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Max Gaines

Page history last edited by Greg Ritchey 11 years, 11 months ago

Max Gaines Max Gaines Max Gaines




Known as the father of the modern comic book, Max Gaines was born in 1894 and died in 1947, a victi9m of a tragic boating accident. His son, William Gaines took over his father's company in 1950 when the younger Gaines was only 25 years of age. Gaines also published one non- comic book work entitled Narrative Illustration: The Story of Comics.




 Gaines was an avid reader of newspaper comics in his formative years. His pre-publishing career was of little consequence. Gerard Jones tells us that Gaines sold hand painted neck ties and once worked as in education as a teacher and a school principal. Jones says that Gaines was “a smart man but an angry one, limping from a childhood injury, grimacing through constant pain in his lower back and leg"(Jones,99. In 1933, however, his luck would change as he became a salesman of Eastern Color, a major printing company on the East Coast. It was also in 1933, when he began devising the prototype of the comic book that, in subsequent years, became the standardized version in the comic book industry of America. During this initial phased e, Gaines worked an s a salesman for Eastern Color Printing, and through trial and error devised a better way to read comics. He contacted co-worker Harry Wallenberg and tried to devise a promotional tool to facilitate a better way to read comics, something that made the reader's comprehension flow easily. They approached Proctor and Gamble but were “shot down" due to the idea being a “lousy idea"

Yet, this did not prove fatal to Gaines and Wallenberg as they" figured out how to produce a cheap promotional item by a) printing eight pages on each sheet of standard newsprint and do so on the shop's third shift during the press downtime"(Hadju,21). They fit very easily into these pages, when folded in half would take up less space and would fit very comfortably in the pulp magazine format. Both men “proposed that the company print for such magazines for manufacturers who could use them as advertising premiums and giveaways"(Wright, 3). Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith write that " Legend has it that Gaines stickered a 10 cent price on the covers of a few dozen books and talked to some newsstands into participating in is experiment"(Duncan, Smith 29).Their company, Eastern Color made an agreement with Gaines and Wildenberg, supporting their idea and began to print 100,000 copies of the comic Funnies on Parade. This decision proved to be exponentially beneficial to the company and to Gaines and Wildenberg. Eastern Color then initiated two comics strips, Mutt and Jeff and Joe Palooka for companies such as Kinney Shoes and Canada Dry. Their aim was simple, targeting the companies where American youth spent their money. In 1934, the first real proof of Gaines and Wildenberg’s  success arrived when Eastern Color printed about 500,00 copies of Skippy's Book of Comics and distributed them free of charge as part of a radio program promotion. Wright submits that Gaines “suspected that comic books had market potential beyond these limited ventures"(3) and then persuaded Dell Publishing to print and finance 35,000 copies of Famous Funnies. This was a first series, first run comic strip collection that spanned sixty- four pages long, selling at ten cents per issue. The comics sold out yet Dell took up a precautionary position. This early ventures by Gaines was proof to Easter Color that he had the ability to further the companies monopoly of the comic book industry. Other publishers saw Eastern Color's success and “took notice" (4).

 In 1938, the comic book industry's budding growth only made up of around six publishers, packaging comic strips as reprints.

Gaines was also a founder of All- American Publications, a company that he shared with his partner Jack Liebowitz. The company was also instrumental in producing comics such as All-American Comics, and Flash Comics. Gaines, this time, employed by a new printing company, namely called the McClure Syndicate, began to procure the comics of Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates. “A businessman" Wright tells us," not an artist "(4). Gaines did not seem to be interested in the visual side of comics but rather in its selling potential. This would be reflected in later years as Gaines would start up his own comic company entitled Educational Comics, which interestingly enough published stories from the Bible, translating them into graphic form. These comics, titled Picture Stories from the Bible, Picture Stories from American History and Animal Fables, did not garner the financial success that Gaines would have wanted even though as Ron Foulard writes" The first two issues of American History sold 600,000 copies and Gaines was able to get orders from around the country"(Goulart,205).The market did not accept them with any positive feedback. This weakened showing in the comic book industry caused Gaines' company to become a less than powerful entity on the East Coast. Mclure also began printing Superman comics which were a great upturn for Gaines. The packaging of Superman was significant as well because it was, as Jones submits." the first magazine devoted entirely to a character born in a comic book"(Jones, 147). He also launched Silver Streak Comics. In 1947, Gaines was killed in a boating accident, causing his son William to inherit his father's company and a debt of over $100,000. The younger Gaines would also be influential in the industry as well publishing the seminal MAD magazine.


Duncan, Randy, and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. New York: Continuum, 2009..

Goulart, Ron. Ron Goulart'reat History of Comic Books. Chicago: Contemporary, 1986. 

Hajdu, David. The Ten-cent Plague: The Great Comic-book Scare and How It Changed America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Heer, Jeet, and Kent Worcester. A Comics Studies Reader. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2009. .

Jones, Gerard. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book. New York: Basic, 2004.

          Wright, Bradford W. Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001.





Further Reading

see above bibilography


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