DC Comics used to add gorillas to their covers to increase sales
Anyone who has read enough of the silver age DC Comics most likely noticed a disproportionate amount of monkeys or gorillas on the blankets. Whether it’s a western, sci-fi, war, or superhero series, there’s a chance it features a gorilla on the cover at least once. Ultimately, there was a very specific reason for simian love, and it all started with legendary comic book publisher Julius Schwartz, DC editorial director Irwin Donenfeld, and the now-defunct editorial practices that defined the early days of comics.
Many DC Comics (then National Periodical Publications) publishers from the Golden Age (late 1930s to mid 1950s) and Silver Age (mid 1950s to mid 1950s) 70) had their roots in Pulp magazines. A common editorial practice of Pulp magazines was to order a cover before a story was written, and assign the cover to a writer, who would then come up with a story based on that image (with the basic idea often called a “gimmick.”) It was a process that early comic book publishers used and were inspired by until almost the end of the Silver Age. In a 1983 interview with The Overstreet comic book price guide, Editor-in-Chief Jack Schiff described the editorial process at the time:
At this time, the stories were almost always plotted in detail, so there was relatively little rewrite by the writer or editor later. Copy editing corrected and tightened the story, and it was a huge job on several occasions. The story editor actually mapped out the whole story and generally the “gimmick” – a fact that is overlooked or ignored for the most part by the fanzine world.
An extremely fertile time for comics, the Silver Age saw the debut of countless classic characters who are still popular to this day. Since joining the DC editorial team in 1944, Julius Schwartz’s contributions to DC programming have made him one of the fathers of the Silver Age. Inspired by his early roots in sci-fi fan culture, Schwartz spearheaded the more sci-fi-focused reboots of Green Lantern, Flash, Atom and Hawkman, which took the comic book industry by storm. . The sci-fi approach to comics has proven to be extremely popular, and in this time of growth for the industry, Donenfeld and Schwartz have started noticing things about the sales of certain books.
If there is one publisher who has become prolific for gimmicks, it’s Julius Schwartz, and the gimmick of Strange Adventures # 8 from May 1951 will prove to be one of the most successful and often used gadgets in comic book history. Strange adventures (which was rebooted for DC’s Black Label in 2020) was originally edited by Schwartz, and the eighth issue featured a Win Mortimer cover for the story. “Evolution Plus: The incredible story of a monkey with a human brain!” which featured a monkey in a cage holding a note claiming to be the victim of a “Terrible scientific experiment”. This show quickly became one of the best-selling shows on Strange adventures nowadays.
Schwartz included another monkey on the March 1952 cover Big city # 14, and the same year, Irwen Donenfeld became editorial director at the age of 26. Looking at the sales figures to understand how he would approach his new role, Donenfeld noticed that the sales of Strange Adventures # 8 were much higher than the other numbers in the series. As his autobiography recalls The man of two worlds, Schwartz mentions an editorial meeting with Donenfeld:
I edited a comic called Strange Adventures, which normally sold quite well, and then one day the managing editor (Irwin Donenfeld) came over and asked me ‘What happened to Strange Adventures? ” “Why?” I inquired. “Why? Because he had a huge sale, that’s why! So we decided to look at the cover for a clue of his success… well, it must have been that idea – a gorilla that was once a man, begging his girlfriend to help him out of this horrible situation – wowed our readers. They wanted to know how such a thing could happen and what could be done about it. We decided the magazine was selling well because a gorilla acted like a human being, so we decided to try it again… and every time we tried it it sold wonderfully, with sales skyrocketing!
DC Comics Monkey Invasion
Jack Schiff included a monkey on the February 1953 cover Batman # 75, and Schwartz followed him with more gorillas on Strange Adventures # 32 in May and # 39 in December. The experiment worked, and that’s when things really started to take off. 1954 saw nine monkey covers in total versus three in 53, and the debuts of some recurring DC monkey characters like Doom Patrol villain Mister Mallah. In an interview with Cartoon artist # 5, Donenfeld reflected on the period, saying:
I followed every magazine we produced and got to see how certain themes would sell. For example, I discovered that gorillas sell. We had gorilla covers on Star Spangled War Stories or Wonder Woman – you name a magazine, we had a gorilla on it. Do you know what happened? Sales exceeded our expectations.
During the period 1951-1970, Julius Schwartz oversaw a total of 22 monkey covers on books he edited, followed by the publisher of all titles in Superman Mort Weisinger with 18. Jack Schiff, who has managed a wide variety of books including Batman (and co-created Batman’s Bat-Signal) oversaw 17 monkey covers during this time. All of the titles Schiff dealt with became sci-fi heavy during his tenure, including the western, war, and horror comics he edited. In the Overstreet comic book price guide interview, Schiff suggested there was pressure from Donenfeld to include things like sci-fi tropes and monkeys in comics for sale, saying that while he opposed the “Craze for monsters” and tried to keep related gadgets out of Batman and Superman, he felt compelled to include those themes.
The Death of Ape Comics
1965-1967 saw 7 blankets of monkeys a year until the gorilla trend was nearly dead, just when a huge ape craze took off across America. After leaving Planet of the Apes in May 1968 there was a sharp drop in monkey covers, with no title featuring a monkey for a few years except one Superman’s Boyfriend Jimmy Olsen (problem # 116) and the series edited by Joe Orlando Angel and the monkey. Even this title ceased to feature the titular monkey after just 6 issues, with a title change to Meet Angel which featured monsters instead.
This coincided with an almost company-wide replacement of editors and writers, even those who had not been fired were reassigned to other books. Irwin Donenfeld stepped down as editorial director and, in August 1968, was officially replaced by DC artist and cover designer Carmine Infantino. One of the side effects of the “1968 DC Writers Purge” was a loss of monkeys just when the company could have made the most of it with the release and hype of Planet of the Apes. This reshuffle at DC Comics heralded the end of the Silver Age and the end of the company’s cover session.
It’s unclear why gorillas seemingly had such a noticeable effect on comic book sales, but it’s likely that at least on a subconscious level, they became associated with the larger sci-fi themes that appealed to comics. readers, taking on a similar symbolic meaning. robots and aliens. The monkeys were also likely an accessible point of reference even for young readers – while the strength and strangeness of a monster may be implied by art, fans would have had a more concrete idea of what a gorilla was like. able. The use of gorillas on the covers may also have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as fans chose a great sci-fi comic with a monkey on the front and were ready to look favorably on the next one, can -be also by associating these stories with ambitious works like King Kong which has had a lasting impact on the times. Whatever the explanation, DC ComicsThe obsession with monkey blankets might sound bizarre, but it was ultimately a marketing decision that paid off time and time again, leaving a long legacy of gorilla characters in the comics that remains to this day.
Next: How Batman ’66 Killed The Munsters
Sources: The Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics, The Overstreet # 13 comic book price guide, Cartoon artist # 5
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