Tag Archives: William Randolph Hearst

Super City: New York and the History of Comic Books

PODCAST  A history of the comic book industry in New York City, how the energy and diversity of the city influenced the burgeoning medium in the 1930s and 40s and how New York’s history reflects out from the origins of its most popular characters.

 In the 1890s a newspaper rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer helped bring about the birth of the comic strip and, a few decades later, the comic book.  Today, comic book superheroes are bigger than ever — in blockbuster summer movies and television shows — and most of them still have an inseparable bond with New York City.

What’s Spider-Man without a tall building from which to swing? But not only are the comics often set here; the creators were often born here too. Many of the greatest writers and artists actually came from Jewish communities in the Lower East Side, Brooklyn or the Bronx.

For many decades, nearly all of America’s comic books were produced here.  Unfortunately that meant they were in certain danger of being eliminated entirely during a 1950s witch hunt by a crusading psychiatrist from Bellevue Hospital.

WITH a special chat with comics historian Peter Sanderson about the unique New York City connections of Marvel Comics’ most famous characters. Sanderson is the author of The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City and The Marvel Encyclopedia.

FEATURING: The Yellow Kid, Little Orphan Annie, Batman, Doctor Strange and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #187: Super City: New York and the History of Comic Books

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COMING THIS FALL:  Superheroes’ ties to New York City history will be further explored this fall in the New-York Historical Society’s Superheroes in Gotham exhibition, which opens October 9, 2015.
(Friday, October 9 is the start of ComicCon weekend).

 

A young New York boy enjoys his comic book on the Bowery. Photo taken in 1940 by Andrew Herman.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

And here’s the comic book he’s reading from March 1940, illustrated by George Papp.

Courtesy Comic Vine
Courtesy Comic Vine

 

In this 1947 photograph taken by Stanley Kubrick, a boy watches his baby sister and enjoys a Superman comic book while his mother shops inside.

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

An issue of DC Comics’ Superman from March 1947, with a cover by George Roussos and Jack Burnley

Courtesy DC Comics / Comic Vine
Courtesy DC Comics / Comic Vine

 

A girl takes a peek at some of the comic book offerings at Woolworth’s. Photograph by Stanley Kubrick taken in 1947.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

An issue of More Fun Comics from June 1947, produced by DC Comics:

more fun

 

The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, published in 1842, is considered by many to be the wellspring from which the comic medium derives. You can read the entire issue over at the Darmouth College Library website.

Courtesy Dartmouth College Library
Courtesy Dartmouth College Library

 

A Yellow Kid adventure which would have sprung out from the newspaper due to its vivid colors.

Image courtesy Comix  Takoma; art by Richard Outcault
Image courtesy Comix Takoma; art by Richard Outcault

 

Both Hearst and Pulitzer ran versions of the Yellow Kid comic strip during the years that they were drumming up propaganda which lead to the Spanish-American War. The unscrupulous nature of their efforts earned them the phrase ‘yellow journalism’, inspired by their war of the popular comic strip by Richard Outcault,

Courtesy the Library of Congress
Courtesy the Library of Congress

 

A section of the colorful comics section of the New York Journal, 1898.

“Familiar Sights of a Great City—No. 1 The Cop is Coming!” by Walt McDougall, New York Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1898  via New York Review of Books
“Familiar Sights of a Great City—No. 1 The Cop is Coming!” by Walt McDougall, New York Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1898 via New York Review of Books

 

Little Orphan Annie became the biggest crossover star of the early comic strip era.  Long before there was a musical, Annie starred in this 1932 melodrama, one of the earliest comic-to-movie crossovers.

annie

 

New Fun Comics #1, the very first comic book to contain all new material, and not merely reprints of newspaper comic strips.

1

 

The Batman debuted in Detective Comics in 1939, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. The city features in these adventures was Gotham City, startlingly similar to the city outside the creators’ windows.

Courtesy DC Comics
Courtesy DC Comics

 

Gotham City, aka New York City, in 1939

Courtesy U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation
Courtesy U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation

 

Vault of Horror, one of an assortment of shocking comic books produced by EC Comics in the early 1950s. The cover art is by Johnny Craig.

Courtesy EC Comics
Courtesy EC Comics

 

Bill Gaines, publisher of EC Comics, at his offices at 225 Lafayette Street.

Courtesy Tebeosfera
Courtesy Tebeosfera

 

Dr. Fredrick Wertham, the writer of Seduction of the Innocent, who lead a charge against the comic book industry.

fred

 

seduction

 

A young Stan Lee during the war as a member of the US Army’s Signal Corps. He even managed to do a bit of illustration for the cause!

stan lee

 

The Thing from the Fantastic Four with the  Yancy Street Gang, a variation on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side.

Courtesy Marvel Comics via Comic Viine
Courtesy Marvel Comics via Comic Viine

 

Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is located on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village

Courtesy Marvel Comics
Courtesy Marvel Comics

 

What would Spider-Man be without New York City? The image of the Brooklyn Bridge (called the George Washington Bridge in the story) is featured in a classic tale involving the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacey, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, John Romita and Tony Mortellaro,

Courtesy Marvel Comics
Courtesy Marvel Comics

 

A page from Maus by Art Spiegelman, the graphic novel that brought the medium to a new level of respectability in literary circles.

Courtesy Art Spiegelman
Courtesy Art Spiegelman

 

The comic book/graphic novel continues to evolve and reach new heights of success and respectability.  Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, published last year, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for best autobiography.

 

Courtesy Roz Chast/Bloomsbury
Courtesy Roz Chast/Bloomsbury

The Avengers defended New York during an alien attack in their blockbuster film in 2012

Courtesy Film Frame/Marvel
Courtesy Film Frame/Marvel

 

All images on this website are owned by the original comic book companies which produced them.  Please see individual companies for more information.

 

RECOMMENDED READING:

If you’re into digging more into this subject, here are a few sources that I used for this podcast:

Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of An American Art Form, with written contributions by Paul Buhle

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hadju

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangster and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones

Comic Book Century:  The History of American Comic Books by Stephen Krensky

 

Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution by Ronin Ro

 

The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City by Peter Sanderson

 

The top image is from Godzilla #24, released by Marvel Comics in July 1979. Herb Trimpe penciler, Dan Green inker, im Novak letterer, from a story by Doug Moench, edited by Allen Milgrom and Mary Jo Duffy

 

Central Park’s Maine Monument

At Memorial Day celebrations one hundred years ago, one of New York City’s great war memorials was finally unveiled — the Maine Monument, at the southwest corner entrance of Central Park.  The monument pays tribute to the 266 American soldiers who perished on the USS Maine, which exploded in Havana, Cuba, on February 15, 1898.

Given the various wars which have involved the United States since then, this event is sometimes overshadowed, but it so horrified and angered Americans that emotions helped fuel the conflict known as the Spanish-American War later that year.

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This is often considered a war manufactured by New York publishers as anti-Spanish rhetoric in the papers — the seeds of so-called ‘yellow journalism’, featuring outlandish exaggeration or out-right fabrication to sell their product to New Yorkers — led directly into military engagement.

Newspapers were not only behind the causes of war; they were behind its monuments too.  Within days of the explosion, William Randolph Hearst called for donations for a memorial to the Maine’s fallen crew.

3389734981_a009e58d26_o

Just as Joseph Pulitzer had done a decade earlier for the Statue of Liberty, Hearst went directly to its readers, young and old, to help fund a tribute to the Maine.  Given the wall-to-wall coverage of the war that year and the ample profits from newspaper sales, it’s strange that Hearst couldn’t just fund the whole thing himself.

Less than a month after the disaster, people around the country were fund-raising for the Maine Memorial.  In March 1898, a traveling comic opera crew was raising money in Oklahoma when its lead actress killed herself.  The following month, a vaudeville benefit at New York’s Koster & Bial in Herald Square was overtaken by sailors who took to singing patriotic songs from the balconies.

Hundreds of special benefits were hosted in theaters and stages across the country over the next decade.  It’s unclear how much of the proceeds ended up funding the monument, as it took well over a decade for money to be raised and its design — by New Jersey architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle, America’s go-to memorial designer of the Gilded Age — to be approved.  Magonigle enlisted his frequent collaborator Attilio Piccirilli to create the bronze and marble sculptures.

Some of that earnest enthusiasm seems to have disappeared when the memorial was finally dedicated on Memorial Day 1913.  According the New York Sun, leading New York artist erupted in “a storm of criticism” at the shiny, ostentatious design, with aesthetes calling the work a “misfit” and “a disgrace to the city.”

Many thought its relationship to the actual Maine was lost in vague theatrical symbolism.  “Architecturally and constructively the whole thing is cheap and bad.”[source]

Picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The memorial was unveiled with a grand military parade and the attendance of ten warships in the harbor, including one from Havana.  There was, of course, one great conflict on everybody’s mind that day when, in the official ceremony, sworn enemies Hearst and Mayor William Jay Gaynor met at the unveiling. (Among many grievances, Hearst had unsuccessfully run against Gaynor for mayor in 1909.)  With utmost restraint, Gaynor managed to shake Hearst’s hand without punching him in the face.

Two years later, a second memorial to the Maine was placed in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.  And in 1926, a lavish monument was placed in Havana, Cuba.

Taken 1920, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Taken 1920, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Newsies vs the World! The Newsboys Strike of 1899


Are you tough enough to mess with them?

PODCAST Extra! Extra! Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst vs. the newsboys! Pandemonium in the streets! One hot summer in July 1899, thousands of corner newsboys went on strike against the New York Journal and the New York World. Throngs filled the streets of downtown Manhattan for two weeks and prevented the two largest papers in the country from getting distributed.

In this episode, we look at the development of the sensationalist New York press — the birth of yellow journalism — from its very earliest days, and how sensationalism’s two famous purveyors were held at ransom by the poorest, scrappiest residents of the city. The conflict put a light to the child labor crisis and became a dramatic example of the need for reform.

Crazy Arborn, Kid Blink, Racetrack Higgins and Barney Peanuts invite you to the listen in to this tale of their finest moment, straight from the street corners of Gilded Age New York.

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: The Newsboys Strike of 1899

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Newsboys in front of Seward Park. Caption: “Eisenberg Brothers, living at 27 Lewis Street. Benjamin, 8 years old, and John 10, selling Jewish papers [assumably the Forward] on East Broadway near Rutgers Street.” By Lewis Hine (Courtesy NYHS)

Printing House Square, in a print from 1866, and the world of newspaper publishing in the mid-19th century. This was the heart of journalism in New York, where the streets reeked of ink, reporters and editors darted back and forth from their offices, and newsboys gathered to pick up their morning bundles of hot-off-the-press editions. (NYPL)

From another angle (print is labeled from 1870s) we see the offices of the Trubune, the Times and the World. The New York World at this time was under publisher Marble Manton was disreputable and unsuccessful.

The fate of the New York World was transformed when it was purchased by innovator Joseph Pulitzer, who modernized the publication — introducing such staples of cover photographs and banner headlines — and increased its popularity through sometimes sensational articles. (NYPL)

Not to be outdone, William Randolph Hearst stepped into the publishing fray in 1896 with the New York Morning Journal, matching the World head to head in pulling out the stops to increase circulation and ad revenue.

This is Duane Street in the early 1900s. I’m including this picture because the Newsboys Lodging House, where many of the strikers resided for a nickel a night, was located at 9 Duane Street, in the shadow of the World’s distinctive tower.

Pulitzer’s World Building from Park Row, designed by George Post, was at one time the tallest building in the world. It sits near the Tribune building, at center.
Newsboys were not the ‘plucky’, can-do ambitious entrepreneurs that pop culture has made them out to be, although sometimes (like this guy) they come close.

A Lewis Hine photograph with the caption “Group of newsboys starting out at Brooklyn Bridge early Sunday morning.” The newsies got up every morning to pick up their bundle of newspapers. New York newspapers raised the price of these bundles during the Spanish-American War, when circulation increased. When the war was over, many newspapers lowered the price. All but the World and the Journal. [NYPL]

A cluster of newsboys, amongst sailors and businessmen, out at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1903. Brooklyn newsies had taken on the newspapers via a strike as far back as 1886 and joined their Manhattan counterparts in fighting back at Pulitzer and Hearst.(Courtesy Shorpy, who has a beautiful larger version)

The life of the newsie aged children prematurely. Getting up early, staying up late, most of them homeless and scrounging for nickels and dimes to survive, the 19th century newsboy got by on emulating adulthood. The boys below were photographed by Lewis Hine in St. Louis. (from Shorpy, who have a larger view)

Hine and Staten Islander Alice Austen are the two most well-known photographers of everyday life in New York and captured life on the streets in all its unglamorized tarnish. Below, Austen captures a newsie hard at work in 1906.

Although most newsies were boys, there were many newsgirls as well, such as this young lady in a fetching hat. Photo by Alice Austen. [NYPL]

Even with aid organazations like the Children’s Aid Society and lodging homes for wayward waifs, many newsboys lived their entire lives on the streets. The picture below is from 1912, by Hine. (NYPL)

Why do photographs of young kids from this era seem to resonate so strongly? You can look at these pictures and see your own children, nieces and nephews and neighbors. As children — particularly poor ones– have few of the fashionable trappings of adults of this era, we’re able to recognize common expressions. I highly recommend checking out the collections of Lewis Wickes Hine and Alice Austen at both the New York Public Library Digital Collection and the Library of Congress.

Finally, here’s a one more photograph from 1943 of a modern newsie, decades after the strike, by another great photographer Gordon Parks (yes, the director of Shaft). I like that he’s standing in front of a sign for the Journal-American, the newspaper that Hearst’s Journal morphed into.
[LOC]

And I couldn’t close without a little nod to that oft-maligned, cult classic Newsies , featuring fictional portrayals of Racetrack Higgins, David Simmons and of course Kid Blink (in a reduced role from his actual participation in the strike) (Thanks to Pengo for the link suggestion)

Finally I deeply apologize: I’m sadly aware that my impersonation of a newsboy’s dialect had a bit of an Ozark twang in it! I was never meant for the stage, I guess….