s-l1600“What’s up, Doc?”  Pictured above is my Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics #24, published October 1943. Cover art is by Walt Kelly, curiously signed by studio head Leon Schlesinger.

Pictured left is my Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics #62, published December 1946. Cover art is by Dan Gormley.  Both feature football themes.

As a nine year old rifling through a pile of comic books on the floor of my grandparent’s house I really wasn’t all that cognizant of what was ‘toons and what was heroes. s-l1600Frankly, they were all just comic books to read and enjoy. Despite current collector penchant towards the heroes, demand for the ‘toons was in fact as strong during the Golden Age as it was with my nine year old reading habits. By the late 1940’s, Dell was simply the largest comic book publisher in America. According to Crawford’s Encyclopedia of Comic Books, in 1953, Dell Publishing produced an all-time record high of more than 2.5 Billion (that’s with a B) comic books between January and March 1953. This accounted for no less than one-third of the combined total of all comic books printed during that period!

Bob Clampett's Looney Tunes Porky Pig intro in...

Bob Clampett’s Looney Tunes Porky Pig intro in 1938–1939 Produced by Leon Schlesinger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How did they get there? Well, in 1938 Dell entered an agreement to publish comic book versions of characters that Western Printing and Lithographing Co. held the rights to. Dell launched Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories (Disney), Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies (Warner Bros.) and New Funnies (Walter Lantz) among others. Further, artists Carl Barks, Walt Kelly and John Stanley help make some of the stories and drawings unforgettable.

By 1962 Western Printing started to get wise, and ended the agreement with Dell in order to publish its own books under a new Gold Key Comics label.

As a very interesting side note, both Dell Comics and subsequently Gold Key Comics bucked the whole comic regulatory trend that swept the industry and chose to never display the Comic Code Authority (CCA) seal. They got away with it, and so technically none of its books were ever “pre-code” since it’s books never subsequently used it!