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By Joanne Kash, Holly Hill, Florida

THE COMICS have been a popular part of newspapers since Hogan's Alley was first published in The New York World back in 1895. But did you know that comic books didn't come on the scene until nearly 40 years later....and that they didn't really hit their stride until they were used to add a little levity to life during World War II? Shortly after, these colorful magazines became one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the country. Joe Palooka even earned public thanks from President Roosevelt!
The first thing that resembled a comic book was published by Procter & Gamble in 1933--it was simply a collection of some of the comics that had previously appeared in Sunday newspaper strips. But these little comic magazines weren't sold---they were used as "giveaways" to boost sales. One bright ad executive had another idea, however. He experimented by placing the comic books on newsstands to see if they'd sell. Did they ever! Every copy sold out in a single weekend, and the modern comic book was born.
Still, it wasn't until 1937 that comic books were devoted entirely to a single theme or to one main character. That happened when Detective Comics came on the scene. Next, Superman began flying through the pages of Action Comics. his popularity brought many other titles into the field

New Titles Took Off

By 1940, over 60 different comic books were made available. But the industry didn't really reach its potential until World War II. When America entered the war in 1941, so did the comics, Joe Palooka was one of the first comic book characters to "enlist" in the Army. Shortly after, this comic character and his creator, Ham Fisher, were thanked publicly By President Roosevelt. Other comic heroes soon jumped on the bandwagon. Although Clark Kent failed his Army physical, Superman did his bit in the war against the Nazis. And tall, curly haired career girl Tillie the Toiler left secretarial work to join the WAC's.
It took"Skeezix" Wallet of Gasoline Alley a little longer to join the military--he didn't enlist until August of 1942. (He had been working in a defense plant until then.) Later, when rumors began to fly that Skeezix was going to be wounded by a Japanese bullet, concern was so widespread that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette devoted a front-page story to the perils facing him! Other familiar characters who helped in the war effort included Dick Tracy, Mickey Mouse, Charlie Chan and Terry Lee of Terry and the Pirates.

Orphan Annie's Army

Little Orphan Annie did her duty by starting the "Junior Commando" movement. Annie's Junior Commandos pitched in by collecting tons of newspapers, scrap metal and other recyclable materials for the war effort. Thousands of kids all across the country joined---by late 1942 there were nearly 20,000 Junior Commandos in Boston alone! The mobilization of kids all across America reflected the phenomenal popularity that comic books enjoyed through the 1940's.
Meanwhile, at U.S. Army post exchanges, comic books outsold Life, Readers Digest and the Saturday Evening Post combined--by an astounding 10-to-1 margin! New comics like Sad Sack and G.I. Joe helped many a serviceman pass the lonely hours away from home. Toward the end of the war, it was estimated that 70 million Americans---nearly half the population of the United States at the time---were comic book fans.
Critics took potshots at this entertainment fad. The Chicago Daily News claimed that such reading material was "Badly written, badly drawn and badly printed----a strain on young eyes and young nervous systems." Still, it took another form of entertainment to quiet the rage for comic books. When television began its rise in the late 1940s, comic books began to slip in popularity. Nowadays, comic books are making somewhat of a comeback. But it's unlikely they'll ever enjoy the popularity they did during the war years.Like their readers of that era, the comics have "grown up" and gone on to more peaceful pursuits.