So when I was at Boston Comic Con I had the great honor of meeting Allen Bellman.
Side note: this is not a picture of him at Boston Comic Con. I made the stupid mistake of not getting a picture of him there so this will have to do
For those who might not be familiar with the name Allen Bellman was a freelance artist for Timely Comics during the 40’s and 50’s, which meant that he spent a lot of time with this guy.
While Lee was busy performing editorial duties at Timely (this was well before he created most of his iconic characters like Spiderman and before Timely would become Marvel Comics), Bellman was busy drawing some of the earliest issues of a little known superhero you’ve probably never heard of.
He also did a lot of work on the Golden Age Human Torch, which is another iconic superhero that underwent quite a bit of change from his early days and is definitely going to appear in an article at some point.
But what we’re going to talk about today is a project that was created and written by Allen Bellman alone, a filler comic for larger issues called Let’s Play Detective.
Origin and career
This one’s a bit different because there really was no superhero origin for this comic. Bellman realized that the comics Timely was producing needed filler pages for them so he proposed small and simple 1-2 page mystery comic book series. It starred detective Michael Trapp who was confronted with a new case every issue and at the end of a page he would have deduced who committed the crime and made the arrest. It was up to the reader to figure out how the detective had arrived at his deduction and the answer was always printed upside down in the last panel.
While the stories themselves were incredibly simple and were never designed to be their own thing these stories did appear as filler in a whole bunch of Golden Age books from Captain America to the Sub Mariner. They also speak to the rise in popularity of crime comics during the Golden Age with the very popular anthology series Crime Does not Pay
and featuring rather lurid tales of female criminals in the series Crimes by Women.
So what happened?
It was a crime comic in the late 1940’s, it’s pretty clear what happened.
Another way to tell just how popular crime comics were in their hayday was by looking at how much attention the Comics Code paid to them. The CCA reserved some of it’s strangest and most restrictive rules for crime comics including halting portrayals of excessive violence, forcing artists and writers to make criminals always look bad, and sadly enough always requiring that good triumph over evil at the end of the story.
Granted Let’s Play Detective was never going to be a lasting hit, it was simply a cheap way to fill out a comic book, but the creation of the CCA and the destruction it caused would mean that there was no place for fun little stories like this and it disappeared in the 1950’s.
Regardless of its size and its lack of impact Allen Bellman created something small in fun in Let’s Play Detective amid his much bigger and important work. So next time you see a solve it yourself mystery in a book or in your local paper, make sure you thank Allen Bellman for his work.