Sheldon Mayer: The Most Important Man
History of Comic Books
by Ken Gale
There are so many people who have had a major influence in the comics industry. One
could argue for hours about who was the
most influential. Or the most important or most talented. I can see arguments for Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby,
Gardner Fox, Alan Moore, Neal Adams, Bill Gaines, Julie Schwartz, Mort Weisinger, Jerry Iger, Bill Finger, Jim
Shooter, and, well, you get the idea.
But there is someone missing from that list that I want to
speak up for.
Sheldon Mayer created the first
super-hero team, the first super-heroine and was instrumental in giving us Superman, and we all know how that changed
Comics lost one of its greatest men on December 21, 1991. As far as I'm concerned, he was the greatest. Or at least most indispensable.
There have been better writers, there have been better artists, there have probably been greater judges of talent,
there have probably been greater editors, but no one could do all four as well as Shelly. I rate him as a greater
and more influential talent than those who did only one of those things well.
He started his professional career as a teenager. I believe he was 14 when Scribbley first came out. The series
was published by two different companies, although it's best known as one of the features in All-American Comics,
the title that started Green Lantern in issue 16, Shelly edited that comic, Flash, Sensation, All-Star, Star-Spangled,
Adventure, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Comic Cavalcade, More Fun and many other titles. Thus it was under his editorial
guidance that Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Dr. Mid-nite, The Atom, Wildcat, The Spectre, Hourman,
Mr. Terrific, Sandman, Starman, Manhunter, the Star-Spangled Kid and several other characters got their start.
Scribbley, the boy cartoonist was one of the most popular features among other comic
book artists and writers since it could easily have been about any one of them. M. C. Gaines himself (DC's first
publisher) was a big fan of the strip and the boy cartoonist himself. There was a wonderful charm about the series
and it was funny as well. Shelly wrote some great adventure stories, but while he was only a slightly better than
average adventure strip writer, he was one of the very best comedy writers. As much as I love Sergio Aragones' work (another man who can spin
an excellent adventure yarn), Shelly's work was even above Sergio's, IMHO.
It was Shelly who first came up with the idea of putting characters from several
different comics together in a team, assigned it to Gardner Fox, his most prolific writer, and the Justice Society
of America was born. Sheldon Mayer created the super-hero team, which is one of the mainstays of comics (X-Men,
Wonder Woman is generally acknowledged as the very first super-heroine in comics. Actually, the Red Tornado pre-dates
Wonder Woman by about a year. Ma Hunkle was the first woman to put on a costume and fight crime (in comic books.
anyway, not the strips), though other characters in the feature tended to refer to the Red Tornado as masculine,
a wonderful statement on 1940 society.
In 1935, when Siegel and Shuster came up with Superman, they sent it to every newspaper syndicate in the country.
They all rejected it. Siegel and Shuster sent it to all the comic book companies. More rejections. Back to the
syndicates. Rejections again. Back to the comic companies. This time, when it crossed editor Sheldon Mayer's desk,
Shelly recommended that Gaines publish it. I believe Shelly was only 17 at the time. but Gaines had enough faith
in Shelly to try the strange and unique feature. Sales figures on Action #1 weren't in by the time the cover for
#2 was done and Superman wasn't on the cover to Action #2. Action 3 and 4 didn't have Superman on the cover, either. But
when sales figures on Action #1 came in, comics were never the same again for the super-hero genre was born!
We can only guess what comics would be like if M. C. Gaines had never hired the young Sheldon Mayer. Another reason
why I think he's the greatest person in the history of comics. And I haven't even gotten to my favorite Sheldon
Sugar and Spike
I have a huge collection of comics and my favorite all-time series is about two
people who aren't even old enough to talk! While it was being published, I never bought it because it was about
two babies. I heard good things about it from friends in fandom, but it wasn't until I read my roommate's collection
that I realized how good the series is. Amazing stuff.
When a baby is born, he or she has to learn everything. How their arms and legs work, a new language from scratch, without benefit of translation
from another one, a bunch of seemingly contradictory customs, etc. Shelly managed to convey the Stranger in a Strange
Land aspect without losing any of the tremendous humor such situations can give.
All because Irwin Donenfeld, DC's publisher in the '50s, wanted a kid strip to compete with Dennis the Menace comics.
I cannot recommend Sugar and Spike highly enough. It's not a kid strip, it's a series starring kids.
In keeping this to one page, I'm gonna give short shrift to his funny animal comics of the '40s and '50s, excellence
amidst mediocrity, the only comic book funny animal artist of that time period I'd compare to Carl Barks. It takes
many pages to do his career justice.
I also wrote an article about meeting Shelly's grandaughter.
Comments? E-Mail me
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