- In 1940, the Postmaster General of the U.S. Postal Service began to bar magazines that it deemed indecent from being mailed
- One of these banned magazines was Reel Screen Fun, published by a subsidiary company, Tilsam Publications, Inc., owned by Harry Donenfeld, owner of the company now known as DC Comics
- When Real Screen Fun was barred, Donenfeld used its paper allottement to instead published DC’s first all-humor comic, All-Funny Comics.
Welcome to the 911st installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, a column where we examine three comic book myths, rumors and legends and confirm or debunk them. This time, in our third legend, we look at how the U.S. Postal Service inadvertently led to the creation of DC’s first all-humor comic book series.
I would never dream of telling you that there is not a lot of government bureaucracy still out there that people have to deal with, as obviously, there clearly is. I saw it firsthand when my father had to make arrangements for my mother to get end of life care through Medicare. It was crazy how many hoops he had to jump through. So with that in mind, it’s crazy to think (but true) that most areas of the government’s bureaucracy used to be even MORE…well, you know, bureaucratic.
For instance, as I’ve written about in old Comic Book Legends Revealed, due to postal regulations, at one point, comic books had to include two original written pages (with no comic book storytelling on them) to qualify for a certain postal rate, getting a new postal delivery code for a magazine/comic used to be so cost-prohibitive that comic book companies would just change the names of its comics rather than start a new one, and there was even an oddly specific postal code involving second class mailing permits that led to Gyro Gearloose being cut loose from the shared “Duck universe” that Carl Barks had created in his Disney comic book work. Well, let me just state that pretty much ALL of those regulations are now gone, as the Postal Service has streamlined all of its postal restrictions. There are still restrictions, of course, but, again, they are extremely streamlined.
However, things were a lot more bureaucratic in the 1940s, and in fact, for a while there, the Post Office used its broad discretion to make some likely unconstitutional decisions regarding what is and what is not “indecent,” and one of its decisions led, inadvertently, to the creation of DC’s first all-humor comic book series!
How did the Post Office try to crack down on “indecency”?
Harry Donenfeld, the owner of National Allied Publications (now better known as DC Comics), like pretty much all the major comic book publishers of the Golden Age, got his start in pulp fiction. In many ways, Donenfeld’s example served as an inspiration for Marvel Comics’ publisher, Martin Goodman, as both men used the idea of having multiple subsidiary corporations to publish their many magazines (I suppose as a precaution in case things ever went south, as you could just cut bait on one of your subsidiaries).
One of Donenfeld’s many magazines was Real Screen Fun, nominally about movies, but, well, come on, it’s basically a girly magazine…
That’s one of the MORE dignified covers. Here’s a less dignified one…
It was published through a company called Tilsam Publications, Inc.
In 1940, Frank Walker was named the Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service. For years, there were a couple of laws that theoretically gave the Post Office to option of essentially determining whether something was obscene or indecent and thus not deliverable through the mail (one of these laws that is still technically on the books is a disturbing one called the Comstock Act). It really wasn’t used in PRACTICE until Walker decided that was precisely what he was going to do. So starting around 1942 or so, he began to deny the use of second class mailing to magazines that he deemed indecent.
One of these magazines, of course, was Real Screen Fun (there were a LOT of them, though). So Donenfeld stopped publishing Real Screen Fun in early 1943.
Walker went a step too far, though, when he turned his attention to Esquire magazine. When he pulled this routine on them, they fought back in court. In 1945 (Walker had already resigned to allow President Harry S. Truman to appoint his own Postmaster General), the Supreme Court heard the case and in 1946, ruled against the Post Office, determining, “An examination of the items makes plain, we think, that the controversy is not whether the magazine publishes ‘information of a public character’ or is devoted to ‘literature’ or to the ‘arts.’ It is whether the contents are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ To uphold the order of revocation would therefore grant the Postmaster General a power of censorship. Such a power is so abhorrent to our traditions that a purpose to grant it should not be easily inferred.”
How did the downfall of Real Screen Fun lead to the debut of All-Funny Comics?
Okay, so, well, how did this have anything to do with a comic book? Well, you see, as noted, Donenfeld published Real Screen Fun through a company called Tilsam. That’s significant because of something I’ve discussed in a recent Comic Book Legends Revealed. You see, during World War II, there were rations on how much paper companies would be allowed to use. Comic books were so popular that printing a new comic book was practically like printing money, but, again, you had to have access to the paper to DO the publishing. Tilsam, though, had its paper allotment that it was using for Real Screen Fun. Once Real Screen Fun was barred, though, Donenfeld just used that paper allotment to instead publish a brand-new comic book called All-Funny Comics, DC’s first all-humor comic book series…
The comic was published technically by Tilsam through issue #8, then became an official DC publication from #9 forward.
Talk about making lemonade out of lemons! Very clever maneuvering by one of the most significant figures in comic book history.
Check out a TV Legends Revealed!
In the latest TV Legends Revealed – Did a Cartoon All-Stars Anti-Drug Special forget to get permission to use Garfield in it?
That’s it for Comic Book Legends Revealed #911! See you in the next installment! Be sure to check out my Entertainment Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film and TV.
Feel free to send suggestions for future comic legends to me at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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