|Victor S. Fox|
Fox Feature Syndicate (also known as Fox Comics, Fox Publications, and Bruns Publications, Inc.) was a comic book publisher from early in the period known to fans and historians as the Golden Age of Comic Books. Founded by entrepreneur Victor S. Fox, it produced such titles as Blue Beetle, Fantastic Comics and Mystery Men Comics.
It is not related to the company Fox Publications (a Colorado publisher of railroad photography books), nor 20th Century Fox (formed from Fox Studios and later renamed 20th Century Studios in 2020) and its associated companies.
Victor S. Fox and business associate Bob Farrell launched Fox Feature Syndicate at 480 Lexington Avenue in New York City in the late 1930s. For content, Fox contracted with comics packager Eisner & Iger, one of a handful of companies creating comic books on demand for publishers entering the field. Writer-artist Will Eisner, at Victor Fox's request for a hero to mimic the newly created hit Superman, created the superhero Wonder Man for Fox's first publication, Wonder Comics #1 (May 1939), signing his work "Willis". Eisner said in interviews throughout his later life that he had protested the derivative nature of the character and story, and that when subpoenaed after National Periodical Publications, the company that would evolve into DC Comics, sued Fox, alleging Wonder Man was an illegal copy of Superman, Eisner testified that this was so, undermining Fox's case; Eisner even depicts himself doing so in his semi-autobiographical graphic novel The Dreamer. However, a transcript of the proceeding, uncovered by comics historian Ken Quattro in 2010, indicates Eisner in fact supported Fox and claimed Wonder Man as an original Eisner creation.
After losing at trial, Victor Fox dropped Eisner and Iger, and hired his own stable of comic creators, beginning with a New York Times classified ad on December 2, 1939. Joe Simon became Fox Publications' editor.
As one of the earliest companies in the emerging field, it employed or bought the packaged material of a huge number of Golden Age greats, many at the start of their careers. Lou Fine created the superhero The Flame in Wonderworld Comics; Dick Briefer created Rex Dexter of Mars in the eponymous series. George Tuska did his first comics work here with the features "Zanzibar" (Mystery Men Comics #1, Aug. 1939) and "Tom Barry" (Wonderworld Comics #4). Fletcher Hanks wrote and drew Stardust the Super Wizard in Fantastic Comics in 1939 and 1940. Matt Baker, one of the few African-American comic book artists of the Golden Age, revamped – in more than one sense – the newly acquired Quality Comics character Phantom Lady in 1947, creating one of the most memorable and controversial examples of superhero "good girl art".
Future comics legend Jack Kirby, brought on staff here after freelancing for Eisner & Iger, wrote and drew the syndicated newspaper comic strip The Blue Beetle (starting Jan. 1940), starring a character created by Charles Nicholas Wojtkowski in Mystery Men Comics #1 (Aug. 1939). Kirby retained the house name "Charles Nicholas" for the comic strip, which lasted three months. Kirby, additionally, created and did one story each of the Fox features "Wing Turner" (Mystery Men #10, May 1940) and "Cosmic Carson" (Science Comics #4, same month).
Fox Feature Syndicate sponsored a "Blue Beetle Day" at the 1939 New York World's Fair on August 7, 1940, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and including 300 children in relay-race finals at the Field of Special Events, following preliminaries in New York City parks. The race was broadcast over radio station WMCA.
Throughout the 1940s, Fox produced comics in a typically wide variety of genres, but was best known for superheroes and humor. With the post-war decline in superheroes' popularity, Fox, like other publishers, concentrated on horror and crime comics, including some of the most notorious of the latter. Following the establishment of Comics Code Authority in the mid-1950s, Fox went out of business, selling the rights to the Blue Beetle to Charlton Comics.
According to Nicky Wright: "Competing well in the 'most sexy, sadistic, and violent' category, Victor Fox's Murder Incorporated and Blue Beetle are noteworthy.... When historians describe sleaze, sex, and violence as Fox's obsession, they are masters of understatement. His best artists, Jack Kamen and Matt Baker, are much revered and collected for their good girl art. Of special note is the company's breasty crime-fighter-in-bedroom-lingerie, Phantom Lady...along with the wild and scantily attired Rulah, Jungle Goddess".
Boyd Magers said of the publisher: "Never one to overlook a secondary sale, Fox often repackaged four remaindered (unsold) comics into a 25¢ Giant with a new cover, hence Hoot Gibson's Western Roundup, 132 pages dated 1950. However, since Fox always started their stories on the inside front cover (where other publishers ran an ad), these repackaged comics are always missing the first page of story content. Also, since Fox used remaindered issues, contents will vary from copy to copy of Hoot Gibson's Western Roundup".
Fox Feature Syndicate, located at 60 East 42nd Street, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in July 1950, listing liabilities of $721,448 and assets of $932,878, which included $567,800 in uncollected accounts receivables. Central Color Press of the same address filed likewise, listing liabilities of $513,587 and assets of $603,427. Fox was listed as president of both corporations.
Early life and career background
Fox Publications founder Victor Fox was born Samuel Victor Joseph Fox on July 3, 1893, in Nottinghamshire, England, the fourth of six children born to Russian emigres Joseph and Bessie Fox. He had older sisters Annie (b. July 1884), Rosie (b. September 1885), Fanny E. (b. April 1892), and younger sisters Etta G. (b. March 1898) and Marrion (b. May 1900). The family relocated to the United States in March 1898, and within two years were living in Fall River, Massachusetts. By 1917, patriarch Joseph, a storekeeper, moved the family to New York City, where he opened a women's clothing business; the family lived at 555 West 151st Street.
U.S. Attorney Charles H. Tuttle in 1929 arrested several individuals including a Victor S. Fox for illegal "boiler-room" stock-trading. Reports of Fox's September 4 arraignment said his Allied Capital Corporation had offices at 49 Broadway and 331 Madison Avenue, and that Fox also had "desk room" at 230 Park Avenue as Fox Motor and Bank Stock, Inc., and as American Common Stocks, Inc. His hearing was set for September 18. Another individual, J.A. Sachs, was named in the same warrant. A report the following month gave the latter's name as John A. Sacks and identified him as president of Allied Capital and Fox as a director; the two were temporarily enjoined from continuing sales of securities. On November 27, Fox and three other individuals connected with Allied Capital — Fred H. Hallen, I. Lloyd Zimmer, and William McManus — were indicted on charges of mail fraud. In 1944, an individual named Victor S. Fox, identified as a former partner of the Cornwall Shipbuilding Company, testified in the prosecution of U.S. Army Captain Joseph Gould who was convicted for conspiracy to accept bribes to award $1,000,000 worth of army contracts to the Cornwall Shipbuilding Company.
It is unclear if the individual(s) in these accounts may be future comics publisher Victor Fox. However, a 1946 New York Times real-estate article identifies "Victor S. Fox" as a "magazine publisher" who purchased for occupancy a five-story residential building at 59 E. 82nd Street. In October 1947, a syndicate headed by Fox and also including Central Color Press of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, purchased Potsdam Paper Mill, Inc., of Potsdam, New York, in order to have what one report called "a completely integrated operation".
Historian Jon Berk has written that Fox was an accountant/bookkeeper at the publishing firm that would become DC Comics, where he was privy to sales figures that convinced him to launch his own comic book company. Fellow historian Gerard Jones, writing in his book Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book, was unable to find documentation of this, and Christopher Irving wrote that Fox learned about DC's success while with another magazine distributed by Independent News, DC's distributor.
Artist Jack "King" Kirby said of the employer who gave him his start drawing superhero comics: "Victor Fox was a character. He'd look up at the ceiling with a big cigar, this little fellow, very broad, going back and forth with his hands behind his back saying, 'I'm the King of Comics! I'm the King of Comics!' and we would watch him and, of course, smile a little because he was a genuine type".
Writer/artist Joe Simon commented on Fox: "He was an accountant for DC Comics. He was doing the sales figures and he liked what he saw. So, he moved downstairs and started his own company.... I happened to get a job; I went over to Fox and became editor there, which was just an impossible job, because ... there were no artists, no writers, no editors, no letterers – nothing there. Everything came out of the Eisner and Iger shop. ... He was a very strange character. He had kind of a British accent; he was like 5'2", told us he was a former ballroom dancer. He was very loud, menacing, and really a scary little guy. He used to say, 'I'm the King of the Comics. I'm the King of the Comics. I'm the King of the Comics'. We couldn't stop him".
Gallery of Fox Feature Syndicate covers
- Per the Fox Feature Syndicate entry at the Michigan State University Libraries' Reading Room Index to the Comic Art Collection (WebCitation archive), the company name used "Feature" singular rather than "Features" plural: "Fox Feature Syndicate — American comics publisher or publishers, sometimes informally called 'Fox Comics.' The corporate names 'Fox Feature Syndicate' and 'Fox Publications' both appear, with the latter consistently having an address in the state of Massachusetts".
- Andelman, Bob. Will Eisner: A Spirited Life (M Press: Milwaukie, Oregon, 2005) ISBN 978-1-59582-011-2, pp. 44–45
- The Dreamer: A Graphic Novella Set During the Dawn of Comic Books (DC Comics : New York City, 1986 edition) ISBN 978-1-56389-678-1. Reissued by W. W. Norton & Company : New York City, London, 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-32808-0, p. 42
- Quattro, Ken. "DC vs. Victor Fox: The Testimony of Will Eisner", The Comics Detective, July 1, 2010. Archive.org.
- "Program Today at the World's Fair". The New York Times. August 7, 1940. Retrieved April 7, 2013. Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription
- Comic Book Marketplace #65, "Seducers of the Innocent"
- The Old Corral: Hoot Gibson
- "Business Records > Arrangement Petitions". The New York Times. July 15, 1950. Retrieved April 7, 2013. Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription
- Irving, Christopher (2007). The Blue Beetle Companion (PDF). Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 978-1893905702.
- "Tuttle 'Coup' Ends Tipster Concern". The New York Times. September 5, 1929. Retrieved April 7, 2013. Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription
- "Halted in Stock Sales". The New York Times. October 3, 1929. Retrieved April 7, 2013. Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription
- "4 Indicted in Stock Sales". The New York Times. November 28, 1929. Retrieved April 7, 2013. Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription
- "Gould Court Hears of Contract Fund". The New York Times. November 7, 1944. Retrieved April 7, 2013. Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription
- "Stiff sentence for Joe Gould". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. November 15, 1944. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
- "Four Apartments in Broadway Deal". The New York Times. May 29, 1946. Retrieved April 7, 2013. Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription
- "Comics Group Buys Paper Mill". The New York Times. October 23, 1947. Retrieved April 7, 2013. Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription
- Berk, Jon. "The Weird, Wonder(ous) World of Victor Fox's Fantastic Mystery Men", Part II Archived March 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Comicartville Library, 2004. WebCitation archive, Part I and Part II.
- Jones, Gerard. Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (2004) ISBN 0-465-03656-2
- Cronin, Brian (March 22, 2013). "Comic Book Legends Revealed #411". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
- Jack Kirby interview, The Comics Journal #134 (Feb. 1990), reprinted in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby (2002) ISBN 1-56097-466-4, p. 25
- Jack Kirby Collector #25 (Aug. 1999): "More Than Your Average Joe: Excerpts from Joe Simon's panels at the 1998 Comicon International: San Diego"
- Bird Man at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on August 27, 2015.
- Captain Savage (Fox Feature Syndicate, 1939) at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 9, 2012.
- Per the Spider Queen entry in The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe: "Created by Elsa Lesau (believed to be a pseudonym for Louis and Arturo Cazeneuve) for Fox Features [sic] Syndicate; adapted for the Marvel Universe by Roy Thomas, Dave Hoover, and Brian Garvey. Roy Thomas had originally intended [the flashback, World War II supervillain team] Battle-Axis to consist of minor wartime heroes of Timely Comics (predecessor of Marvel), but [editor] Mark Gruenwald nixed that idea, and super-heroes from now-defunct wartime publishers were used instead...."
- Fox Feature Syndicate at Don Markstein's Toonopedia
- Comicartville Library: The Fox 1939–1942 Comic Covers
- Fox at the Grand Comics Database
- "Connecticut Talent". Connecticut Historical Society. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007.
- Berk, Jon. "The Weird, Wonder(ous) World of Victor Fox's Fantastic Mystery Men", Part II, Comicartville Library, 2004. WebCitation archive, Part I and Part II.