Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Today in Comics History, May 31: Happy birthday, Bert Christman!

Born on this day in 1915: Bert Christman, comic book writer and illustrator as well as WWII naval aviator. Christman was writer and artist on the popular newspaper strip Scorchy Smith, of which many adventures were reprinted in Easter Color's Famous Funnies comic book, plus work on the Three Aces feature in Action Comics, Funny Picture Stories, and Adventure Comics. That last one's pretty important, because t'was in the pages of Adventure that Bert created, along with Gardner Fox, Wesley Dodds — the Golden Sandman. Yes, the Sandman Mystery Theatre version. Here's his first appearance!

from "[The Tarantula Strikes]" in Adventure Comics #40 (DC, July 1939), script by Gardner Fox as Larry Dean, pencils and inks by Bert Christman; shown here in a recolored reprint from Justice League of America #94 (DC/National, November 1971)

Comics historians generally agree that four out of five comics historians chew Wrigley's Juicy Fruit NO. that while the Sandman story in Adventure #40 was created first and is thus The Daring Mr. Dodds's very first sand-sparyin' scenario, he actually appeared two weeks earlier in the souvenir anthology New York World's Fair Comics (a title which eventually evolved into World's Finest Comics). In it, hefty assortment of Detective Comics, Inc.'s stars visited and had adventures at the World's Fair: Superman, Slam Bradley,, Chuck Warren, Ginger, Scoop Scanlon, Butch the Pup...Hanko the Cowhand? And, among all those, the aforementioned Sandman. Betcha wish you'd picked up that ish! See, there he is, in the next-to-last circle! Wow, now that Ginger Snap is such a big DC star, it's kinda fun to see where she got her start before helming her own 500-issue-plus DC series and fighting Black Adam to a draw in that big-ass movie Dwayne Johnson promised us was gonna change the power hierachy in the DCEU.

cover of New York World's Fair Comics [#1] (DC, April 1939), main image pencils and inks by Vin Sullivan, head view pencils and inks by Fred Guardineer

And now...enter Sandman.

from "[Sandman at the World's Fair]" in New York World's Fair Comics [#1]; script by Gardner Fox as Larry Dean, pencils and inks by Bert Christman

And there you have it, folks, the chronologically first appearance of The Sandman, a DC character without who Neil Gaiman would still be slingin' fish and chips in Portchester. It's also possible that this could be the DC Universe's first appareance of a green suit.

Christman's comics career was sadly cut short when he was killed in action early in World War II, shot down over Rangoon, Burma (now known as Yangon, Myanmar) by Japanese air forces.

from Comic Book Comics #2 (Evil Twin, October 2008), script by Fred Van Lente; pencils, inks, and letters by Ryan Dunlavey

This text page from the comic that reprinted Scorchy Smith reported Christman's death and gave what was rare in those days: an obituary for and portrait of one of their creators. Respectful silence, please, and you read this.

"Let's Get Into a Huddle!" from Famous Funnies #97 (Eastern Color, August 1942), text by Stephen Douglas (?), portrait of Christman by unknown (might be Christman himself); panel from Scorchy Smith (AP Newsfeatures, Septeber 28, 1937), by Bert Christman

A couple very good online articles about Bert Christman: Glaess's piece is especially evocative and I highly recommend it. He wraps up the piece with "Fate was cruel to Bert Christman, and sadly history has done its best to forget him." Fellow comics fans, it's our job to not forget him. Salute him this day on his birthday, and remember him when you read Golden Age Sandman or Scorchy Smith or the Three Aces. Here's to you, Bert Christman, and happy birthday.


Michael Grabowski said...

A sweet tribute, appropriate just after Memorial Day. Thank you for posting this.

Re: "Be one of the first to reserve your copy." It's amusing to imagine the guy running the street-style newsstand keeping a pull-list for his New Comics Thursday customers.

Blam said...

I salute and Bert Christman and look forward to reading those articles but also have to ask: Where do you get a blond Superman-Red?