THE INFORMATION #816
DECEMBER 26, 2014
Copyright 2014 FRANCIS DIMENNO
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER NINE: PART FORTY-TWO: THE MAYOR OF HELL
In the heart of the kindly Christmas Season, all through the wealthy parts of Noxtown and its even more prosperous suburbs, known as Uptown, you could see, in the faces of the well-off, the excited gladness of their uplifted hearts, howsoever crabbed, on occasions rare, by stinginess and closefistedness; plus, you could see the indelible sense of well-being and indomitability reflected and refracted in their amiable eyes and great, capacious mouths atwist with wry smiles of comfort and joy.
Comfort and joy there was indeed, and in abundance, in the glowing countenances of the affluent; though weighed down by sporadic doubts and freighted with dubitable thoughts, such bugaboos were fortuitously evanescent. We speak of a mass of citizens who, for the most part, arose from their comfortable beds greeting each day anew with sleepy furrowed brows and slowly creeping gladsome smiles.
From every brownstone and manse, from every penthouse and swank address their wholesome progeny streamed out, to meet with jubilant ejaculations the whiteness of the snows which lay like a sheer and dazzling pillow over all, softening the city and near suburban purview with rounded pillowy deposits. From addresses far and wide they joyously tottered, firmly muffled in warmth and finery, as evidenced by their glovened and muffed hands and their snowhats with befurred earflaps. On every snowlined street you could see the sleds and toboggans, towed by boys and, in some cases, large dogs, and the girls and boys excitedly sliding along ice and snow with new ice skates hanging from long laces across their backs. In the evenings, top-hatted and tuxedoed gents and their consorts in their long evening gowns and furs gaily tumbled, with laughter and with exclamations, from their favored haunts in the exclusive country clubs they were wont to frequent, and stoutly burrowed themselves in fur blankets within the confines of hansom cabs drawn by a smart team of horses and urged forward by a cloaked gentleman with a long black whip. You might call it the dazzling white way of Noxtown–those precincts which were near to in distance but quite far in practice from the less salaubrious parts of town, such as the urban slum district, a sloppy street of slovenly tenements and derelict warehouses known as Blowtown. There was a name for the wealthy part of town which persons of low estate–the citizens of Blowtown– were wont to ascribe to it–they called it Heaven’s Gate.
To be sure, its denizens did not play harps or wear halos. They engaged in shady business practices (when it was to their advantage and did not threaten to sully their reputation for fair dealing), and they exploited the labor of their workers with the grim certitude of a pious parson facing his scapegrace flock. Their men’s clubs were dens and rookeries of rigidly enforced morality–though one must not go so far as to say that virtue and goodness reigned in those places. No one looked askance at a club member who chose that refuge to become quietly soused at the bar; or to warm his feet and doze at the ever-roaring fire for mornings, afternoons or evenings; or to enjoy a quiet game of Whist with his like-minded compatriots. What did cause discussion at the Club were the raised voices of braying bores; the cowardly boasts of loud braggarts; or, indeed, any abnormal behavior which threatened the propriety and domestic tranquility of its members. Indeed; circumspection demanded that any business at the Club be conducted, as it were, on tip-toe.
Certain subjects were therefore deemed to be off-limits. Certainly, loud comments about the shapeliness of a certain well-turned ankle were allowed to be irrefragably vulgar. Comments which tended to cast doubts upon the Divinity of the One True God were beyond the pale of acceptable opinion. Even certain political talk was deemed injudicious; the large contingent of Republican members were solicitous to a man regarding the sensibilities of the minority of Democratic clubmen; in this way, harmony was preserved.
No; mostly, political opinions consisted largely of talk about the Mayor, The Honorable Jonal Lobhar, and what was very likely to be his latest pie-eyed scheme. The Mayor was a former white shoe lawyer with a sometime explosive temper who was showy in his outward lineaments but inwardly eventually grew quite stingy; he deprived his wife, and his family, though not, mercifully, himself, of the types of routine small luxuries that the well-off took for granted. He took no magazines and newspapers for their benefit; he purchased no books nor sent any letters that he didn’t have to; he was even known, in spite of his high office, to re-use a one-cent stamp to pay his wife’s bills. This was in part, owing to her spendthrift ways.
He was controlled in his strictly potential depredations by certain of the more prominent citizens of Noxtown, who were well content to see a man in office who firmly believed in low taxes and budgetary cuts in essential civil services–just so long as the firemen and police were well-manned and well-supplied. As for teachers and city clerks and any of a number of other functionaries upon whom a city relied–if they didn’t like their salaries, they could go hang and try actually working for a living.
The Mayor was also controlled in what it was possible for him to do and even say by the town’s demimonde. The wealthier members of the citizenry were well aware of the Mayor’s connection to the Vice Lords of the City, but said and did nothing, reasoning that it was better that they should have a say in city governance and mostly stay on their own patch of lawn. Any concerted effort to rid the city of people such as Alderman Adam Tyler and his bullyboy Smash Conklin would surely have resulted in a disruption in normal business which the town eminences wished to avoid at nearly all costs, fearing it would eat into the profits of their own ongoing enterprises.
Furthermore, many of the wealthier people of the town depended upon vendors of vice, and the little people they exploited, to supply some of their more depraved appetites.
Say what you will about it, but know this: T’was ever thus.
RECREATING THE SOUND OF TUTANKHAMEN’S TRUMPETS
Medical Acronyms, Abbreviations and Symbols
CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF THE EARLY SOVIET ERA
51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
New York Bans Tattoos, Piercings on Pets
6* DAILY UTILITY
6* DAILY UTILITY
GRAPHIC NOVELS: THE LIST OF THE BEST OF 2014 LISTS
2014’s BEST GRAPHIC NOVELS
HELP FOR ITCHY DOGS
MOTHER’S OLD FASHIONED HOMEMADE CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
12 FLAWLESS ALBUMS
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE.
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE.
774. COMIC STRIPS, THE PULPS, COMIC BOOKS, AND HARRY DONENFELD
The origin of the Pulps (so called for the cheap paper they were printed on) dates back to the 19th century. In 1860 dime novels arose as spin-offs to adventure stories published in the weekly papers, and were read in great numbers by soldiers of the Union Army during the Civil War. Frank Munsey’s “cheap fiction weekly for boys and girls,” The Golden Argosy, debuted in December of 1882, and this development marked the beginnings of pulp literature as we know it. By the 1920s and 1930s, the pulps were phenomenally popular; they began their decline in the late 1930s, supplanted in part by the rise of the comic book. The pulps, as a genre, were to last until 1955.
Many scholars state that newspaper comic strips effectively originated in 1896. By 1915, daily strips were a recognizable phenomenon; they were firmly established by the 1920s. An early American collection of “comic strips and cartoons,” A.B. Frost’s Stuff and Nonsense, appeared in 1884; newspaper strips in comic book form first appeared at least as early as 1897. But a pioneer effort in mass-marketing the comic book was George Delacourt’s abortive 1929, 36-issue run of Dell Publishing Company’s The Funnies, “the first regular comics magazine to be published and sold on newsstands.”
The newspaper comic strip and the pulps had a great many similarities which made them the ideal hatching ground for the modern comic book: the pulps contributed the genre conventions, significantly, the template of the action-adventure hero; the serially published news stand magazine format; and the combination of print and illustration. The comic strip contributed the basic format, and the convention of the continuity strip, which was a serially told story with words and pictures.
“When there were no premier [comic] strips left to recycle,” Major Wheeler-Nicholson’s tabloid-sized New Fun became the first four-color comic book to feature previously unpublished comic strips. It was cover-dated February 1935, and was later to be called More Fun.
Early in 1937 Donenfeld and Wheeler-Nicholson formed Detective Comics, Inc. The initial issue of Detective Comics, cover-dated March 1937, was among the first to gather all-new single-themed material and present it in four colors. Wheeler-Nicholson lost control of his titles around February 1938; by June his assets were “purchased…at a bankruptcy auction” by his former printer and business partner Harry Donenfeld, who, with his partner, Russian-born Jacob Liebowitz, founded Detective Comics, also known as DC Comics.
What is not widely known is that many of the principal comic book publishers got their start in the pulps. The list reads like a who’s who of industry heavyweights: Martin Goodman (Timely); John L. Goldwater (Archie); George T. Delacorte (Dell); Lev Gleason (Crime Does Not Pay), and Harry Donenfeld (Superman-DC).
But who was Harry Donenfeld? Was he a legitimate businessman–or something else?
The comic book industry, according Harry Donenfeld’s son Irwin (as cited by interviewer Robert Beerbohm), was established in part by “bootlegger mob money.” According to comics historian Gerard Jones, there is also speculation that in the 1920s Harry was working via Frank Costello, a notorious gangster, to move illegal alcohol from the Canadian border along with shipments of pulp paper. Donenfeld’s fortune was made when, in 1923, though Hearst newspaper salesman Moe Annenberg, another mobbed-up businessman , he gained a lucrative contract to print supplements for popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping.
Harry was a very level-headed businessman, always eager to seize the main chance, and apparently, in other respects he was a very hard man. Also in 1923, he forced his two older brothers out of their partnership in Martin Press and renamed it Donny Press. With the help of partners, Harry Donenfeld launched Independent News Company in 1932, making him both a publisher and distributor.
In May 1932, Frank Armer was compelled to surrender two of his “Girlie Pulp” titles to Harry Donenfeld for printing debts owed; “in like manner, Donenfeld accrued many girlie pulp titles during the 1930s.”
Level-headed businessman though he was; some might also characterize Harry Donenfeld as a pornographer. But others were making money out of the girlie pulps; why not him?
Incidentally, Harry hated Superman; didn’t want to see such a ridiculous character on the cover of Action Comics, and relented only when sales figures showed that the character was a hit. (Nor did his dislike of the character prevent him from making a deal with Superman’s creators which made him a wealthy man and left them in litigation limbo for decades.)
According to William Gaines, whose father Max and his AA Publications was partnered with Donenfeld and Liebowitz, by the 1940s, “Donenfeld was the man who you might say was in charge of wholesaler relations. And the wholesalers liked Donenfeld very much and he got along with them. He was really in charge of keeping them happy and on good terms with the company.”
With a foothold already firmly entrenched in the pulps, Harry Donenfeld was one of those ruthless businessmen who had a knack for migrating the business methodologies of pulp publishers over to the nascent comic book field. According to Dale Jacobs, for both the pulps and the comic books, distribution was key to sales. If, in the 1940s, Donenfeld became something of a glad-hander, This status does not efface his earlier role as a mover and shaker–not to mention a ruthless conniver. However, this close connection of the pulps and comic books helped pave the way for a major setback for the industry.
When the newspaper comic strip first migrated to the comic book, particularly during the period 1929-1937, there had been a certain degree of quality control in terms of content, since newspaper publishers were reluctant to print syndicated material that would cause large numbers of readers to complain and possibly cancel their newspaper subscriptions. However, by 1938 nearly all comic books were almost entirely composed of original material and many publishers, some of them veterans of the pulp fiction industry, felt under no obligation to prevent objectionable material from appearing in their periodicals.
The rapid expansion of the industry in the late 1930s created chaotic conditions in which market contingencies were paramount. The more popular and lucrative that comic books became, the more their publishers sought to out-do one another. The tone of their content became even more vulgar, and as a result they began to attract more and more unfavorable notice. This culminated in the 1954 Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency, with the special focus on Comic Books.
It is ironic, perhaps, that, by 1955,”the pulps had virtually all vanished from the stands…victim to all manner of afflictions—comics, paperbacks, television and eventually the withdrawal of their major distributor.”