Marvel #1 Vs. Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1: The Chicken Or The Egg?
by Matt Nelson
Many collectors may remember the beginning of what would be the biggest controversy ever to hit comic fandom. In 1974 a very rare comic called Motion Picture Funnies Weekly was discovered. In it was a story featuring Namor, the Sub-Mariner--the same story that appeared in
Marvel Comics #1! Since the discovery of MPFW #1, the question has arisen of which issue, either
MPFW #1 or Marvel #1, claims the true first drawn appearance of the Sub-Mariner.
With such a limited amount of existing copies of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly sales of this book for the last decade have been almost nonexistent, and the debate had been all but forgotten. But before the silence fell upon the debate, it seemed that
MPFW #1 was the winner.
The fire of controversy has been rekindled by a new copy of MPFW #1--the pay copy. Once it's contents, and the contents of the
Marvel #1 pay copy were dissected and digested many new arguments began to arise, this time supporting Marvel #1 coming first.
Now it is time to lay to rest any doubts of the legitimacy of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1. This article will show why
MPFW #1 was initially established as the legitimate first appearance of the Sub-Mariner. And why, even now, amidst a mountain of doubt that has been smoldering for twenty years, it still stands.
How was this conclusion reached? What exactly did happen in 1939? These answers, and more, will be answered in this article.
It all started in 1974 when a new comic book, which had never been seen by any collector before, was discovered. The title of the book was an awkward one--Motion Picture Funnies Weekly (try saying that in one breath!). Six copies of this comic (one missing six pages) and covers to the next three issues had been unearthed in the estate of Lloyd Jaquet shortly after his death.
Examination of MPFW #1 revealed black and white contents with a copyright date of 1939 (no month given). Among the adventure and humor strips inside, was one feature that shocked the collecting world--an eight page origin story of Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner! The clincher was that these same eight pages had appeared in Marvel #1. The only difference being that an additional four pages had been added and the story appeared in color. Despite
MPFW #1 having no month of publication, collectors and historians were quick to establish that it had preceded Marvel #1 in 1939. Because of it's claim to Sub-Mariner's first appearance, and it's rarity,
MPFW #1 quickly became one of the most expensive comics on the market. The incomplete copy sold for $2000 that year, $200 more than what Marvel #1 was worth in NM and only $800 less than an Action #1 in NM! By the early 1980's all of the copies of
MPFW #1 had disappeared from the market. Not a single copy was publicly offered for sale for the next decade and, as a result, the price for
MPFW #1 did not rise for many years.
Recently a new demand has developed for this historic book, and copies once again are available on the open market. A new demand has also developed for the age-old controversy over which book came first. As a result of the discovery of the pay copies of
Marvel #1 and MPFW #1, compelling arguments have arisen in both Warren Reece's article in CBM #21 and Roger Hill's article in
Overstreet Monthly #2. What is to be presented in this article is one of the most in-depth investigations to date of the controversy surrounding these books. But, before we delve into the debate, let us examine the contents and publications of these two books.
In 1939 publishing companies did not have artists to create comics, even though they had the financial backing to print them. On the other hand, the art studios had a stable of artists who could package whole comics, yet lacked the financial ability to publish them. Publishers needed art studios just as much as art studios needed publishers (Eventually these two entities merged to form a more effective publishing power).
In the making of Marvel #1 the art studio was Funnies, Incorporated, headed by Lloyd Jaquet, and the publisher was Timely Publications, headed by Martin Goodman. The contributing artists included Bill Everett (Sub-Mariner), Carl Burgos (Human Torch) and Paul Gustavson (Angel). The copyright was submitted in June 1939 and payments were made to the artists in late July 1939. Marvel #1 was officially published on August 31,1939 and copies reached the stands around September 15. 1939 (the arrival date on the Mile High copy). Also in September, the Library of Congress received copies of
Marvel #1 and Marvel Mystery #2 (There is some speculation Marvel #1 was never copyrighted simply because of the title change to
Marvel Mystery Comics with issue #2). The copies of Marvel #1 on the newsstand that month (and those in the Library of Congress) had a cover date of November, yet some copies exist with a cover date of October. These October issues were probably printed some time in August and distributed to a few test markets. After this, the October date was covered with a black circle and a second, larger print run was made in September.
Some time in 1939, Lloyd Jaquet decided to try his hand at publishing a few of his own comics. The publishing company he created was First Funnies, Incorporated and his first comic was
MPFW #1 (the contents of which were supplied by inventory from Funnies, Inc.). When Jaquet packaged the comic it was intended to be distributed through theaters as a weekly giveaway, and a few preliminary copies of
MPFW #1 were sent out to prospective theaters. No one knows if any other copies were distributed, or if Jaquet had intentions of using
MPFW #1 as his first published issue if the giveaway succeeded. The movie houses rejected the idea, and all plans for
MPFW were cancelled. MPFW #1 was never copyrighted and no records exist for the date of publication of creation of this comic.
The controversy lies in whether Jaquet packaged MPFW #1 or Marvel #1 first. Unfortunately the key players, Jaquet and Everett, have passed away. We can only rely on the evidence of the comics themselves.
There are four arguments against MPFW #1 coming first:
1) Everett's use of craftint paper,combined with color, to produce
an underwater effect.
2) Everett's payment for his Subby story through Marvel #1, not MPFW #1.
3) Claims made by collectors who had owned both books in 1939 that Marvel #1 came first.
4) Legitimacy of Marvel #1 as a "true" comic which was both copyrighted and distributed.
Let's examine each of these four arguments.
When Everett drew the first Sub-Mariner story he wanted to create a murky underwater effect. This was accomplished by using a newly developed paper called craftint. A special chemical could be applied to this paper resulting in a dot pattern, which added a "shading effect" to the art on the paper. Craftint paper was used primarily for black and white comic strips. Everett, however, combined it with color to produce a blended mixture, achieving the desired underwater effect. This evidence supporting Marvel #1 appeared in an interview with Bill Everett conducted by Roy Thomas in the early 1970's. Everett's intent was for the Subby story to be in color, as it appears in Marvel #1. How could the black and white contents of
MPFW #1 be considered as the first appearance of the Sub-Mariner, when, in fact, it would have been preposterous for Everett to expect any of his art to appear in a black and white comic. By 1939 virtually all comics on the newsstand were printed in color.
There are many loopholes to this evidence. It is possible that Everett had absolutely no knowledge of Jaquet's attempt to include the Subby story in
MPFW #1. This is supported by the time span in which Everett completed the feature. The Subby story in Marvel #1 is twelve pages. It is seems that the first eight pages were drawn separately from the last four. The art on the last four pages is of a somewhat lower quality, as if Everett rushed them. The time span between the pages eight and nine is unknown, but Everett did sign and date page eight-4/39. The time span between the completion of page eight and the publishing of
Marvel #1 exceeded four months. During that four month period Jaquet could have conceived his publishing company, First Funnies, and attempted to create a comic using material already completed by his art studio. After
MPFW #1 failed, its contents were placed back into the inventory of Funnies, Inc., available for use at a later date. When
Marvel #1 was conceived, Everett was instructed to add four more pages to the Subby story, thus making it a full twelve pages.
Another argument involving craftint deals with the actual "reprinting" of the Subby story from
MPFW #1 to Marvel #1. Some claim that the murky effect from the craftint paper would make it impossible to shoot the printing plates for Marvel #1 directly from the pages of
MPFW #1. When Jaquet disassembled MPFW #1 the
original art for the stories was retained. This explains the question of how the plates were shot to print the Subby story in
Marvel #1. The eight pages are not actually "reprinted". Both books had the story shot directly from Everett's original art.
Since 1974 three more copies of MPFW #1 have surfaced. The last discovered proved to be the most significant of all eight existing copies. It was found in 1992 in the estate of Lloyd Jaquet, along with the "pay copy" of Marvel #1. They were used by Jaquet to serve as a record of payments to the artists for their features. In the margin on the first page of each story are notations identifying the creator of that story, the check number, the amount of the check, the date the check was written, and the number of pages paid for. In some cases the order was changed or some information was missing. A breakdown of payments in each pay copy is as follows:
MARVEL COMICS #1
- 7/25/39 Burgos (Human Torch)...check #106...$128.00...16 pages
- 7/31/39 Thompson (Kazar)........check #108...$120.00...12 pages
- 7/31/39 Gustavson (Angel).......check #109...$64.00.....8 pages
- 7/31/39 Everett (Sub-Mariner)..check #110..$83.25/96.00.12 pages
- 7/31/39 Dixon (Jungle Terror)...check #111...$48.00.....6 pages
- 7/31/39 ? (Burning Rubber)....check #113...$ 5.00......story
- 7/31/39 ? (Burning Rubber)....check #114...$ 3.00.......illo
- 7/31/39 Paul (Cover)............check #115...$25.00.......cover
- no date Mahon (Masked Raider)...check #202...$72.00......8 pages
MOTION PICTURE FUNNIES WEEKLY #1
- 7/28/39 Filchock (Kartoon...)...check #107...$ 8.00......4 pages
- 8/22/39 Jack Cole (Cover).......check #102...$10.00........cover
The payments above seem to indicate that Marvel #1 came first simply because the artists were paid for its contents and practically no one was paid for their work in
MPFW #1. Furthermore, the payment to Everett for his Subby story lends credence toward the assumption that the story first appeared in
Marvel #1. Or, to quote Roger Hill, "why would Everett be paid first for what was published second?" But let's examine these payments closely. All of the artists were paid for their work in
Marvel #1 on July 31, 1939 with the exception of Carl Burgos, who was paid six days earlier. All artists were paid at a rate of $8.00 per page with the exception of Thompson, who was paid $10.00 per page, and Mahon, who was paid $9.00 per page. The one pay entry that is most confusing is Everett's, which reads exactly:
Check #110..83.25..L.Jac..32..7/31/39..#110..64..96.00..paid 12 pgs
It seems there are two payments made to Everett on the same check: one for $96.00 and one for $83.25. While the $96.00 divided by the $8.00 per-page rate works out to 12 pages, the $83.25 amount makes absolutely no sense. Furthermore, two seemingly arbitrary numbers appear in the statement: 64 and 32, which, when divided by the $8.00 per-page rate gives us 8 pages and 4 pages, the lengths of the two parts of the Subby story in
Marvel #1. This indicates that Everett did in fact draw the last four pages separate from the first eight.
There are other peculiarities involving the pay copy of MPFW #1. Many features such as American Ace (7 pages), Spy Ring (6 pages), and Jolly the Newsie (6 pages) have no pay records on the first page. The one story which does have a record is Filchock's Kartoon story (4 pages), but the amount paid was $8.00--a rate of only $2.00 per page! Also payment for the cover art is confusing. Even though the name "Schwab" is signed on the original art for the cover, the check is written to Jack Cole! Both Schwab and Cole worked for Funnies, Inc. and their styles were similar. It is possible that Cole had a hand in drawing the cover and was thus paid his share of money, but it is clear that Schwab drew most, if not all, of the cover to
MPFW #1. Stranger still, the check written to Cole is #102, the lowest number of all of the checks listed, and is dated 8/22/39, almost a month after all the other checks!
The key to this puzzle is "published". Because MPFW #1 was never "published" (outside of a small test area) only
Marvel #1 reached newsstands and the Library of Congress. But the debate is not which one was published first, but which one was packaged and printed first (in any quantity). In 1939 artists were not paid until their stories were packaged and sold to publishers who printed and distributed them. Because
MPFW #1 was never sold nor printed nor distributed, it is remarkable that payments were made for any part of it.
Therefore, even though Everett was paid for the Subby story when Marvel #1 came out, it does not prove that
MPFW #1 came second. In fact, it's quite the opposite! Another of the features in
MPFW #1 (Spy Ring) appeared in Silver Streak #1 (Dec. 1939). The pay copy of
Silver Streak #1 (also found in Jaquet's files) lists the payment to Jay Fletcher for this story. Because
Silver Streak #1 is dated Dec. 1939, most people would agree it came out after
MPFW #1. Once Fletcher was paid for Spy Ring, ownership of the story was transferred to Lev Gleason (publisher of
Silver Streak). Once Everett and the other artists were paid, the contents and copyright of Marvel #1 were transferred to Timely Publications. Jaquet's only chance to use the Sub-Mariner and Spy Ring stories to package his own comic was before he sold them to Timely and Lev Gleason, respectively. Once the companies owned the stories, it was legally impossible for Jaquet to use them to make money for himself.
Statement Of Owners
How does one refute the seemingly rock hard evidence of owners of both books in 1939 who say
Marvel #1 came first? These owners most likely acquired their first copy of
Marvel #1 off the stands in September 1939. Most personal accounts read, "I bought my copy of
Marvel #1...". When Marvel Mystery #2 hit the newsstands around October 20, 1939, any unsold
Marvel #1's were probably pulled to make room. These owners' only chance to buy a copy of
Marvel #1 was during that one month period. After October Marvel #1 could only be acquired second hand (by trading, for example). Because
MPFW #1 was never sold, these owners could only have obtained their copy when theater owners gave their advance copies away. In this way, an owner could have obtained his copy of
MPFW #1 months after buying Marvel #1.
The only one who could offer a substantial personal account of
which book came first is someone involved in the creation of both books, or who knew someone who was. I believe there is one person who can give the best account of what happened at Funnies, Inc. in 1939. George Kapitan (who was involved with Funnies, Inc. at the time and is credited with the idea of
Green Giant Comics #1) wrote a letter which appeared in Overstreet Quarterly #2. In the letter he stated that, many years ago, he had a conversation with Bill Everett. Everett told him that he had drawn the first eight pages of the Subby story for MPFW #1 in the spring of 1939 and later added four more pages for Marvel #1 in the fall. That's about as close to the horse's mouth as we're going to get!
By no means am I discrediting any claims made by other owners. But because of the factors listed above one must be very careful about choosing which story to be accurate. In Warren Reece's article a Mr. Lahmann claims to have owned Marvel #1 first. I conducted an interview with a collector named Roger Nelson (later in this issue), who claims he owned MPFW #1 first. Both collectors have nothing to gain by lying, but one of these statements has to be wrong! Information coming from an insider like Kapitan seems to be the most reliable evidence to date.
Distribution And Copyright
Some people say that Marvel #1 came first because it is registered and copyrighted with the Library of Congress, thus establishing it as a "legitimate" comic book. MPFW #1 is not copyrighted nor was it distributed. A quote from Warren Reece's article in CBM #21 states that this is the,"...strongest argument on which book had come first, and on which book had come out at all!" Unfortunately, the argument is not which book was distributed first, but which book was created first. Both MPFW #1 and Marvel #1 do exist; they are both true comics, regardless of whether one was distributed and copyrighted, and the other was not. We also know that these two creations were printed (albeit one print run was shorter than the other) as there are multiple copies of each book existing. What needs to be proven is which of these "true" comics was conceived first. That is the argument.
The Ashcan Misconception
Others consider MPFW #1 an ashcan. Indeed, the back cover is a solicitation to movie theater owners, and the comic was not initially intended for distribution. This does not make it an ashcan. Ashcans were created specifically to secure copyrights to a title and/or character of a future comic book. The ashcan cover is black and white and the interior contents are, either, miscellaneous pages from previously printed comics (in color), or
all new material (as in Flash/Thrill ashcan). No copies of MPFW #1 were sent to secure copyrights and the contents are quite the opposite of an ashcan--the cover is color and the interior is black and white! The possibility also exists that Jaquet intended to publish MPFW #1 exactly as presented if the idea had succeeded with theater owners. With this evidence in mind, it is conclusive that MPFW #1 is not an ashcan of any sort.
Arguments Supporting MPFW #1
Now that the arguments for Marvel #1 appearing first have been discussed, we turn to the other side of the debate. Two arguments can be presented supporting MPFW #1 premiering first--the dreaded "box" theory, and a new idea recently brought forth by Jon Berk which deals with the dimensions of MPFW #1.
The "Box" Theory
By and far this evidence most strongly supports MPFW #1 coming first. For years collectors were baffled by a small blank box in the last panel on the eighth page of the Sub-Mariner story in Marvel #1. When MPFW #1 was discovered, the words "continued next week" were written in that box. If Marvel #1 had been packaged first, why put a blank box on the eighth page of the Sub-Mariner story? I find many supporters of Marvel #1 avoid this evidence, and rightly so, as I cannot see how it can be disproved! MPFW was intended to be a weekly, but because Marvel Comics was a monthly, the lettering, but not the box, was omitted.
The "Size" Theory
Previous to packaging comics for Timely, Funnies, Inc. catered to other publishers, of which one was Centaur. Many stories in Centaur comics were created by the artists employed by Funnies, Inc. (Everett's Amazing Man, for one) and even a few covers were drawn by Fred Schwab and Jack Cole. A small number of comics published by Centaur and packaged by Funnies, Inc. deviated in size from the regular dimensions of other comics. Three books in particular were smaller in size: Little Giant Comics #4 (2/39), Little Giant Detective Funnies #4 (1/39), and Uncle Joe's Funnies (pub. 9/15/38). Their dimensions were roughly 6.5" by 9.5". It just so happens that MPFW #1 has those same dimensions. More than just prove that MPFW came before Marvel #1 this information can possibly pinpoint when MPFW #1 was packaged. Examination of the publication dates of the three Centaur books shows that they range between Sept. 1938 and Feb. 1939. Everett's completion of the eight page Sub-Mariner story was dated 4/39. With the Centaur dimensions still fresh in his mind, Jaquet probably packaged MPFW #1 shortly after Everett completed those eight pages. No other comics packaged by Funnies, Inc. were of that size.
This theory is very new and deserves more intense investigation in the future.
Theory Of 1939
Funnies, Inc. is busy packaging comics for publishers such as Centaur in the late 1930's. In early 1939 Jaquet requests that
Everett create a new superhero. Everett begins work on a story featuring the Sub-Mariner. An eight page origin story is completed in April 1939. About this time Jaquet conceives an idea to not only package comics, but to publish them as well. Selecting certain stories already completed by his team of creators, Jaquet packages
Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1. He has Fred Schwab draw the cover and then proceeds to print a few copies to send out to theaters as a preview. Had the idea worked he would have gotten the comic copyrighted and printed more copies to distribute to selected theaters. The theater managers do not feel the idea will work and they reject the comic. Jaquet then disassembles MPFW #1 and places the stories back into inventory (this is probably mid-1939). Shortly thereafter, Jaquet is approached by a new publisher (Timely), to package a comic book. The eight page Sub-Mariner story, among others, is used to package the comic--Marvel #1. Jaquet realizes he needs four more pages to complete Marvel #1 and assigns Everett to draw a follow-up story to compliment his eight page introduction. Once Marvel #1 is copyrighted and published, Everett and the others are paid for their stories.
All rights and privileges to the Sub-Mariner now belong to Timely Publications.
The case for MPFW #1 coming first still stands. No one has come up with an alternate reason explaining the blank box on page eight of the Subby story. As I said before, this box is the hardest to refute and in the single most important evidence supporting MPFW #1. The size of MPFW #1 seems to corroborate that it was created in early 1939. The arguments in favor of Marvel #1 prove to be inconclusive, insubstantial, or (when examined properly) actually support MPFW #1.
The purpose of this article is not an attack on Marvel #1, nor is it an attempt to raise the worth of MPFW #1. I have neither a vested interest in MPFW #1 nor a hatred for Marvel #1. In fact, the importance for Marvel #1 should never be overlooked. It is the first "Marvel" comic book ever, and that is undisputed! Because of the immense effect Marvel comic books have had on our industry over the last 30 years, Marvel #1 rightly deserves it's exalted status in the Golden Age of comics. The purpose of this article is simply to offer an answer to a question that has perplexed collectors for a long time. Hopefully, fandom can one day find the truth of what really happened in 1939.