In the evolution of the comics industry from an insular genre aimed at teenage boys to a wide-ranging medium with material for people of every age, gender and race, I like to point out that the period of “Comics are just for boys!” was a comparatively brief phenomenon, if you call 25 years brief.
The period from the rise of the direct market in the mid 70s to the rise of manga around the turn of the century represented an aberration from the early days of comics publishing, when even superhero comics were considered proper reading for young girls. The most successful US publisher ever, at least in terms of monthly sales, could well be Dell/Western who claimed sales of 23 million copies a month in 1953. Using a 10¢ cover price and converting to 2017 dollars that’s $26.7 million in sales a month. By contrast in January, the entire comics industry sold 15.41 million copies, according to Comichron.
Dell/Western published a lot of comics in the humor and “funny animal” (including Disney) genres. There were also tons of celebrity based comics that sold well, showing that today’s comics written by Milo Ventimiglia and Avril Lavigne (memba her?) are just carrying on in a proud tradition.
Anyway, that’s all a preamble to talking about two of the longest running humor/licensed comics of all. Both were published by DC Comics, and both enjoyed something of a proud place in DC history but neither is likely to be seen ever again aside from the quarter bins of history. I speak of The Adventures of Bob Hope and The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, later shortened, as all Hollywood historians know, to The Adventures of Jerry Lewis following Lewis’s tragic sundering from Martin, an event that still brings a tear to the eye of old ladies shopping at Ralphs on Sunset.
Lest you think these comics were short term flash in the pans, Bob Hope ran for 109 issues and 18 years (1960-1968) and Jerry Lewis, with or without Dean, ran 124 issues from 1952 to 1971. Arnold Drake is credited with writing the Hope book, while Neal Adams had significant stories on both titles, his facility with likenesses doubtless contributing to his success.
Bob Oskner was the major artist on both books, a similar skill at caricature making him a go to guy for these kinds of tie ins.
As I went through the years being told that only superhero comics could sell in the world, I often thought of these two titles. Clearly a product of their times, but just as obviously successful enough to run for nearly 20 years on the basis of tropey japes and two comedians with strong personas and incredible longevity. (Could you imagine a Louis CK comic running for 20 years?) Hope had one of the greatest careers in show biz history, dying a few days after turning 100 and, it’s rumored, enjoying a daily gin and tonic up to the end. Lewis, improbably, is still alive at age 91, although his recent TV appearances are saddening.
But, if Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis could be successful in comics, anything could, I reasoned, and luckily that view has come back into fashion.
But what of these two titles themselves? So obscure that the Comic Book Database doesn’t even have credits for most issues, they’ve never been reprinted, and remain unlikely to be seen again because of copyright problems.
It’s just such a thing that tireless Tony Isabella mentioned today on Facebook, that while working on his own book, JULY 1963: A PIVOTAL MONTH IN THE COMIC-BOOK LIFE OF TONY ISABELLA VOLUME ONE (which is not a joke,. BTW), he’d noticed the copyright information on an issue of Jerry Lewis:
One of the requests I often hear from comics fans is that they’d love to see “Best Of” collections of titles like Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. Given some of the great artists who worked on those titles and some of the crossovers with DC super-heroes, I figured those would sell decently. I also figured that if DC approached the Hope estate or whoever handles Lewis’ merchandise would go along with this if there was a charitable component. Both Hope and Lewis have supported many good causes.
Yesterday, while putting together copyright information for my just-finished book – JULY 1963: A PIVOTAL MONTH IN THE COMIC-BOOK LIFE OF TONY ISABELLA VOLUME ONE – I saw copyright information I had not noticed before:
Adventures of Jerry Lewis #78:
Copyright 1963 by Patti Enterprises, Inc.
This seems to indicate Lewis owns the rights to this material. A publisher could, conceivably, go to “Patti Enterprise” and cut a deal to reprint this material. That’s pretty what happened with Dark Horse and Sarah Karloff for the former’s Boris Karloff Archives.
Such a book might not be able to include the DC super-heroes crossovers, but that would still leave a lot of good issues to be considered.
Just something I’m throwing out there.
As it emerges in the comments, the Lewis corporation owns the copyright but DC owns the actual stories so both would have to get together to make it happen. Former DC editor Paul Kupperberg recalls that he had an actual deal in the works to reprint the material but repeated letters to the Lewis organization and his son, Gary Lewis over a period of two years produced…no response.
It is possible that Jerry Lewis does not want us to see these comics again.
And that is sad.
With so many golden age comics from small publishers in public domain and reprinted constantly from IDW, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics and more, you forget that so many other treasures are still locked away, never to be seen by a modern audience eager to dissect them.
So Jerry Lewis and the estate of Bob Hope, if you are listening, let these comics be reprinted! It is time to rediscover our comics heritage.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.