Cover of Top Notch Comics 1 (Dec 1939).
|Publisher||MLJ Magazines Inc|
|Publication date||December 1939 – May 1942|
|No. of issues||27|
Kardak the Mystic Magician
Wings Johnson of Air Patrol
Keith Cornell, West Pointer
Bob Phantom, Scourge of the Underworld
Fran Fraser, Girl Photographer
Top-Notch Comics was the name of an American comic book anthology series published by MLJ Magazines Inc., more commonly known as MLJ Comics, during the 1930s and 1940s period known as the Golden Age of Comic Books. From issue #28 it was re-titled Top-Notch Laugh Comics.
Top-Notch Comics was the second anthology comic published by MLJ Magazines Inc., the precursor to what would become the publisher Archie Comics. It was launched a month after Blue Ribbon Comics #1 (Nov. 1942) with an editorial page exclaiming 'Let's all whoop it up together for TOP-NOTCH....THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC BOOK!' . The series was edited by Harry Shorten.
The format of Top-Notch Comics was very similar to Blue Ribbon Comics; 64 pages of short strips, initially featuring a mixture of science-fiction stories such as "Scott Rand in the Worlds of Time" (#1–2) written by Otto Binder as 'Eando Binder' and drawn by his brother Jack Binder; and "Streak Chandler on Mars" (#4–8), the crime story "Lucky Coyne, Undercover Man" (#1) and true crime detection stories in "Manhunters" by future Plastic Man creator Jack Cole (artist) (#1–3); and a number of adventure tales, "Swift of the Secret Service" (#1–3), "The Mystic" (#1–3), "Dick Storm" (#2–8) and "Stacey Knight, M.D." (#2–4).
Furthering the similarities with Blue Ribbon Comics, the medieval Knights of the Round Table tale "Galahad" by Lim Streeter (#5–11), mirrored the Green Falcon series in that title. Early issues of Top-Notch Comics also contained text stories, as all comic books did through the early 1960s to satisfy U.S. Postal Service requirements for magazine rates. A few short humor strips also featured in the first four issues, "Lonesome Luke", "Impy" by Winsor McCay and a rhyming funny animal strip "Pokey Forgets to Remember" (all in issue #1), while "Noodle" by Quincy featured in six issues (#2–7). The "Impy" 1-page strip was the only reprint during the Top-Notch Comics run.
No single character lasted for the whole run of Top-Notch Comics/Top-Notch Laugh Comics, although the costumed hero the Wizard – subtitled "The Man With the Super-Brain", which began in issue #1, ran until #27 (May 1942). A number of other costumed heroes accompanied The Wizard with long runs in Top-Notch Comics, "Bob Phantom – The Scourge of the Underworld" (#3 -25), initially by Irv Novick but later written by editor Harry Shorten and drawn by Bernie Klein, had made two appearances in Blue Ribbon Comics prior to transferring to Top-Notch Comics. The superhero the "Firefly" made 19 appearances (#8–26) while "Kardak the Mystic Magician", by the Shorten/Klein team lasted 25 issues. Black Hood, who appeared from issue #9 (Oct. 1940) until the last issue of the renamed Top-Notch Laugh Comics (#45, June 1944), was the longest running character in the title, displacing The Wizard to feature on every cover from #9.
MLJ also introduced a wide range of long-lasting adventure characters early on in the series; "Air Patrol" (#1–27), re-titled "Wings Johnson of Air Patrol" from #3 (Feb. 1940), about an American flyer who enlists in the British R.A.F. before America enters World War II, was written and drawn by Irv Novick, and later by Jo Blaire and Ed Smalle, "The West Pointer", later renamed "Keith Cornell, West Pointer" (#7–27) which followed Keith Cornell through United States Military Academy and into various theaters of war, "Fran Fraser"', about a girl photographer who travelled the world on adventure assignments, by Irv Novick and Joe Blair (#9–24) and a boxing story, "The St Louis Kid" (#14–26) with artwork mainly by Bob Montana best known for his work on Archie Andrews. This line-up gave Top-Notch Comics a roster of characters that changed very little over the life of the title, outlasting its companion Blue Ribbon Comics by a year – over two if the revamp to Top-Notch Laugh Comics is included.
MLJ ran a reader-participation competition in Top-Notch Comics #6 (June 1940), offering 100 prizes to readers who completed a coupon listing their favorite characters.
Another feature unusual in early superhero strips was used several times by MLJ. In Top-Notch Comics #5 (May 1940), MLJs Pep Comics character the Shield guests in the Wizard story, while The Wizard appeared in the "Keith Cornell, West Pointer" story. This cross-over gimmick was repeated in #7 by The Shield and The Wizard again (although only in a 3-panel cameo). This time the appearance was designed to set up the announcement of a new MLJ title, Shield-Wizard Comics #1, advertised in the issue.
|Top-Notch Laugh Comics|
Cover of Top Notch Laugh Comics 28 (Jul 1942). Art by Bob Montana.
|Publisher||MLJ Magazines Inc|
|Schedule||Monthly / Bi-monthly|
|Publication date||June 1942 – June 1943|
|No. of issues||8|
Kardak the Mystic Magician
Snoopy McGook the Soapy Sleuth
Dotty and Ditto
Top-Notch Laugh Comics/Laugh Comix
In a change of editorial direction, from issue #28 (July 1942) the story emphasis changed to humor strips and the title became Top-Notch Laugh Comics to reflect this. All the long-running adventure series from Top-Notch Comics ended between issue #24 (Feb. 1942) and #27 (May 1942), leaving only Black Hood and Kardak the Mystic Magician as non-humor strips in the title; although Kardak only lasted until issue #30 (Nov. 1942). This change of emphasis to humor strips had been presaged in Top-Notch Comics #25 (March 1942) when "Snoopy McGook, the Soapy Sleuth" joined the roster. From issue #28 he was joined by "Pokey Oakey", "Senor Siesta", the boxing humor strip "Canvas Back Corkle", "Percy The Three Monkey-teers" and, from issue #29 (Sept. 1942), "Gloomy Gus – the Homeless Ghost". One of these new humor strips, "Dotty and Ditto" by Bill Woggon (best known for his "Katy Keene" comic) was unusual as it featured a continuing storyline as opposed to single-issue scripts.
A peculiar effect of MLJ retaining Black Hood, one of their most popular characters, on the cover of Top-Notch Laugh Comics was that he shared the covers in humorous situations with the other featured characters, despite maintaining the dark, violent tone of his previous stories within the issues.
Despite the switch to a humor theme, Top-Notch Comics first went to a bi-monthly schedule with #43 (Feb. 1944), and then was retitled Laugh Comix with issue #46 (Summer 1944) for three more issues before being canceled with #48. (Laugh Comix is not to be confused with the later Laugh Comics series).
- "The Wizard" – superhero (#1–27) titled 'The Wizard and Roy the Super-Boy' from #7
- "Scott Rand in the Worlds of Time" – science-fiction (#1–2)
- "Swift of the Secret Service" – spy/detective (#1–3)
- "Air Patrol" – (#1–27) titled "Wings Johnson of Air Patrol" from #4
- "The Mystic" – adventure/crime (#1–3)
- "The West Pointer" – adventure/war (#1–26) titled "Keith Cornell, West Pointer" from #7
- "Manhunters" – true crime detection cases (#1–3)
- "Dick Storm" – adventure (#2–8)
- "Stacey Knight M.D." – adventure/crime (2–3)
- "Bob Phantom – The Scourge of the Underworld" – superhero (#3–25)
- "Moore of the Mounted" – crime(#4)
- "Streak Chandler on Mars" – science fiction (#4–8)
- "Kardak the Mystic Magician" – costumed hero (#4–28)
- "Galahad" – medieval knight (#5–11)
- "Shanghai Sheridan" – adventure (#5–8)
- "The Firefly" – superhero (#8–26)
- "Black Hood" – costumed hero (#9–27)
- "Fran Fraser" – adventure (#9–24)
- "The St Louis Kid" – boxing/adventure (14–26)
- "Dotty and Ditto" – humor (#27–45)
- "Suzie" – humor (#28–48)
- Shorten was publisher of Tower Comics in the 1960s and also a comics writer, credited with creating MLJ/Archie characters the Hood and the Shield (Archie Comics)
- although this was the pen name for collaborations by Otto and another brother, Earl Andrew, by 1939 Otto was solely responsible for the writing, while Earl became his literary agent
- an unfinished series left up in the air with Streak Chandler imprisoned in #8 (Sept. 1940)
- "see "Manhunters" at Cole's Comics". Colescomics.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- each story subtitled for its location – for example 'in the Foreign Legion' (#2), 'in China' (#3), 'in South America' (#4)
- http://www.comics.org/series/125/ Top-Notch Comics, Archie, MLJ imprint, 1939 Series] at the Grand Comics Database.
- with 'and Roy the Super-boy' added to the title from #7 (Aug. 1940)
- echoing storylines in other MLJ titles: "Corporal Collins, Infantryman" and "Loop Logan, Air Ace" in Blue Ribbon Comics and "Sergeant Boyle" in Pep Comics
- the series had a 'signature theme' of almost always having a larger first frame containing the title and a large drawing of different styles of aircraft
- First prize – $10, 2nd prize – $5, 3rd–12th – 'a fully colored original drawing by the artist suitable for framing of your favorite character in Top-Notch comics', 13th–22nd – $1, 23rd–100th – a year's free subscription to 'Top-Notch Comics' (actually worth more than the previous prize)
- http://www.comics.org/series/288/ Top-Notch Laugh Comics, Archie, MLJ imprint, 1942 Series] at the Grand Comics Database
- 'Comics: Between the Panels' by Mike Richardson and Steve Duin (Dark Horse, 1998), ISBN 1-56971-344-8
- Overstreet,Robert M., ed. Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 38th Edition (Gemstone Publishing, 2008) ISBN 978-0-375-72239-4
- Thompson, Maggie, Brent Frankenhoff and Peter Bickford, eds. Comic Buyer's Guide Standard Catalog of Comic Books (Krause Publications, 2008)