This month we discuss all of the history that leads up to Batman’s creation. What’s a Comic? When was the first Comic created? Where did superheroes come from? Join us as we set the stage for Batman’s inception.
- Understanding Comics (Book)
- Papyrus Making Video
- Paper Making Video
- Printing Press Documentary
- Literacy Data
- What is Historiography? (Video)
- Newspaper Printing (Video)
- Joseph Pulitzer
- The Yellow Kid
- William Randolph Hearst
- American Comics (Book)
- Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson
- Why Does Superman Hate Cars? (Video)
You can find an archive of all episodes at batlessons.com
Send your comments, questions and corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at us @batlessons
Podcast Artwork by Sergio R. M. Duarte
Podcast Music by Renzo Calma
[00:00:00] Alex: And this is where the word stereotype comes from
[00:00:02] Brian: You’re of tidbits
Welcome to bat lessons, the Batman history podcast. I am Brian Anders and I am joined today by Alex, the dark night cash. And today we’re going to be starting at the very beginning. How does that sound, Alex
[00:00:27] Alex: It sounds good. I’ve done lots of, of prep work to learn about, everything that leads up to the introduction of Batman, to the creation of Batman. And it’s a lot, more than you would think.
if you had to guess what the first comic was when the first comic happens, what, what would you, what would you guess?
What would you say
[00:00:47] Brian: Like Batman comic, or just comic in general?
[00:00:49] Alex: like,
[00:00:50] Brian: Oh, I mean, I I’d probably say like, Egyptian hieroglyphics
[00:00:55] Alex: Okay. That’s a really good guess. That’s a really good
[00:00:58] Brian: good
[00:00:59] Alex: Um, we, so we don’t exactly know when the first comics are. And that’s cuz you know, they don’t show up fully formed. Like as you would expect today, if you say comic or comic book or comic strip, like very readily, like people have something that pops into their head, but that was actualy a slow evolution, like,
[00:01:16] Brian: I I’d guess that, like, if we’re talking about comics as like the, the storytelling mechanism for comic books that we’re like familiar with in like a contemporary sense, I probably would guess like 1910s, 1920s,
[00:01:30] Alex: okay. That’s interesting. So we’re gonna talk about all of that. Um, and, and we’re, we’re gonna go way, way, way back. Um, and the reason for that is cuz yeah, like you, you, you, you didn’t come fully formed, but there’s actually a lot of debate about what a comic is. Um, there’s a couple different people who have had ,uh, different thesis about like what is a comic, that there’s a, a famous artist named Will Eisner, who, worked in what we’re gonna talk about today.
They call it the platinum age. So this is, this is before superheroes. So comics and comic strips before superheroes, Will Eisner worked in that time. He created a character called the shadow that was famous. And he wrote a book in the eighties, sort of trying to define what comics were and his, his definition was that it was sequential art.
In more recent years, people have started to kind of reject that as well. There’s a book, called “Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art” is written by Scott McCloud. I love it. It’s like so good of all the books. I, I, I will talk about, today and there’s several, this is the one that like is worth reading.
Um, cause it’s not really history book. , it’s more about the art itself.
[00:02:30] Brian: Is, we gonna have like a, a link to that book in the description or
[00:02:34] Alex: I will link all of the books in, in the show notes.
[00:02:36] Brian: Sweet.
[00:02:36] Alex: what’s, what’s fun about understanding comics is it itself is actually a comic book. Um, but you know, and I, I don’t wanna get into it too deep, but like he basically says that, you know, potentially there’s an element where, um, you know, juxtaposed words and art is part of that.
Do you even really have to be sequential to be a comic? So like family circus right is like a famous single panel comic.
it’s not sequential art. So, yeah, because of this dispute where people like have different definitions of what a comic is, um, we’re, we’re gonna go way back.
[00:03:05] Brian: So it just outta curiosity, you kind of hinted at this a little before we started the is, are we going to get to Batman this one? this all just like foundational setup?
[00:03:16] Alex: at the very, very end, we’ll talk a very, very little bit about Batman. So, so functionally, no if, if you wanted to skip this episode and go straight to the creation of Batman, you could go to episode two. But, um, I think there’s interesting context here, especially when we get, into the mid 1940s, there’s a lot of stuff that occurs that happens because of what happens before superheroes.
[00:03:38] Brian: So this is, this is gonna be little dense and foundational, but to set up an understanding for all that will follow
[00:03:45] Alex: Yeah. I, I do think, um, if you’re into tidbits, there’s some good tidbits in here. There’s like fun facts
[00:03:51] Brian: I’m all tidbits gonna love
[00:03:53] Alex: like about society generally. Um, soUm, so, ho hopefully, ou enjoy that and it’ll be a good reason to listen. So you guessed Egypt, right? Hieroglyphics. We can actually go further back than that.
[00:04:05] Brian: you gonna go to like cave drawings. or something?
[00:04:07] Alex: cave drawings. Yeah. So
[00:04:08] Brian: man.
[00:04:09] Alex: the earliest cave paintings we have are 64,000 years old.
[00:04:14] Brian: Whew.
[00:04:14] Alex: and th those were found in Spain, um, not that long ago, like 10 years ago.
[00:04:19] Brian: geez.
[00:04:19] Alex: and those cave paintings are actually speculated to be drawn by Neanderthals, not, not humans. Um, And the reason is cuz humans weren’t in, in Spain at that time 64,000 years ago.
And there’s a picture that I have in the show notes. I’ll, I’ll put it in the show notes. And also if you have a podcast player that does chapter artwork, I’m gonna be like putting. Imagery in the chapter artwork throughout the show. So, we we’ll put it in there. And in some of these earliest cave paintings that are 64,000 years ago, you’ll see like animals, right.
And there’ll be multiple of the same type of animal in like different poses. So like this picture has like lions and one has like its mouth open and one has its mouth shut. And one has its neck like craned up a little bit. And the other one is down. And you could interpret that as being two separate animals, or you could con interpret that being sequential art, right.
You have a single lion at two different points in time. And so literally as far back as we have history, so as far back as we have drawings, there are people who think these things are essentially comics, um, because they’re showing motion over time, which is,
which is pretty Yeah. So, if you, if you can’t pinpoint when the art starts, um, the, the other sort of interesting thing about comics I think is of the mass production, O of media, right.
And consumption by everyone. So if we step forward in time a little bit, we’ll, we’ll start to learn about mass media and mass consumption of media. So again, Egypt, right. They had sequential art, both in hieroglyphics, which are actually symbols that are much like we would think of as script as writing.
Right. But they also had art that would depict things occurring over time in the sort of these long strips. Um, but the other interesting thing that the Egyptians did was, um, they invented Papyrus. Mediums that people are drawing on before that like stone, like in the case of a cave painting or, um, even, vellums or parchments, which are stretched animal hides.
And we’re not sure who invented the parchment. But we do know that, you had to kill an animal to have it, and you had to forego having something like a leather. Right. And so it’s, it’s not very, common for people to be able to have. So, the Egyptians did this thing where they had a plant, the plant was called Papyrus as well.
And they had these long green stalk. If you’ve ever seen a corn stalk, it’s kind of like that. And they would take a knife and they would sort of cut down this long, you know, shaft into these strips of fibers, that are like maybe an inch or two wide. And several feet long and they would soak these strips of fiber in water and then they would make a weave.
Right. So they’d lay one over the other back and forth, back and forth like a Latice right.
So it kind of looks like a, like a mid nineties lawn chair or something.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And, and they do that while it’s still very, very wet and then they would press it and they would dry it. And what you ended up with was something that, was flat a lot, like we would think of as paper and it was strong in terms of its sort of, um, shearing force. So you could like take both ends of it and like pull and it’s not gonna rip.
[00:07:16] Brian: it,
[00:07:16] Alex: it you couldn’t really fold it. You couldn’t really roll it. It was pretty brittle.
[00:07:20] Brian: Okay.
[00:07:22] Alex: and there’s a video of people making it. I like nerd out on this stuff, like how, this technology works. And I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well.
and, Papyrus is, is a big deal cuz it starts to make things cheaper.
So people are more likely to be able to have, you know, printed word or art. Although I say printed, they’re more likely to have reproduced art or words because this time that’s all done by hand,
So, so Papyrus, we see show up, uh, at about 2560 BC, right? So that’s like what?
4,500 years ago, something like that 4,600 years ago. Um, if we fast forward all the way to 100 AD in China, um, they invent paper and unlike Papyrus paper, isn’t woven, the idea is pretty similar. You take like a fibrous material, you make it really wet, you apply pressure and you dry it. Right. So that it binds together.
But it’s it, you know, they make these pulps. So at the time it was like linen, clothes people would wear this. And then after it was done being clothes like they turned it into rags. They’d like, Cut it up and grind it up and soak it in water and turn it into this pulp.
It’s just like this mealy sort of white, like stuff that’s like floating in water and then they would have a mold. So like a lo a large piece of wood with like a, a lip around the outside and they’d stick the mold into the water and pull it up out, and then drain the water off. So all of this, this sort of fiberous pulp is sitting on the mold and then they’d press it and dry it.
Got it. Yeah.
[00:08:47] Brian: This, this sounds a lot like, the type of like arts And crafts you do in like elementary school out how to like, make a, like a really pulpy paper or something,
or like the, the way that like fiber and like old concrete
[00:09:01] Alex: connects so that
[00:09:02] Brian: it, it and stuff.
[00:09:04] Alex: Yeah. And, and eventually they start making it with different things. Like we, we make wood mostly with paper today. Uh, wood pulp paper.
Um, but the
process is basic that’s right. Yeah. So instead of,
[00:09:16] Brian: said it backwards. You said, you said wood with paper, with paper, with
[00:09:19] Alex: wood, right?
Sorry. Yes. uh, the, the process is remarkably similar, but just instead of the rags, you’re using wood, um, yeah. To make the paper,
The other thing that the Chinese do, that’s really interesting. In the ninth century. So, um, 800 ad somewhere in there is they, they invent something called the wood cut and a wood cut is kind of what it sounds like.
It’s basically, um, a stamp, right? So you can take a, a block of wood and then you have, you know, a chisel or a knife and you shave away wood where you don’t want an impression to be on the paper. And so you, you end up with this sort of relief, this elevated piece of wood that you spread ink onto, and then you make contact with a paper exactly like a stamp.
And you’re able to, to have the same art, um, or text although usually art, um, on. A piece of paper over and over and over and over again. So, um, they’re the first ones to sort of mass produce, art and, and words.
[00:10:17] Brian: wife is a studio artist and in college. I remember had that in some of her classes doing prints
and stuff, I guess to add a little color to that, it’s similar to like, when you’re doing, t-shirt printing
have like different wood cuts can overlap and represent different colors and you can on different colors.
And, um, so that that’s like kind of a, a more contemporary example of like how that kind of stuff develops
from my own experience.
[00:10:47] Alex: Exactly. Wood cuts remain the sort of primary way of printing for a long time after, after this. And even newer forms of printing, many of them work in, in a very similar way, where basically you, you have some sort of relief where you’re applying ink and then you’re pressing it on a piece of paper.
And then yeah, you have different colors. You make multiple passes with different images that are meant to overlap. So you can have a multi-color image. Right.
[00:11:11] Brian: got it. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:11:12] Alex: But at this time they’re still doing it by hand. So they, they make the wood cut hand by hand, but then they also press it by hand. So they apply the ink themselves.
They press that against the wood themselves. it’s very labor intensive and it makes it hard to make many of them.
[00:11:27] Brian: roughly. When are we in time? Right now?
[00:11:29] Alex: so the, the Chinese invent, the wood cut around 800 ad the
[00:11:33] Brian: ad. Okay.
[00:11:34] Alex: Yeah. And so, and the woodcut remains the primary way to reproduce any text or words all the way until the mid 1450s.
So we’re all the way zooming forward to the 15th century.
[00:11:44] Brian: Gutenberg printing, press time. Right?
[00:11:46] Alex: that’s right. Johan Gutenberg is a, a German man who, is in a race to invent the printing press. He’s not the only one. So like, the, the Catholic church at the time is like very much wanting to find a way to do this. They, they have the sense that, that this technology is possible that it should exist.
Right. And they’re commissioning different people to go and figure out how to create a printing press. There’s a whole hour long documentary. I watched in, in prep for this, called, how, how the printing press revolutionize the world. It’s hosted by Stephen Fry. I love Stephen Fry.
[00:12:18] Brian: Mm. Yeah, he’s good.
[00:12:20] Alex: it, it’s, it’s super good.
I’ll put a link to it in, in, in the show notes. So, so I, I will resist the urge to like go on for an hour about the printing press, but like it’s very different than you would think. You know, we think of it, the Gutenberg Bible as being the sort of result of that, but it was like, very commerce focused, like Gutenberg was a business person who wanted to sell it, and was not able to do so after inventing the printing, press kind of died in obscurity and, and had the, had the invention stolen from him, which you’ll as we walk through history, having things stolen from people is a, a theme that you’ll, uh, come to see repeated over and over again.
But we, we like to think of the Gutenberg Bible as this, um, catalyst for everything to take off. Right. And it kind of does, right. Like if you pull up, a graph of literacy over time, Much of the world.
We, we don’t have good in, in information on, and even this far back we’re, we’re guessing we’re making a lot of educated guesses, but, you know, in, in Northern Europe where we have the best idea, literacy, does kind of continuously grow from this point forward. But it, it remains quite low. Like it, it, it it’s pretty slow growth.
So we enter the Renaissance. So the, the 15th century, so 1400, um, with about two to 15% literacy, in, in 1450, by 1455, we don’t know exactly when, but by 1455, the printing press is invented, right? So we have 150 years till the end of the 16th century, of the printing press existing. And we exit the 16th century with about 20 to 30% literacy in Northern Europe.
Right. So it’s a catalyst, but not as big as you think. And there’s a few different reasons for that. One of which is like, Gutenberg only made 150 Bibles . And so, you know, the printing press allows for much, much faster and cheaper creation than someone like writing it by hand, which is what they did before.
Like literally they would have, the church would employ like hundreds of scribes and what they would do all day, every day is copy from one book to another. Right. It’s cheaper and easier than that. But like, it’s actually still a very manual process where they have these little lead letters that they’re constantly rearranging.
They call it movable type, right. Um, to make the next page. And then they use human power to like, turn this, this sort of cork screw to lower this big, heavy weight to press the paper down onto the movable type. And then they use human power to lift it back up again. And then, you know, they do that however many pages they’re gonna make.
And then they. Pull the movable type out and then they make a different page. Right. So he, yeah, he only made 150 Bibles. There’s only 150 Gutenberg Bibles. And another thing that people don’t really think about is that those Bibles are written in Latin. Right. Remember Gutenberg’s in Germany and so this isn’t even the language that people are speaking.
And the Catholic church at that time, like all of the power was concentrated with them. So education revolves around religion, right? The people who are learning to read are clergy. So priests, brothers, sisters, physicians, such as there was in the 15th century, um, and bureaucrats. So people who are like lawyers and scribes, those are the only people who are learning how to read
And that doesn’t mean that. The printing press. Isn’t a way that information starts to be disseminated. Um, Indeed, there’s something that they, that, that shows up in the 15th century called the broad sheet. And the broad sheet is very much like you would think of a newspaper today. Although it’s a single page, it’s these large sheets that, put inside a printing press that would be, you know, folded up to create a smaller book.
And it, you know, includes words that might be news or information that people want to know about. Although usually it’s the church that’s generating these, so it’s whatever the church wants people to know about, but they also, use wood cuts. Right. And so, again, I have a, a picture here that, that Brian can see and, and we’ll put in the chapter artwork of, a broadsheet from the 17th century.
We, we know that these go back as far as the 15th century, but the best examples we have are a little bit newer than that. That was at the time of Martin Luther. And it is mostly, it’s like 90% picture. Right. And this is information that the church is sort of propagandizing about Martin Luther, to people, to have they, they have these mass produced cheap pages where it’s like mostly pictures, a little bit of text.
So you really start see the printing press as, as a way to start conveying things to people, even if they can’t read, via the broadsheet. So moving on from the Renaissance, we go into the age of enlightenment, um, which is, and I should say stepping back for just one second. Are you familiar with the term historiography, Brian?
[00:16:45] Brian: No,
[00:16:46] Alex: So there’s,
[00:16:47] Brian: sounds like the study of history.
[00:16:49] Alex: Basically, right. So I took like one upper division history class in college, and the reason I did it was because I needed, you know, X number of upper division credits, also, um, needed, you know, X number of history credits and like I was trying to graduate. So I found an upper division class.
Um, so like not a historian. But what I do know, is that there are certain framings that people give for history that are
like, they have a, a viewpoint. So when I talk about things like the Renaissance or age of enlightenment, I’m using that as a short hand because, that’s the, the sort of common way that we have of talking about it, but it’s worth noting that like, um, you know, people view history differently.
and so, you know, uh, we, we may not necessarily agree with the framing, even if we’re, we’re gonna use it. Cuz we have a lot to cover. We’re gonna move fast. So, yeah, in the, in the age of enlightenment literacy continues to grow, right? So we enter the 17th century with 20% of people being able to read.
We exit the 18th century with about 50% of people in Northern Europe being able to read. And, and the big part of that, is that the church starts to lose power. So you, the Catholic church starts to lose power. You have this thing called reformation where protestant church start cropping up. And basically you have like Martin Luther, right? Who’s this major figure of like saying, Hey, you know, the Catholic church shouldn’t necessarily have to be the orifice through which you receive salvation people . And instead, it’s something that God confers upon you and you can have a personal relationship with God. And like it’s, uh, salvation is freely given and, and, uh, rather than being, you know, received through good works.
Right. But the point, the reason I’m bringing this up is because part of that, um, sort of philosophy is that people should be able to read the Bible themselves. Right. So this is where we see schools start to pop up for anyone. Right. So you have, They’re run by the church still, but instead of the Catholic church, it’s a Protestant church.
Right. And the further north you go in Europe, the more successful the reformation is the more Protestant churches are. There are the higher, the education rate because people are learning to read so that they can read the Bible. And like, they go to school for like a couple years. Right. This is not like a liberal arts education like you,
I might receive today.
[00:18:57] Brian: Mm-hmm so it, it sounds kind of like, what you’re saying is that part of this, this reformation concept is to say, um, you don’t need a middle manager be able to communicate with the, the higher power in, this case being God.
[00:19:12] Alex: that’s right. That’s right. And, with that, the church starts losing power in other ways, not just in terms of like dis intermediating, people from education. So like. Yes, they’re learning how to read, but it also, starts to dis intermediate commerce. So one of the things that happens is broadsheets people start to realize that it’s a way to make money
Um, you see that broadsheets start to do more things that might be considered entertainment, and you have these sort of cartoons, these drawings, are start to be funny, right. And people would call the drawings inside them, you know, comical wood cuts or comical cuts or later
Yeah. So, in the 18th century, so this is 17 hundreds. They start calling broad sheets with drawings on them that are funny comics and that’s, that’s where the word comes from . But it’s worth noting that, like at this time they’re not like. One of the definitions we gave was sequential art. They’re really not doing sequential art at this time.
Like despite the fact that like the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians cave paintings are doing sequential art, what’s appearing in these, you know, comical cuts are usually single images. Sometimes they have text, but very light on the text. So they’re, they’re not exactly what you would think of it as, as a comic.
They like the word balloon, does exist at this time, but usually in like paintings. Right. And so, yeah, word balloons, aren’t really appearing in cartoons at this time.
[00:20:29] Brian: balloons. Are those, those little bubbles or whatever
[00:20:33] Alex: so today, yes, to today, they’re these little white, um, circles, right. That have a stem that point to the mouth of, of the, a speaker. When you see word balloons appear in the 14th hundreds, the 15th century, they actually start as word scrolls. So you have what.
[00:20:47] Brian: No kidding.
[00:20:48] Alex: Yeah, so you, Yeah,
they draw like paper, like a roll that’s like coming out of people’s mouths and they like wave and they go whatever.
And you write along the contour
a hundred percent.
[00:21:03] Brian: Okay. right.
[00:21:04] Alex: So yeah, the, what we you think of is the word balloon doesn’t come until a little bit later, but yeah. Word, word scrolls are, are often cited as, as the first appearance of, of, of a word balloon.
[00:21:12] Brian: That’s interesting.
[00:21:14] Alex: So that brings us to the 19th century, the 18 hundreds.
What do you, what do you know about the 18 hundreds? What happens in the 18 hundreds?
[00:21:21] Brian: Um, like The industrial revolution?
[00:21:23] Alex: right?
revolution? It’s a big deal. We basically have an explosion of invention. We have an explosion of commerce. We have an explosion of education in Northern Europe. We enter the 19th century with about 50%. Literacy. Like I was saying, we exit it with 90% literacy. So by the year 1900, 90% of people in Europe can read, America starts collecting data on literacy at this time.
So we don’t have data before the 19th century. But again, we also exit the 19th century with like close to 90% literacy. Right? Lots of people can read. And a big part of this is, compulsory education. so people have to go to school. Most at this time only go for a few years. Um, rather than like the 12 that we think of when we think of compulsory education.
[00:22:07] Brian: earlier with the printing press, you were talking about a lot of manual, like human labor
[00:22:11] Alex: to like,
[00:22:12] Brian: to, to move the print up and down.
So like with industrial and the, literacy going way up inventions exploding and stuff, it, it sounds like you’re gonna move towards like, human powered
[00:22:26] Alex: That’s right. So a few things happen. One is, we have more materials or more materials start to be common, and more methods for transferring things to those materials. So, in the late 17th century or sorry, the late 18th century and the early 19th century, we see a move away from wood cuts and we start to see much more common.
The copper cut. The copper cut is what it sounds like. They start to use metal. And the reason they use metal is because you can reproduce many, many, many more times with copper than you can with wood.
When you use wood in a printing, press,
it breaks down over time. So you might only be able to yeah, a hundred copies of the image or a thousand with copper, you can do many more. In fact, you see printing houses at this time start to, do business with lots of different types of, um, organizations that might want different types of things printed.
But there are certain images that are common between them. So if you want to create your printing, that has something that’s like fancy feeling or pretty feeling, you might have a flower, right. That you would have on hand on copper that you can sell prints of over and over and over again. Or you might have a Santa right on copper that you can sell over and over and over again.
[00:23:34] Brian: Hmm.
D does this mean that you’d be able to do a press onto to duplicate the press that you would eventually press onto paper?
[00:23:45] Alex: so we’ll talk in a minute about interesting ways that they get, images onto to metal. But no, with copper cuts, people are creating them the same way. They are wood cuts. So there’s an artist
that. That shaves away or works with the copper directly. But there were printing houses, in France, in particular, at the time that came up with a nickname for these copper cuts based on the sound that they would make when you put them in, in a block with movable type, um, it was a clinking sound and they called that a cliche.
That’s where the use of that word comes from. It’s an image that’s used over and over and over again, much like the Santa that would be on the yes. On the holiday card of every company sending out a ho holiday card this year.
[00:24:25] Brian: Wow. That’s interesting
[00:24:26] Alex: yeah. So, um, that’s, that’s where that word comes from. Now you were asking like, how do we get image onto metal?
So one of the things that’s invented at this time is the process of taking, something that, is movable type. So someone takes these individual letters of lead, and lays them out in a block, to create like a page of, of, of paper. But Let’s say we wanna be able to do that print again without, having those movable type saved for later.
So what they would do is they would take again like wood fibers. This is kinda like a paper maché material. It’s a very wet fibrous material and you would lay it over a page. That’s all laid out in movable type ahead of time. And you would put it in some thing, like an oven . To dry it out.
And then you pull the paper up off the, blocks of, of, of metal, the movable type, right. And then you have this paper mache, relief of the page of paper. And then you would take that to another mechanism where you’d pour like hot lead into the paper mache. You would have a single page that was ready to go, to be able to print.
And it’s not reconfigurable cause you don’t have mobile type, but it’s, it’s something you can save and print over and over and
[00:25:31] Brian: is like a, a permanent stamp
[00:25:34] Alex: Yeah. And what, the word that they came up for, this is called a stereotype. And this is where the word stereotype comes from
[00:25:42] Brian: You’re of tidbits.
[00:25:45] Alex: Yeah. So, so, whenever you hear the word stereotype that comes from printing, that’s, a, a blocked up full page, that is set instead of having movable type.
And, um, shortly after the invention of the stereotype, they start, sort of using heat to, to mold these stereotypes over a cylinder. And the reason that you do that, is so that you can have that cylinder spin
[00:26:06] Brian: Yeah. you can have, you can maintain pressure without lifting and lowering the depth or whatever, and you can roll it through.
[00:26:13] Alex: That’s right. And when the stereotype is at the top of its rotation, it touches, you know, ink to pick up in, on it its own. And then when it’s at the bottom of its rotation, it touches paper. And the nice part about that is that you can have paper sort of continuously go. So instead of having a sheet of paper, you have a roll of paper.
And so if you’ve ever seen, you know, a scene in a movie where they’re at a newspaper and they’re
that’s exactly what I was gonna
[00:26:37] Brian: ask you about that. Yeah.
[00:26:38] Alex: Okay.
This process is called rotary printing and, and you continuously print pages and pages and pages on a spool of paper. And that happens during the industrial revolution And the big deal we’re still doing that today.
That’s absolutely right. The big deal of that is that we have a lot less human labor that’s required and we can increase page rates. So we, we start printing more and more and more throughout the 19th century. And so that democratization that, sort of egalitarian, mindset of like print is for everyone and reading is for everyone continues during time.
[00:27:16] Brian: can’t really fathom not being literate cuz it’s just so ubiquitous now, like reading is everything
[00:27:23] Alex: It’s
be like is
[00:27:24] Brian: the information age or whatever, but
[00:27:25] Alex: Yeah,
Yeah, just a couple hundred years ago, um, in our social strata, we probably wouldn’t have read, we would, we would not be learned , is kind
[00:27:35] Brian: That’s so
[00:27:36] Alex: Yeah. Especially when you think about things like, you know, in the year 1800 50% of people in Europe, which is like one of the most educated part parts of the world at the time can read. So half of people can’t read, and then like 160 years later, we go to the moon
[00:27:49] Brian: yeah.
[00:27:50] Alex: yeah. It’s, it’s nuts. Um, like how fast things
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and what we see during, the industrial revolution, becau– as a result of this industrialization of printing is for the first time, broadly available is printed word to people that they can buy and own themselves, rather than going to a library or having the one copy of the Bible for the family.
They start to be able to have printed word, and fiction pops up like immediately, like novels exist before this right. That are written for hundreds of years before this, but they’re not generally available not to, people who aren’t rich right. And there’s a, a couple different famous types of fiction that pop up pop up at this time.
One is called the penny dreadful. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that.
[00:29:49] Brian: No, I’ve never heard
[00:29:50] Alex: There’s a television show. That’s like, I think going on right now called penny dreadful. I don’t know if it has any relation to this type of fiction at all, but it it’s a popular type of fiction in the United Kingdom starts around the 1830s, obviously costs penny, it’s these eight to 16 page little pamphlets.
And they have, you know, short stories at first it’s like piracy, right? Like they take a Gothic novel and they split it up into eight page pieces. And then you go once a week and you buy a different penny dreadful, and get a piece of this novel. But eventually they get original works. and they’re called dreadfuls because the, um, material is very considered, very low brow.
It’s very, um, sensational, things like super natural subjects, detectives, criminals, the most famous penny dreadful character you might be familiar with is Sweeney. Todd comes from a penny dreadful.
[00:30:36] Brian: Oh, interesting.
[00:30:37] Alex: yeah, so that, that picks up in the early 18 hundreds. In the United States, we, we. We’re behind, right?
Like we lag a little bit. We had something that became popular around the 1860s called the dime novel. And it’s a little bit different because printing has gotten better in that time.
[00:30:52] Brian: It’s 10 times better than the penny dreadful, right?
[00:30:56] Alex: um, I don’t know what the currency exchange between a British penny and an American penny was at this time. Um, so I can’t speak to that, but, but also we’re, we’re, considerably we’re quite rural at this time. The United States is
we’re very, very spread out. And so, ne necessarily the books need to be bigger.
So these are like 32 to a hundred pages instead of like eight pages. they’re distributed, distributed via the rail, right? So if you live near a rail hub could go and buy a penny dreadful. Often people would buy them on trains. And. Their content is varied. It could be a bunch of eight page stories.
It could be anthology right. Or it could be a single story. That’s the full length of the book. Again, they also start with piracy of, of other novels. Right. Um, but eventually they have some, some original content as well. This is really the Dawn of the Western genre, as we know it. At, at that time, like people in America are coming to terms with, like I think California becomes a state in 1860.
Right. So this is sort of the end of like manifest destiny. And so there’s, there’s sort of this feeling of loss of, and like, as the railroad shows up and like everyone’s connected and like, you can get something printed from New York. Right. And, there’s this feeling of loss, a frontier there’s, a feeling of loss of wildness, right?
Like everything is becoming more connected, more industrialized, and so we start seeing stories about, you know, train robbers and Cowboys and, and the
[00:32:17] Brian: Yeah, yeah.
[00:32:18] Alex: Is we’re coming to term terms with the fact that like we just committed genocide.
Right. and so that’s where, you know, stories of like Cowboys and Indians come from is like, we’re demonstrating native Americans as like
savages, right. That like need to be dealt with. Right. And so like it’s a post-hoc justification so that like people can feel okay about, you know, taking over this land.
Um, sorry for
[00:32:43] Brian: Uh, California,
[00:32:45] Alex: not 1860.
[00:32:48] Brian: Here. I mean, close enough.
[00:32:50] Alex: The last piece of sort of fiction that I wanna talk about is pulp magazines, um, or, or pulp fiction as it might be called. People get confused. Some people think fiction is referring to, uh, paperback novels that were printed in the 1950s and sixties. It’s not, we’re talking about magazines, which are like 200 ish pages. There are larger trim size than the dime novels. They’re larger trim size than the penny dreadfuls. So they’re bigger and pretty much every way. And a big part of that is, again, our page rates are increasing. The printing is getting better.
And this pretty much supersedes both in the UK and in the United States or, or Europe and the United States, the penny dreadful the dime novel. It becomes the popular sort of medium. It starts in about 1890 and it goes until, you know, the late thirties, That that pulp magazines are in their heyday.
And the reason is that they, they, they, they blew up right, is because the value is good. It’s about 15 cents when they start occurring and 50 cents when they end. And they have many, many stories, they’re anthologies, and they have genres that are not covered by dime novel and penny dreadfuls
that is sort of very specific in terms of their appeal in, in pulp, pulp magazines, you see romance science fiction, fantasy adventure, sports detectives, mystery, horror, the occult right. It covers the gamut and. This is where we start to see lots and lots of authors that, you know, and characters that you know.
So Isaac Asimov, HP Lovecraft, Ray, Bradberry, Agatha Christie, Arthur, C Clark, all wrote stories in pulp magazines, characters that you probably know, buck Rogers, Conan the barbarian Tarzan Zorro, Doc Savage, the shadow John Carter of Mars. And during their height, the pulp magazine has, up to 250 different magazines on the news stands at any given point in time.
So you have lots of selection to choose from
[00:34:33] Brian: so this is like, what turn of the century through the 1940s
[00:34:39] Alex: Yeah, basically.
[00:34:40] Brian: Okay.
[00:34:42] Alex: So yeah, that, that, that kind of gets us through that what we think of as, early novel formats, early magazine formats, but concurrently with all of this, we see the rise of the newspaper. So there there’s a man named Joseph Pulitzer that you might have heard of. It’s the namesake of the Pulitzer prize.
He’s a Hungarian man born in Hungary in 1847. And at the age of 17 decides he wants to sort of strike out for a better life. Tries to join the British army is denied, tries to join the French army denied um, and is eventually recruited by the us army in Germany. And they, um, give him two, $200 to enlist and come overseas to fight in the civil war.
And so he spends,
he fights for the union in the civil war, um, for a very brief period of time, he arrives right as the war’s ending. And after the war ends, he decides to settle in St. Louis and he, starts reporting for a German language newspaper, in St. Louis, um, that I’m not even gonna try to pronounce and has a pretty successful career in St.
Louis, being a reporter, writing for papers, taking the money that he earns from that he ends up buying shares of the paper he works for, selling them for a profit eventually through a turn, you know, kind of crazy turn of events. He buys a German language newspaper called the Stats Zeitung that was like getting ready to go outta business.
It was on the precipice, and is able to sell that newspaper to, um, the St. Louis globe, which was an AP newspaper that also was about to go outta business. And because of the equity deal that he had when he sold his German language newspaper to this paper eventually is able to take control of the St.
Louis globe, cuz it’s like gonna go bankrupt and he wrestles control of that. And, Quickly that becomes the dominant paper in St. Louis and he makes like bank, he’s a very interesting person. Like you should do research about him if you ever get a chance. Like,
[00:36:29] Brian: sounds interesting. Like what Hungarian dude to join the army, hooked up with the us army Germany
[00:36:36] Alex: yeah,
[00:36:37] Brian: to come across the sea and fight in the civil
war the 1860s
[00:36:41] Alex: Yeah.
[00:36:43] Brian: lands in St. Louis, Missouri
[00:36:45] Alex: Yeah.
[00:36:46] Brian: to start a newspaper, essentially.
[00:36:49] Alex: b- basically, and concurrent with that time in St. Louis he also, he also, um, serves in, in the, Missouri state house of representatives. Despite the fact that he was only 22 and needed to be 25 to be seated. It’s a crazy story. I don’t have time to talk about all of it. he’s, he’s, he’s an incredible person.
But off of his success, success in St. Louis as a newspaper man, he decides that he’s gonna buy the New York world in 1883. And the reason for that is that New York was seen as the, like the crown jewel for newspapers, anybody who was anybody in the newspaper business owned a newspaper in New York city. And he wanted in on that.
Right. So the New York world, he buys that paper and grows it to be the most successful newspaper in New York city, just like he did with the St. Louis globe in St. Louis. And he does that. We’re not gonna talk about how he does that. We’ll, we’ll get to it in a minute. But one of the things that he does at the New York world that we care about, in 1893, so 10 years after he bought it.
So he’s owned the New York world for 10 years at this point. He notices that there’s a small paper in Chicago called the Chicago inter ocean that is printing in color and he goes, whoa, and, quickly buys up a four color rotary press just for himself, right. Just for, for the New York world. And, and that’s actually kinda unusual cuz papers would only print in color on the weekends.
Right? You would have black and white editions during the week color on the weekend because it’s more expensive. You can charge more for a Sunday paper. And because of that, most newspapers would like contract out their printing. So like they would have a color printing company that would do the Sunday edition for them.
[00:38:25] Brian: still how it’s done today, right?
[00:38:27] Alex: Like usually this,
[00:38:29] Brian: remember when I.
was young, when we would get the newspaper, parents probably still get the newspaper. I, I don’t, but, um,
[00:38:36] Alex: Oh,
[00:38:38] Brian: the one that had color pictures and specifically were all in color.
[00:38:42] Alex: Yeah. That was the case when I was growing up as well. But I, like, I don’t know if papers, I would assume newspapers at this time, like now, today, have their own printing presses, but I don’t know.
I don’t know.
[00:38:54] Brian: the, the point being that a hundred years later,
[00:38:56] Alex: were still
Yeah, absolutely. Definitely a trend setter. Joseph Pulitzer, there’s this other guy and his name is Richard Felton, out cult.
I, and he starts his career as a technical illustrator.
He’s briefly employed by Thomas Edison doing, drawings of inventions and blueprints for him. Frequently contracts out with a magazine that’s popular at the time called the electrical world. And in 1890 he starts selling cartoons to newspaper supplements. So, one of the things that was interesting about his drawings is that he would draw slum life and tenament life.
That was something that like wasn’t really done very often. But it’s a very real interpretation of what a lot of people were dealing with, population in the United States, doubles and doubles and doubles and doubles again. And during this time period, it grows significantly and it largely happens because of immigrant populations.
Those people largely are coming to the United States through New York. So you see New York city grow exponentially like very, very quickly in the late 1890s. And, and frankly like the city can’t handle that influx of people. So you have lots of, of people who are living in tenement, and having, you know, financial hardship.
And this is like before the great depression, right? That, that we have a lot of this, but he’s drawing it. And it’s very real. And it speaks to people in a big way. And because of his success in 1894, he’s recognized as a talent by one of the editors at the New York world, which is Pulitzer’s paper. And they hire him on to do some of this sort of real world drawing for them, cartoons for them.
And he creates a, a comic, um, called Hogan’s alley. And Hogan’s alley prominently, depicts a child named Mickey Dugin. Um, but no one calls him Mickey Dugin. Um, he becomes very quickly known as yellow kid. And, there’s a picture of the yellow kid. Brian, I don’t know if you wanna try to describe the yellow kid to the audience.
[00:40:51] Brian: Um, the yellow kid um, just looks like a, short little bald white kid with big ears. Probably six ish, years old, six or seven years old like
stature. Um, and, And I’m guessing he is yellow because of his clothes. got this
[00:41:11] Alex: right.
[00:41:12] Brian: like yellow, I don’t know,
like dress looking thing
[00:41:15] Alex: night gown
night gown. Yeah.
it, It’s this sort of Spartan, very plain, like one of the, the things on, on the yellow gown that he’s wearing is this like ragged hem at the bottom that shows that like someone by hand made this smaller, so it would’ve fit on this child. Right. And this is the depiction of someone that, is very poor.
Right. And is growing up in, in the slums, in New York, um, he’s bald because they would shave head of children
that time to avoid head lice.
[00:41:41] Brian: Yeah.
[00:41:42] Alex: The yellow kid resonates with the population. They think it’s fantastic because it’s showing them, it’s showing themselves it’s a real reflection of life at that time.
And the yellow kid on his shirt would have text written. So, in this picture that I have in the chapter artwork, he says, well, holy gee here’s to you. And it’s often broken English, right? Cause these are first generation immigrants, who don’t speak English very well. And these comics appeal to them because there’s not a lot of text in it.
And the, the, the sort of English that they use is, is of the vernacular that they would use as well. This is easily the most popular comic, of, of the time it sells papers. Like they become the most popular paper in New York city. Because of, because of this comic,
Two years after the introduction of the, the yellow kid. outcault draws an addition of this comic called the yellow kid and his phonograph which is notable, cuz it’s the first time that we see word balloons and panels in the same comic. So like we said, like word balloons, go all the way back to the 14 hundreds.
They’re used a lot in political cartoons, during early America. But this is those word balloons with sequential art. And so this is often cited as the first comic strip, right? The strip being a single story, that’s laid out horizontally with images one after another, with different text.
[00:42:58] Brian: So, so it’s showing like the, the movement of time and over that time. That, and that’s what makes it sequential.
[00:43:06] Alex: that’s right.
So concurrently with Pulitzer and Outcault at the New York world, there’s a man named William Randolph Hearst brian, are you familiar with William Randolph Hearst?
[00:43:16] Brian: of a big deal.
[00:43:18] Alex: He was kind of a big deal. That’s right.
[00:43:20] Brian: Um, Yeah, I’ve I, uh, being in California, I’ve been to Hearst castle, which I believe is his not his castle.
[00:43:27] Alex: So, um, it’s his father. So George Hearst is William Randolph Hearts’s father and George Hearst is an incredibly successful miner So he owns tons and tons of land, um, in California, several ranches, including the ranch that would later become Hearst castle,
William Randolph Hearst did buy or sorry.
Did build on his father’s ranch.
[00:43:53] Brian: I see. I see. Okay. I had
[00:43:55] Alex: of central California.
[00:43:56] Brian: Randolph Hearst he’s the guy that like, um, citizen Kane is based off of, right.
[00:44:02] Alex: That’s right. Yeah. If you’ve ever seen the movie citizen Kane, it’s based off of William Randall Hearst In fact, there’s some events that we’re going to talk about here in a minute that are depicted in that movie. and yeah, he inherits a bunch of money from George Hearst his father, and he also inherits a newspaper, the San Francisco examiner, and William Randolph Hearst decides that he is gonna be a newspaper man, because anyone who is, anyone is a newspaper man.
And anyone who’s a newspaper man needs a paper in New York city.
Cuz you control
that’s. Right. And you get to rub elbows with, you know, celebrities and things like that. If you ever get a chance to go to Hearst castle, it is one of the coolest things you’ll ever see. It’s like, just the picture of like excess and opulence Yeah.
Even if you don’t get a chance to go Google it, like watch some videos and stuff like this dude had, like, it’s like the central coast of California, the dude had zebras. Right. Um, it, it’s a, it’s a story to tell.
[00:44:57] Brian: yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember I forgot about that. Yeah. He like, there’s this, there’s this whole thing on Reddit, which is like luxury life habits or whatever. And it’s like one of the tropes right now is, the length of your driveway dis like your wealth and stuff. And this guy had mile that literally had a zoo around it
[00:45:21] Alex: that that
[00:45:22] Brian: describes his luxury life.
[00:45:24] Alex: it’s open to the public now, so you can go and visit and, and go up this crazy driveway
[00:45:29] Brian: Mm-hmm
[00:45:30] Alex: It’s it’s nuts, but in 1895. So this is a year after the introduction of Hogans Alley and the yellow kid. He buys the New York journal, another, another newspaper in New York city. And he gets extremely competitive.
So for context, Pulitzer and his New York world that’s selling at the time that Hearst buys the journal is selling for 2 cents for eight pages. So a weekday issue of the paper shorter, it’s only eight pages. The, the Sunday, uh, edition that’s printing color is many more pages, but 2 cents for a copy of the newspaper.
When Hurst purchased the New York journal, he starts selling his paper at 1 cent per issue. So for half the price, he also does things like, he gets tabloidy right? Like if it bleeds, it leads very salacious headlines. He gets really fast and loose with the truth. , it becomes much closer to what we would think of as a tabloid rather than a newspaper.
And Pulitzer is often, you know, forced to follow suit. But within a year of buying the New York journal, he octupples sales. And then a year after that, it triples again. So, it becomes, he becomes very competitive. And Hearst and Pulitzer are these two Titans of papers duking it out. In the late, late 18 hundreds in New York city.
Another one of the tactics he does is he starts hiring up the staff of his competition. He hires up 12 staff at the same time of the New York world, including editors and journalists and Richard Felton Outcault to draw the yellow kid for the New York journal.
[00:46:54] Brian: dang. So he hired Pulitzer’s staff from him
[00:47:00] Alex: the,
[00:47:00] Brian: New York world. right,
[00:47:02] Alex: right. And, and so the yellow kid starts appearing in the New York journal. So everyone who’s buying up the comic strips of the yellow kid. Now they gotta go to Hearst to get the, the, the, the comic except, through a bunch of like strange legal proceedings, like they’re suing each other, right.
Pulitzer and the world own the name Hogans alley, but they don’t own the characters. So Pulitzer hires his own cartoonist to continue yellow kid stories under the name Hogans alley. And so both papers have their own versions of the yellow kid running at the same time. And so they’re competing over the same audience running the same comic strip, drawn by different people.
This period of great competition, is talked about a lot at the time. It’s talked a lot about by historians.
and this is viewed as sort of a great failing of journalism, a great failure of society to be able to, broadcast like the most proper voices and things like that.
And. They start to call the newspapers at that time. Yellow newspapers after the yellow kid.
And later they would say yellow journalism to describe the journalism that’s done at the
so the yellow kid.
[00:48:10] Brian: Wow. Okay. So can I share kind of like a side story that relates
[00:48:14] Alex: Sure.
[00:48:14] Brian: okay. So James Bond has kind of like an interesting story where, Eon Productions under Albert broccoli, they did all of the, James Bond stuff.
Essentially from Dr. No onward, except movie, which never say never. And so like Sean Connery had done, like, I think he did like four movies with Eon and then they brought in a new bond first time they’d replaced Sean Connery and, uh, with, George Lazenby and the movie was good.
It was, In her majesty secret service, it was fine. but then like, there was some, some sort of like personal issues with George Lazenby, which got him fired essentially. And they asked Sean come back and he did the fifth movie and he said, I’ll never be bond again. And then they had, Roger Moore come on.
And he did like four movies or some thing. And, at some point like a decade after Sean Connery had said, I’ll never be bond again. He was hired by non-Eon production company who rights to do one bond film. And they had Sean Connery as that bond at the same time, like the same year that like Moonraker or something was coming Roger Moore.
And, and it just, it kind of, it me of this whole, like the yellow kid, like
[00:49:35] Alex: trying to kill the
[00:49:36] Brian: other yellow kid,
[00:49:37] Alex: Yeah. Time is a flat circle. We repeat ourselves, like history is not a guide. Uh you know, the, the same year that, Xmen first class is coming out, Avengers, age of Ultron is coming out
different versions of quick silver played by two different people. Yeah, no, intellectual property rights, like defines America.
No doubt. And this is just another, another iteration of that. So, yeah, the yellow newspapers and the yellow kid sort of defines the beginning of what they call the platinum age of comics. And that’s because it’s the introduction of comic strips. Right. And, and that is really the form and, and not format, right?
Like we think of comic books as probably the dominant form of comics now, but, but really cements the form of you have sequential panels with panel lines in between word balloons. Right. And the platinum age of comics, was incredibly successful. Comic strips were the defining medium of that time.
Because it was so cheap because it was so available. Everyone was reading comic strips. Like there’s, if you, I don’t have time to talk about it at all. But like the presidents were reading comics, like, Hoover is like famously like super into Dick Tracy.
[00:50:39] Brian: Damn
[00:50:39] Alex: it’s, it’s up and down at every social strata, every economic status level, everyone’s reading comics.
And we like to think of comic strips as sort of a forerunner to other mediums, like, the movie. Right. But actually like, this is, this is happening concurrently. So the first large screen projection of a movie is in 1896. So that’s the same year that the yellow kid does the, the phonograph comic.
And between 1913 and 1930. There’s 150 serials that are adaptations of comic strips. So like. People really like to complain about like Marvel movies and like the, I think it’s like Scorsese, right? It’s it’s the, the sort of theme -parkification of, of cinema, right. But like, we’ve been doing it since the beginning, right.
Adaptations are, are normal comic strips is a, is not a different, such a different medium from, from movies and that like we have frames and in the passage of time, right. And composition of shots, right. It’s very similar. And comic strips and pulp magazines for that matter sort of coincide with a very interesting period of time from 1915 to 1920, somewhere in there, America shifts from being mostly a rural country to being a mostly urban country.
So the majority of people to live in cities at this time, and it’s just a period of great change, right? Like interests change. We have world war. 1 occurs during this period of time. We have the great depression that occurs during this time. There’s. Tons of comic books that are like incredibly important that you haven’t heard of like the Katzenjammers or little Nemo and Slumberland.
Right. But there are many, many more you do. Hey,
That gave a kid
[00:52:07] Brian: a kid.
[00:52:09] Alex: so that’s a famous comic strip strip at the time, but there’s, there’s many more that you have heard of right. Little orphan. Annie starts as a comic strip, Dick Tracy flash, Gordon, Felix, the cat Popeye. Um, there’s also adaptations of other materials.
So things that become comic strips like Mickey mouse Buck Rogers and Tarzan and the
Phantom. if you want to know more about the platinum age, I really recommend a, a book called American comics. it’s what I’ve referenced for like most of the podcast up until now. It came out this year, actually just a couple months ago, it’s written by guy named, Jeremy Dauber
it’s really dense like this episode has been, it’s not light reading, but it is illuminating. And I’ll, I’ll, I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. So that that’s been my, my reference. So platinum age that, that takes us from. The invention of the comic strip until the beginning of the golden age and the, the golden age is like where superhero happens.
I’m gonna like gloss over like 40 years. cuz we, we gotta get to Batman, right? Like we’ve already been doing this for almost an hour and like Batman. Right. So that’s the comic strip. Where does the comic book come from? comic books were so named because there were books that were reprints. So, as early as 1897, we see the first hard cover collection of yellow kid comics.
These don’t bear a ton of resemblance to a comic book other than, the fact that they would have a number printed on the front that would tell you like which of the sequence it is. If you wanted to collect every strip of something you would, you would, you would
[00:53:32] Brian: I used ot have, uh
Garfield comic books
[00:53:36] Alex: Mm-hmm
[00:53:36] Brian: and which were just the collection and they were actually like really wide and short books, like in, because they were just like the weekly comic strip, over and over and over again. And then I think most people probably have some sort of Calvin and Hobbs book somewhere
[00:53:55] Alex: Yeah. Yeah. So, comic books, all the way from like 1897 to 1932, that’s the way they are. They’re hard cover. They’re like nine and a half inches square. So like not a different two different size than what you have. Um, at this time they’re black and white, but they would later become color. And they stay that way for a long time.
They’re not that successful because to buy a hardcover book, is a lot more expensive than a newspaper. And if you buy a newspaper, you get a, a variety of comics. You can do it on a regular basis. You just get more content, right? Like more bang for your buck. But when we were talking about like color printing, um, remember how he was talking about, Newspapers would not own their color, own color printing presses.
They would contract out the color printing to another company because only one, one paper a week would be printed in color. One such company was the Eastern color printing company and they did exactly that. They bought color printing presses, sold time on those presses to, um, news newspapers which was a lucrative business, except they spent most of their week not printing.
Right. Um, they would print for like five newspapers. It would take them a couple days and then they would have, just time where they’re not making
[00:55:00] Brian: Right. They, they couldn’t spend a week printing a paper because the paper had to be fresh information, so they would get script or whatever on Saturday night and print it out and ship it on Sunday.
[00:55:11] Alex: That’s right. So they start looking for ways to, monetize their printing press without having to buy new equipment or reconfigure things. And they figure out this sort of clever way of taking the same newsprint and folding it up, such that it’s kind of a floppy book right. Of color pages. And they do these massive print runs of reprint comics in color.
And they’re seen as largely disposable. They don’t immediately think of this as something that they can sell to other people. In fact, they start as giveaways. So they
did like large print runs. They did a print run for, Gulf oil to like give away for free at gas stations.
[00:55:45] Brian: Oh,
[00:55:46] Alex: So it’s like marketing stuff.
Yeah. They did, 500,000 books, of a book called famous funnies that they sold to Proctor and gamble. And Proctor and gamble had like on your box of like toothpaste or your box of soap, they’d have a little piece of cardboard. You’d cut it out. If you had like five of these coupons, you send it in, you’d get a copy of famous funnies back for free.
And there’s a legend, right? That goes that they had like tens of thousands of copies of, of famous funnies that they printed for Proctor and gamble that never got used. And they wanted to get rid of it somehow. They said, well, let’s try throwing it on the newsstand and see what happens. And it sells out overnight.
Right. So supposedly famous funny is this overnight sensation of reprint comics, that the Eastern color printing company makes. And that’s the first comic book.
[00:56:29] Brian: really.
[00:56:30] Alex: That’s interesting.
But that brings us to, a guy named Malcolm Wheeler, Nicholson, There’s a picture of him, in the show notes and I’ll put it in the chapter artwork as well.
He served in the first world war and was very, very proud of that fact. He considered himself a war hero. He would always tell these crazy stories. He actually, in a story that I’m, I don’t have time to get into was court martialed by the us army at one point, he, he demanded to be called major even by civilians.
Right. And he wore a big cloak and a beaver hat always had a walking stick was described by one person as having green teeth.
[00:57:01] Brian: having what teeth.
[00:57:02] Alex: Green
teeth. Yeah. were
[00:57:06] Brian: That’s disgusting.
[00:57:08] Alex: disgusting.
Yes. but, but like a very distinct Person when you, when you read these history books, a lot of times they’ll come up with a name of someone that did something important, right.
Like Outcault Right. And they don’t talk about how he looked or how he acted or , but, but like Malcolm Wheeler, Nicholson without fail, everyone always talks about like how strange this guy was. you definitely got the sense that he was, he was a character, after, after the first world war, he had, some success as a writer.
So he was published in multiple pulp magazines, including Argosy and adventure, which were two of the most popular pulp magazines at the time. And he ghost wrote a few adventure novels. He did write a syndicated comic strip, um, which was an adaptation of Robert Lewis, Stevenson’s treasure island. And he took that money, that success, And decided to create a business.
He noticed that the success of Eastern comics, of famous funnies of these reprints, and he also knew from his time as a pulp writer, that many people wanted to write pulp for pulp magazines. They wanted to be syn syndicated. It was lucrative if you could get into it, but they couldn’t get noticed.
Right. It’s very competitive. So he starts this company called national comics with the express purpose of making new comics. He hires these who wanna be pulp writers, hires people who wanna be syndicated as comic strip writers, but can’t get into newspapers or pulp magazines for whatever reason and prints them in this format of comic books that Eastern comics is doing of reprints.
So he creates national comics is the first company that starts printing new comics to be distributed as a book. And the first book, the, that he did, um, was called new fun. It was also the first, comic book to feature advertisements for adults rather than for kids. So it like the first issue of new fun had like an ad for razor blades and another one for like an electrician’s handbook, which I thought was really weird.
And it doesn’t have any success, like new fun doesn’t sell very well. He changes it up. He makes another book called more fun. That doesn’t help any . It doesn’t sell very well. And finally, after a couple different, books of new comics that he writes, he has a new idea to, to make the business work and that’s to launch themed books much like the pulp magazines had.
So you’d have a line of books that would come out every month that would be based around, you know, have a bunch of stories that all went together. But because of the failure of the, of those two previous comic books, he’s really hard up on cash. And so he goes to his distributor, this company called, independent news.
They’re the ones that he sells the comic books to, to put on comic or on news stands to be sold and says, Hey, can you front me some cash can, like, we work out a deal for a lower rate. Like I’m I wanna make this thing work. And there’s this guy named Harry Donenfeld who’s in charge of, of independent news at that time.
And he does agree to help, but he wants a business arrangement that reflects the stake that he has in the business. I’m putting money in. I wanna be able to get money out. And so they form a new subsidiary of national comics to distribute this first book. And it is named after that first book. And it’s called detective comics, Inc.
[00:59:59] Brian: DC?
[01:00:00] Alex: Is
[01:00:00] Brian: DC.
[01:00:01] Alex: that’s right. And so, unfortunately for Wheeler Nicholson, he goes into receivership very shortly after detective comics Inc.
[01:00:12] Brian: what’s
[01:00:13] Alex: Yeah. It’s it’s like, so if you go into bankruptcy, that’s something you do voluntarily, you say to the government, Hey, I would like some time to not pay taxes.
I would like some time to not pay debts, get my affairs in order and like come up with a plan to like, be able to be financially solvent in the future. Receivership is like, Government imposed bankruptcy. They say, okay, you’re not paying your debts. We’re gonna come and make this happen for you. Right? Like we’re gonna get our hands in your finances because you’re not doing it right. They take things from you, et cetera. And long story short Wheeler, Nicholson, loses his stake in both national and detective comics so very short, very shortly after the creation Donenfeld because of the stake that he has in detective comics Inc owns it and national comics both.
[01:00:58] Brian: Wow.
[01:00:59] Alex: So Wheeler Nicholson gets pushed out
before the first issue of detective even comes out.
Yeah. So you might remember me saying in the last episode that, detective is a book about Batman, And that Batman’s the title character, but Batman doesn’t make his appearance into detective comics until issue number 27.
[01:01:17] Brian: Wow. Really?
[01:01:18] Alex: Yeah. And if, if issues come out, once a month, that’s a couple years, right?
So we’re a few years out from Batman existing at this point. Detective comics has various mystery stories covered around sort of generic characters. It’s not a huge success, um, but it does sell better than, than new comics and more comics.
So Donenfeld, promotes a, a, a writer from inside of, of more fun, new fun at national comics named Vince Sullivan to become the editor in chief of national comics and detective, uh, comics Inc by extension.
And Vince Sullivan is putting together a pitch for a second themed book, right. Um, because detective comics does okay for them. They decide they wanna create a new book called action comics. And action comics is gonna have, you know, various sort of adventure and action stories fighting and explosions and stuff like that.
he’s searching for pitches and he gets a pitch from a writer, artist pair that is working for national at the time named Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster for a character named Superman. And, um, again, we could do an entire podcast on Superman, but, what it boils down to is that these are like, Two gangly, nerdy Jewish guys from Cleveland that like, again and again are like marginalized and like draw the, the social short end of the stick.
And they create this, this character as Superman, as like an alter ego. Right. Jerry Siegel is once quoted as saying “as a high school student. I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn’t know I existed or didn’t care. I existed. It occurred to me. What if I was real terrific? What if I had something special going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that, then maybe they would notice me.
[01:02:57] Brian: wait, so
[01:03:00] Alex: describing Clark
[01:03:01] Brian: Kent becoming Superman then?
[01:03:04] Alex: I’m describing, someone who has a power fantasy, right? They’re they’re, they’re creating escapism for the little guy. Someone they wish they could be. It’s also social commentary. In the wake of the industrial revolution, And the great depression, there’s lots of little guys, right? Like everyone is hard on their luck at this time.
And on the cover of the first issue, there’s Superman standing there with a car over his head, smashing it on a rock. Right. And this is actually symbolic of like a really great frustration with the automobile and with industrialization at the time it’s viewed as a symbol of runaway capitalism, right.
Factory lines, mass producing things, giving people like subsistence wages, overtaking the streets, pedestrians can’t even walk anymore. They’re dying by the thousands. Right. And yeah, public sentiment on the car is like pretty negative at the, and yeah, I could talk up about this for a whole hour.
There’s a really good video on YouTube, by a guy, named nerdsync. I’ll link to it. It’s about Superman and the car. If you’re interested in, on that subject, but, Yeah, it’s, it’s this escapist sort of aspirational character of like self insert, power, fantasy, what everyone wishes they could be, sort of fighting for the little guy.
And Siegel and Schuster had desperately wanted this to be a comic strip. Like they’ve been trying to sell it to newspapers for years. We have of a record, like actual physical copies of 17 different rejection letters for newspapers. And there’s some debate about whether Wheeler Nicholson had, been pitched on Superman and declined it or not.
Some people say absolutely like they had tried to sell Superman to national comics already. And some people say that didn’t happen, but the point is like, they wanna tell the Superman story. But Vince Sullivan decides that Superman is a fit for action comics. And so he buys the story from them.
They have, um, Already written and drawn newspaper strips, you know, of comics, there’s 90 panels that he buys from them that they cut up, right? Because it’s not gonna be in a newspaper format, rearrange it into pages, And creates a 13 page story from those 90 panels. And he pays them $130, which in today’s money is about $2,500 in that price tag, he gets the story.
But along with the story, he gets the rights to Superman and that’s just how contracts worked at that time. Like work for hire. You do work to tell a story and all of the intellectual property belongs to the company and there Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster lose of rights to Superman national comics, nay DC comics owns it to this day.
Superman is incredibly successful. In a very, very short period of time. It puts comic books on the map. It puts national comics on the map. In less than a year, they’re selling a million copies a month of action comics. And they decide to do a spin of comic so they can do two comics a month about Superman.
They make a new title called Superman. It also starts selling a million copies a month. Within two years, there’s a radio show. There’s a professionally produced animated cartoon serial, Superman’s a smash hit. Um,
[01:06:05] Brian: Pun intended.
[01:06:07] Alex: indeed. So Vince Sullivan sees this great success popping off. And he decides that they need more Supermans right. They need to do repeat the success. And so he goes to all of the writers and artists that are working for national. At that time, he goes to one in particular and he says, Hey, we need another superhero.
Can you do that for us? And that man’s name was Bob Kane. And that is the spark that lights, the flame that is Batman. I, I wish we could launch right into it, but like, we’ve been talking for an hour in 20 minutes, so, we’ll leave it at that. Vince Sullivan asks Bob Kane for another superhero.
And if you’re willing, Brian, I’d like to assign you. a little bit of homework and the listeners too, if they’re willing.
[01:06:56] Brian: sure.
[01:06:57] Alex: Okay. There is, is a, documentary on Hulu called Batman and Bill, and it tells the story of the creation of Batman that starts in 1938 and ends in 2017.
The story of the creation of Batman is one that we continue to learn more about as time goes on. So, I encourage you highly to watch it before the next episode we’ll cover the contents of it in the episode. So if you don’t have a chance to watch it, like if you’re driving and you already have the next one queued up, that’s fine.
But if you’re listening to week to week and you have the chance to watch it, it is, it is incredible, incredible documentary. I encourage you to go into it blind, try not to like, read the description cause it’s gonna like give, give away, um, sort of the juicy details. But if you watch that Brian, then we’ll be prepped to have like a really interesting conversation about the creation of Batman next week.
I trust me on this one, like it’s, I know it’s a bit
Oh, I trust you.
say, like, go watch a movie, but, uh, I think it’ll be worth it.
[01:07:53] Brian: I mean, if It’s half as interesting as this conversation been,
[01:07:56] Alex: um,
more interesting. It’s
I’ve, I’m like mortified that like everyone turned off the podcast, like after the first five minutes and they’re not listening right now, this movie is incredible. Like, I
They’ll get at least 10 minutes
[01:08:09] Brian: into that one. twice as good,
[01:08:11] Alex: listen, I was crying multiple times during this
[01:08:14] Brian: no
[01:08:14] Alex: so uh, yeah, I shouldn’t oversell it, but it’s, it is worth watching.
[01:08:17] Brian: Okay. I’ll watch it. I mean, I was gonna watch but yeah, that’s a great sell.
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You can us comments, questions, or corrections at email@example.com. Or you can tweet us @batlessons, until next time.
I’m Brian Anders.
[01:08:46] Alex: I’m Alex Cash.
[01:08:47] Brian: thanks for listening.
[01:08:48] Alex: So we have many
[01:09:31] Brian: Inventions.
[01:09:32] Alex: I’m gonna take a drink of water and slow down.