Golden Age Showcase: Camera Comics

Today we’re going to do something different.

I was planning to try and talk about a famous Golden Age comic book villain, but since most of the bad guys were usually one note, thinly veiled Nazis.

Image result for comic book nazis golden age

or usually wound up dead after a single issue,

Image result for batman killing people

it was kind of difficult for a villain to really take off.

The thing is, during my research I discovered a comic book villain called “The Mad Arsonist”.

Image result for camera comics the mad arsonist

That’s him in the background holding the vial and looking like a half crazed madman.

The story behind him is simple, he’s a crazy pharmacist who liked to set things on fire and watch them burn.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 6 (6)

While the villain himself was pretty intriguing what I wound up discovering is that the company that published his story, Camera Comics, had a pretty interesting backstory itself.

So today, instead of talking about a single character, we’re going to showcase an entire company and the work they did.  Today we’re going to talk about Camera Comics.

Origin and Titles

In 1935 a man named Tomas Maloney published a magazine called U.S Camera.

Image result for us camera 1935

Maloney was an advertising executive and photography enthusiast who dedicated himself to publishing photographic works and promoting photography as an art form.

He would move on to publishing a full size magazine, titled U.S Camera Magazine, in 1938.

 Image result for us camera magazine 1938

The publication was a success and would eventually reach a peak circulation of over 300,000 copies.

In 1945 the U.S Camera Publishing Corporation looked at the pop culture landscape, noticed that this new fangled “comic book” was really popular with young people, and decided to enter the comic book publishing game themselves.  Their first publication was Camera Comics #1 in October of 1944.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

It’s important to understand that these comics were created as advertisements first and stories second, which is a crying shame because a lot of the work that came out of these comic books was really good.

Camera Comics produced six volumes of work and each volume was usually made of three types of material: ads and real world tutorials, fictional stories, and historical/biographical work.

The first type of material was pretty straightforward.  Since Camera Comics was created to advertise and sell photographic equipment it would make sense that a lot of ads were placed in each publication.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

Also, each issue had two issues talking about certain aspects of the hobby.  These included instructional pages on how to create a dark room,

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 2 (2)

to showing how American soldiers set up, took, and developed recon photos for the war effort.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

Naturally, the war effort led to the second type of material that the comic title published: traditional comic book stories.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

A lot of these stories were similar to the traditional wartime superhero stories that were popular throughout the war.  The big difference is that instead of superpowers and bright costumes saving the day, these heroes usually saved the day by using a camera in some capacity.

For example, “The Grey Comet” was a story about an Air Corps (the Air Force didn’t exist until after the war) pilot who managed to stop a German guided missile and somehow managed to complete a reconnaissance run as well.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

This would eventually develop into Camera Comics creating its own characters such as “Kid Click”.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

He was a young kid with a passion for photography and would go around solving small time crimes where his film would always be used as evidence to apprehend he criminals.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

Another character of note was Linda Lens.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

While Kid Click was a pretty blatant gimmick to sell cameras to kids, Linda Lens was surprisingly progressive for comics.  As you can see above she was a capable, independent photographer with her own business which by all accounts was doing well.

What makes it even more interesting is that she wound up becoming a freelance photographer for the U.S Army and was able to appear on the front lines as a combat photographer.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

she actually helped uncover a secret Nazi listening post in a popular officer’s club in Allied occupied France.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

and played an important role in capturing the Nazi spy.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

The third and final type of story that appeared in these books were short biographical comics about famous historical figures that helped develop the art and technical aspects of photography.  These included pioneers such as Matthew B. Brady,

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

who was one of the first pioneers of outdoor photography and was one of the first wartime photographers.

Image result for mathew b brady photography

Image result for mathew b brady photography

Image result for mathew b brady photography

and Edward Maybridge, a man who was one of the first people to showcase how a series of still photographs could be turned into a moving picture.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 4 (4)

Image result for eadweard muybridge

All in all, Camera Comics was a fun, engaging, and informative advertisement for photography and I like to think that it was a success in convincing a generation of children to take up a camera as a hobby.

So what happened?

Despite some genuinely good work and sincere thought that went into a lot of these comic books, at the end of the day they were just ads.

Image result for camera comics

Camera Comics played second fiddle to the much more serious publications that Thomas Maloney was publishing and his other work was  finding great success in the popular culture.  In fact, his U.S Camera Annual: 1945 was lauded by the New York Times as “The best picture book on the War to date”

Image result for us camera 1945

Camera Comics was cancelled in 1946 after a nine issue publishing run.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v2 3 (9)

These comics were far better than they had any right to be.  Even though they were essentially glorified ads there was some genuine heart, passion, and talent that went into publishing these stories and that deserves our recognition and respect.  Whether it was telling fictional stories about characters using their cameras to save the day,

Image result for camera comics

telling stories about the pioneers of photography,

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v2 3 (9)

or showing kids how they could become better photographers themselves,

Image result for camera comics

Camera Comics was a publication that set out to make photography better for everyone.

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