did the first time around.

Maybe my art eye isn’t great either – to me, the coloured Tullus pages that don’t look as good to you as the earlier mono pages, look to me like the same artist, just coloured. I’m sure someone will know!

I can tell you they’re not the same artist. Look at the faces and the body language. The inking is worse on the color pages too. What really gives it away, though, are the non-standard thought balloons on the color pages. There was a time before everyone settled on the floating puffs of smoke as being THE way to letter thought balloons– in the color Tullus, they use a word-balloon tail coming off a cloud shape, a method that you generally only saw MUCH earlier than the mid-sixties. Late forties, early fifties, somewhere in there. Certainly before the Stenzel gang took it over.

The black-and-white stuff looks variously to me like Irv Novick, Mike Sekowsky, or Joe Giella– it’s in that kind of 1960s DC wheelhouse. The only one I know for sure that worked for Stenzel, though, was Novick. If I was betting I’d bet on him or Tom Scheuer (he later changed his name to Tom Sawyer) because of the style and because they were both Stenzel guys.

Treasure Chest was great, and was not always overtly religious. It was obviously aimed at kids, and much of it is corny today (although not any cornier than a DC Comic from the same era), but Treasure Chest employed some of the best artists in the business, and while it reflected its time (a dreary series on the dangers of communism drawn with verve by golden age great Reed Crandall), it also was pretty progressive when it came to race relations.

A lot of people liked Treasure Chest. I’ve never seen the comic myself but I remember Tony Isabella writing about it fondly at some point.

Jack Chick was (is?) a deeply disturbed man. The sad thing is I’ve known way too many people that were like him: the ones who focus on scaring people with fire and brimstone rather than, you know, telling us what’s GOOD about their faith.

Man, those Silver Age Tullus pages are great! Too bad there were no credits for them. Ironically enough, they remind me a lot of the art in horror magazines like Creepy and Eerie – They have a real Al Williamson, Gray Morrow, and Angelo Torres vibe to them.

I do believe those Tullus books were lettered by Ben Oda, though. He’s probably my favorite letterer, and that looks like classic Oda (Or a good knock-off) to me.

Adults with invisible friends are stupid.

Interesting column. I was never forced to go to church on anything resembling a regular basis, and never attended Sunday school at all, so getting religious-themed comics in my formative years is something that just didn’t happen to me. I am pretty familiar with the Chick tracts, though. One of my first jobs was being a department manager at a Books-a-Million about a decade ago, and my department was periodicals. Bookstores attract a fair share of crazies and fanatics of all different stripes, and here in the bowels of the bible belt, they’re usually overly religious ones. We had at least two people who would come in and leave Chick tracts in various places, usually in front of mags like Maxim and the heavy metal magazines, and they would also be found frequently in front of art books that had nudes in them. I guess they placed in in spots that they felt were gateways to temptation, heheh. I would always read through them and laugh at how ridiculous and oddly twisted they were, but I kept none of them. One of my friends who worked there had a pretty extensive collection, so I always gave them to him.

I would wager that the first B&W Tullus pages you shared are Joe Certa, circa 1970.

The only time I’ve ever seen Chick stuff is at bus stops, restaurants, etc. and I’ve seen ordained ministers pick them up and throw them away on sight.

Thinking that Chick stories have any redeeming value is right there on the same Christian heretic level as juggling rattlesnakes and drinking strychnine – and probably done by the same people.

The art on those Tullus paperbacks look like Dan Barry’s work. It could be him or maybe one or some of his assistants.

As a kid growing up in a Catholic country (the Philippines), those Jack Chick comics were absolutely shocking for me. An aunt from the US gave them to me when I was around 12 years old and I was really doubting why these Christian comics were terrifying.

At least some of the Bible stories in Pix (I think) were illustrated by Johnstone and Cushing ad agency, which had specialized in comic strip ads. I believe Neal Adams was working for them at the time and it may have been some of his first comics work (I’m remembering this from a Will Eisner Quarterly interview Adams did from almost 30 years ago, so my accuracy is not guaranteed).

I’m fairly sure a lot of the Pix bible comics were anthologized in handsome hardbound books which adorned discerning church libraries and pediatrician’s offices in the 1970s.

In that first page, it really looks like Abraham’s nagging is starting to annoy God: “Fine! I’ll spare the city for ten good men! Now leave me alone!”

I’d never heard Mike Diana’s story before this.
HORRIFYING.

Fascinating. Great to see some historical curiosities like this — and you’re right, they DO look like good, solid adventure strips.

And yeah I’m in the “Jack Chick is a twisted comics visionary” court too. He is a horrible, small-minded little man, but he’s a great artist and storyteller. (Plus he’s hilarious, but I’m pretty sure that’s unintentional.)

Greg, did you find http://www.christiancomicsinternational.org/series_sundaypix.html in your research? I had some correspondence with the site’s creator a few years ago, and I’m quoted on another page: http://www.christiancomicsinternational.org/series_logos.html.

Yes, Rob, I found both those pages– they were what gave me the starting points to write the rest of the column. Scans are damnably tiny though.

I have very fond memories of Pix, back in the mid 1970′s. I particularly remember a serial called “The Hat Trick” about a hockey player that had me gripped from week to week.

I have copies of the original tullus stories. The feature bregan in December 1943 and the original artist was Brinton Turkle. If anyone is interested in mmore information re:Tullus, he/she should contact me.

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