Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wham-O Giant Comics - 2007

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This piece was commissioned for Comic Book Artist when it was in its second incarnation at Top Shelf. After turning it in, the issue it was supposed to run in got pushed back until the new year, then pushed back again, then again, until all the future issues of CBA were removed from Top Shelf's schedule.

I was disappointed for two reasons--one, this piece would never see print, and two, I was a huge fan of Comic Book Artist, having read every issue of both series, and I was sorry to see it just sort of disappear (its still listed on Top Shelf's site, but with still no new issues scheduled).

Anyway, here it is:


Think your copy of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali is tough to store? Well, you haven't seen anything until you've seen THE BIGGEST COMIC BOOK EVER PUBLISHED!

When you see the word "Wham-o", odds are you think of one of the thousands of stock sound-effects used in your standard superhero comic. But to those of a previous generation, "Wham-O" meant only one thing--a maker of frisbees, boomerangs, hula hoops, and a myriad of other outdoor toys. Oh, and one comic book.

A comic book? Yes, in 1967 the Wham-O company(a division of Halliburton) decided to try their hand at producing a comic book. The success of the Batman TV show seemed to make many, many people who had never produced a superhero comic in their life think they could, so it seems reasonable to think that someone or someones at Wham-O figured, hey, how hard could it be?

But Wham-O decided not to produce any old comic book that would fight for space alongside the DCs, the Marvels, the Gold Keys, the Archies, and the Charltons. No, they would put together the single largest comic book ever published and put the full force of the Wham-O company behind it.

What they wrought was Wham-O Giant Comics #1, a fifty-two page book containing over twenty-five different one, two, or three-page strips (plus game and puzzle pages), measuring in at a whopping 14x21" big. This book is so big you create new weather patterns simply by turning the pages.

For most of the people who ended up with a copy, it was bought at half-price at some dollar store, the legend being that most of them ended up sitting in a warehouse and then sold off as bulk (indeed, my copy has a price sticker--courtesy "Railroad Stores"--with the original .98 cent price slashed and reduced to .59 cents). But at least in one part of the country--Southern California--not only was the book on sale, but it was backed with a television and radio campaign! The books were sold in places like drug stores("What's a 'drug store'?", I hear the younger generation saying), in a huge display alongside Wham-O's bread and butter--the hula hoops, the frisbees, and the superballs.

The variety in this book is simply staggering--Wham-O Giant Comics was clearly trying to appeal to every possible genre that could interest a child, and it gives the book the feel of a European comic where superheroes would share space with WWI flying aces, space explorers, and funny animals.

Wham-O promised that "[t]he panels of this comic book placed end to end would stretch the length of a football field!" I hope no curious comic fan tried this, since they would've undoubtedly gotten beat up by the beefy players as they tried to gently lay the panels down on the grass, one by one.
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Starting with the astonishing wraparound cover by artist W.T. Vinson(who most likely went insane and/or blind after finishing it), the book features the following strips:

"Radian"--a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents-ish superhero strip by Wally Wood
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"Tor"--not the Kubert character, but a stone idol caveman come to life, by Lou Fine
(Wally Wood and Lou Fine? We're off to a good start!)
"The Young Eagles"--adventures of WWI pilots, by Andre LeBlanc
"Experiment in Shock"--goofy monsters by Steffanagan(?)
"Mark of the Sun"--adventures of intrepid astronaut Ray Starkey, by Mike Arens
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"Unexplored"--a half-page story featuring aliens and an EC-esque twist ending, by Dennis Ellefson
"Kaleidoscope of Fear"--a young boy, Jason Jones, meets aliens from the future, by Ernie Colon
"Galaxo, the Cosmic Agent"--a heroic space alien, by Marvin Stein
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"The Unhumans"--an alien race attempts a takeover of Earth by duplicating people, with art by John Ushler
"Stellar Apes"--alien-battling space explorers, complete with Maynard G.Krebbs-style goatees. Art by Dennis Ellefson

"The Secret Message" is half-page maze, with the bottom half filled by ads for fine Wham-O products, like a Wham-O Wheelie Bar and a Wham-O Turbo-Tube (only 98 cents!). *End of commercial announcement.*

"The Edge of Time"--set in 2068, Earth must find a way to escape an upcoming ecological disaster! Filled with spaceships, robots, and "the villainous Captain Blud." Art by Sururi Gumen
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"Goody Bumpkin", a delightful humor-fantasy strip by Wally Wood

Next is a whole page of random one-panel gag cartoons, as well as educational comics, featuring histories of Bread and Money

"Captain Valoren"--a secret agent/adventurer takes on a weird, Jabba The Hut-like villain named The Toad. Art by Marvin Stevens
"The Wooden Sword"--an adventure strip set in Ancient Rome, by George Wilhelms
"The Diary of Ty Locke"--yet another group of alien-battling spacemen, by Warren Tufts

Next is a half-page questionnaire where you were supposed to check off which features you liked, rating them either "Boss", "Fair", or "Blah." Doing so gave you a chance to win "A Giant Box of Wham-O Toys." Boss!

"Vehicles to Suit Your Hobby" is a half-page sorta-humor feature by Nelson Dewey featuring tricked-out far-out vehicles, like a "Super Sub" and a "Surfer's Dream Buggy"
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Then comes a very optimistic subscription certificate to Wham-O Giant Comics--six issues over a year and a half for only $4.98, plus a free frisbee! Can you imagine how pissed off your mail carrier would’ve been, having to deliver this monster every three months?

"Super Sibling and the Magic Chokes!"--a chopper-riding superhero, by cover artist W.T.Vinson
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"Fugitive From A Scrap Pile!"--starring Klunker, the Misfit Monster, a giant robot. Actually a pretty cute strip, with a real Rankin-Bass feel, by Willie Ito
Next is another page of gag cartoons and educational comics, about The Razor and Spectacles
"Clyde! King of the Jungle"--by Shean(?), squint and you’ll think you’re looking at George of the Jungle storyboards
There's a one-page "Wham-O Fun Factory" page, where we're taken on a Rube Goldberg-esque trail of how a Wham-O Superball is made, drawn by Virgil Patch
"Bridget and Newton"--a Peanuts-esque strip by John (Little Lulu) Stanley
"The Adventures of Melvin the Magician"--a little kid dabs in black magic. Art by unknown, this sequence features ninety-four panels crammed onto one page! Take that, George Perez!
"Wild Earth Child"--a humor strip where aliens meet their first earthling, a Mod Hippie! Hilarity ensues. Art by Dennis Ellefson
"A Helping Handsome"--all about dragstrip and racing cars, by Nelson Dewey
"Flabby and Gabby"--a funny animal team, this page features sixty-nine panels, all reduced to postage-stamp size, by Ward Kimball

On the inside covers are informational comics, featuring painted art and are nothing like anything else in the book. The inside front is "Fantastic Flying Machines" and the inside back is "Flying Saucers Mystify the Air Force”, which is really more of a statment.

The coloring in the comic is abysmal; the registering is way off, making an already hard-to-read comic even more so. Luckily, Wham-O realized three staples was just not going to cut it for a book almost two feet high so they gave you five, meaning that even though the paper is cheap and the book is really hard to hold, my copy at least is in remarkably solid shape for being forty years old. Reading every strip in a row is impossible; constantly setting your mind back to zero every two to three pages is exhausting, and you find yourself squinting(ironic, considering its the biggest comic ever made!) so much just to read the damn thing that you get a headache. Hmm, did Tylenol ever make a comic book?

This was the only issue of Wham-O Giant Comics ever published; obviously it was a financial bust for the company and they got out of the comics business as soon as they got into it.

Which is a shame--even though the execution of this book was odd to the nth degree, and it was most certainly designed primarily as just a sales tool, it is a fun and diverse book, with truly something for everyone(any comic that features work by masters like Wally Wood, Lou Fine, and Ernie Colon has got something going for it, for sure). It displays a real entrepreneurial spirit and is a product of a time when a company could put their own comic book together, get it out there, and tried to make it as impressive as possible.

And in a way, Wham-O had the last laugh--for a book that ended up remaindered and sold off in bulk in most places, it now commands anywhere from $20 to $50 a copy from us knucklehead collectors, forty years later. That would buy a lot of frisbees.

Only one Wham-O Giant comic was harmed in the making of this article.
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4 comments:

Wings said...

WOW! That is quite a full comic! Holy cow, that is a lot to squeeze in, guess it HAD to be big! Never heard or, or saw this, before, so thanks for the little (big) history lesson, Rob! Sorry it never got printed, but glad you were able to share it with us!

rob! said...

Thanks Joe! It is a weird, dusty corner of comics history, which is why I love writing about it. :)

Booksteve said...

I store mine on top of my Russ Cochran EC volumes. Other than Wood and Stanley I never had a clue who did most of the art. Nice piece. Thanks!

rob! said...

BookSteve-

Thanks for reading and the comment! Glad I could help, and glad you found a way to store this beast.

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