Favorite Quotes

"The fact that you think you are a person is a socially induced hallucination. There is not such thing as a person."
- D. Chopra, Playboy March 2011 interview

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fandom's Forgotten Founder: Richard Hughes

Unknown Worlds #6 (March 1961) [American Comics Group (ACG)]

Today is an important day in comic book fandom, though not normally recognized as such.  Today, this issue of Unknown Worlds was on the newsstands.  Note the date stamped on the cover.

Most histories of comic book fandom accord Julie Schwartz and Stan Lee with most of the credit for helping modern fandom get started in the early 1960s.  They each played a big role in creating a comic book community and the impression that the companies cared about their fans.  This was done in many ways including fan letter pages, clubs, giving out original art and prizes, responding and following fan suggestions, and sending post cards in response to letters.   All of those engendered fan appreciation and loyalty to the editors and comics of Marvel and DC.  Schwartz and Lee could have stopped there. 

But, they went farther.  They helped the fans communicate with each other and form their own communities not tied to a specific company, editor or title.  Julie Schwartz gave names and addresses of fans who had written him to Jerry Bails.  Both Lee and Schwartz also started attaching the full name and address to the fan letters they printed in the comics. 

This is a key factor in why fandom was able to form.  All the other increased communication efforts helped the fan interact with the company, but giving the fan the means to talk among themselves sparked the foundation of comic book fandom as we know it.  Without a means to communicate between themselves, neither fanzines nor conventions would have ever been formed.  Since at the time, comic books were so looked down upon, thought of as so much trash, most fans didn't know other fans.  For fandom to get started, you first have to know that you are not alone.  With today's internet, everyone forgets how hard it used to be to find others who have your same interests.  Not living in a big city, it wasn't until I was 17 that I actually met another comic book fan.

Now letters pages were not rare before the 1960s, and even letters pages with full addresses (name, street, city, state) were published in comic books back in the 1930s.  And there were fans clubs, even if they were mostly company run.   But something changed with comic book fans in the early 1960s.  There were many factors, but one key was the older, activist fan like Jerry Bails, Roy Thomas, and Don & Maggie Thompson.  They enjoyed comic books and wanted to tell others about it.  And they had the life experience and knowledge to act on that desire.  That made all the difference.  They and other fanzine publishers used the contacts they had and the addresses found in comic books to promote their fanzines.  They could reach a market that wanted their product.   And every new comic book published added new potential customers to their list.

Julie Schwartz is often credited with founding this practice of including the full address on his letters pages, at least in the early 1960s.  He drew on his experiences with science fiction fandom.   His efforts, letters, and encouragement to Bails and Thomas in Brave & Bold have cemented that thought in the minds of fans.  Stan Lee came along a little later and joined those practices of encouragement and printing the full address of fan letters.  His fun, irreverent, huckster style caught on with teens of that time.  For more on the founding fans activities and their interactions with Marvel and DC, you need to read Bill Schelly's fantastic book: The Golden Age of Comic Fandom.

So why is Unknown Worlds #6 important?   Well, with all the rightly deserved celebration of Schwartz and Lee, there is another important figure ignored, left out of this group of people responsible for the founding of modern comic book fandom. 

He also deserves some recognition for helping fandom get started.  He was the editor of this comic, Richard Hughes.  Hughes real name is thought to be Leo Rosenbaum according to Michael Vance.  He wrote the excellent history of ACG: Forbidden Adventures.

This issue of Unknown Worlds is important because it has letters pages and Richard Hughes prints the complete address of the letter writers.  "So What" you say, "Schwartz started that in Brave & Bold #35 (May 1961, cover date) when he printed letters from Bails and Thomas".  That's true, but that issue made it onto the newsstand in February of 1961 (Shelly pg 31).  This issue of Unknown Worlds was on the newsstands as of today, Jan. 18, 1961, and had 5 letters with their complete address (name, street, City state).   More significantly, this is the third consecutive issue of Unknown Worlds' letter pages with complete addresses.  So Hughes has already established a consistent pattern of printing complete addresses in ACG comic books.

Unknown Worlds #6  Letters Pages

Only a year before, a fan letter in Superman #135 (Feb 1960 cover date) asked the editor to print his address so he can swap books with other fans.  The printed reply was: "Sorry, but old issues of used magazines are known disease-carriers, so we can't encourage such swapping. - Ed." 

Julie wasn't the first to start printing the addresses in the silver age and he wasn't always consistent.  Sometimes he put in the entire address, sometimes not.   Did he see that Hughes had already started including full addresses on his letters pages a few months earlier and then follow suit?  Probably not, considering his background in science fiction and the long lead times of comic book publishing.

Adventures Into The Unknown #123 (Mar. 1961) also has complete addresses for fan letters.  Hughes followed this practice with all the titles ACG published by the middle of the year and continued on until to the end in 1967.  (except maybe My Romantic Adventures?) He even made it a point to chide letter writers who didn't provide their street address. 

So here is a steady source of addresses for fanzine publishers at the beginning of fandom that never gets more than a fleeting mention, if mentioned at all, in most histories of fandom.  Why is that?  Well, most fandom histories are written by superhero fans, so its not surprising that is where the focus would be.  Also, superhero fans didn't collect ACG comics, so they are hard to find.  In addition, the ACG titles generally had lower circulation numbers than either DC or Marvel.

Adventures Into The Unknown #123 (March 1961) [American Comics Group]

Future historians need to give Richard Hughes more respect for his role in the foundation of comic book fandom.  His role wasn't equal to Schwartz and Lee, but never the less, a lot more significant than usually given credit.

Unknown Worlds #4 (December 1960/January 1961) [American Comics Group]

Unknown Worlds #4  Letters Page


  1. Yo Tim, damn straight re ACG letter's pages being a conduit into "organized" fandom. I read the LOCs in ACG with as much, maybe more, fervor, than the DC and Marvel LOC pages. -:) Another good source for early comics dealing to get going was inside Blackhawk which had those Blackhawk Trade Corner pages wherein you could list yer wants or sale BHs. My want list was in #225, IIRC a Lady Blackhawk cover. Fans entered in to the mix from all directions as the comics movement grew in scope

  2. Bob, Thanks for the reminder of those Blackhawk Trading letters pages. I'll have to do a post on those as I have a good story about them too. I love your "conduit into organized fandom". I may steal that for another use!