A Brief history of the Golden Age Shadow Comics
The Shadow first appeared on the radio as the host of The Detective Story Hour on July 30, 1930 on the CBS radio network. The purpose of the character, in an attempt to use radio to increase magazine sales, was to introduce stories from the upcoming issue of the Street & Smith pulp, Detective Story Magazine. Listeners of the radio show were fascinated by the show’s narrator, the Shadow, and began asking Street & Smith publishing for stories about him. The general manager of Street & Smith, Henry William Ralston saw an opportunity for a new pulp magazine with an already established market.
Enter writer Walter Gibson. He had ghost written for various popular magicians including Blackstone and Houdini. He has already wrote a book from Houdini’s personal notes called Houdini’s Escapes. While talking to Street & Smith editor, Frank Blackwell, Gibson heard about the Shadow project and had some ideas. Blackwell hired Gibson to produce the first Shadow pulp, The Living Shadow. It was an instant success. Between April of 1931 and the summer of 1949 there were 325 Shadow pulps published.
By the late 1930’s, comic books were becoming all the rage. It was only natural the Street & Smith would start to publish a comic book to go along with their bestselling Shadow Magazine. Unfortunately, the presses at Street & Smith were not designed for color publishing. In 1939 Street & Smith began contracting with printers outside of their in-house presses. It wasn’t until January of 1940 that the Shadow finally received his own comic book, with artwork by Vernon Greene. The Shadow comic was initially an anthology magazine. Other characters appearing in backup stories were Doc Savage, who would go on to eventually have his own comic book by Street & Smith and Richard Benson, the Avenger.
The Shadow comic book was edited, at first by William deGrouchy. After the first issue, Walter Gibson assisted in picking out what stories from the pulps to use in the comic. Gibson would often write scripts for the Shadow comic along with his pulp writing duties. By 1941, The Shadow comic book had reached sales of 450,000 per month. Many of the stories in the Shadow comic were adaptations from both the pulps and radio shows.
The artwork for The Shadow comic book was outsourced to Jack Binder’s art studio. Binder’s studio, at the time, supplied artwork for Fawcett, Nedor and Marvel comics as well as Street & Smith. According to artist Gil Kane, “Binder had a loft on Fifth Avenue and it just looked like an internment camp. There must have been 50 or 60 guys up there, all at drawing tables.” (1) During 1943 there was a serialized Shadow story that ran through eight issues of the comic (equaling 126 pages) titled Monstodamus. Binder’s studio was not renowned for the quality of the art pumped out by his shop. Binder’s shop was closed by the end of 1943 due to the war effort draining away most of the available art talent.
After Binder closed, William deGrouchy, the previous editor of the Shadow comic received the art contract. deGrouchy ran his own art studio out of Philadelphia called Penn-Art. According to artist, Howard Nostrand, “I think he was paying these guys (the artists) about $10.00 a page to turn out finished artwork. The stuff was just miserable…This Bill deGrouchy was taking kickbacks.” (2).
Artist Bob Powell’s first Shadow work appeared on the cover and in the interior art of The Shadow Volume 6, #12. In 1947 Walter Gibson stopped working on the Shadow comic book. “The Tibetan trained Shadow Jr. returned in two 1947 solo stories, but the feature was cut short when Gibson departed in a contract dispute.”(3)
Shortly after Walter Gibson left the comic book, Bob Powell’s studio took over the art chores for the Street & Smith line of comics. Interesting side note; in The Comics Journal #96, Bhob Stewart in his interview with Howard Nostrand, states “William J, De Grouchy’s Penn Art studio supplied street and Smith with comic art between 1943 and 1948.”(4) I am unclear if that meant that Bob Powell’s studio solely did the artwork for the Shadow Comic starting in 1947 and Penn Art Studio provided art for the rest of the Street & Smith line. If any of you have additional information on the timeline of the transition from Penn Art Studio to Bob Powell’s studio, please let me know.
There were 101 Shadow comics produced by Street & Smith, The Shadow also appeared in Army and Navy Comics #5, Super-Magician Comics #13 and Supersnipe Comics #10. The last issue of The Shadow comic was Volume 9, #4 in July of 1949.
Dynamite Entertainment currently holds the comic book publishing rights to the Shadow. Hopefully there is enough interest in the character for Dynamite to reprint the Street & Smith Shadow Comics in a trade paperback or limited edition hardback. Although reprinting the series chronologically would appeal to the completest, based on the quality of the artwork produced by both the Binder and deGrouchy studios, maybe a full color omnibus highlighting the Bob Powell stories would be best. If you would like to see a compilation of The Shadow comic stories, feel free to visit Dynamite’s Facebook and tell them so.
Much of the information in this article was gleaned from The Shadow Scrapbook, written by Walter Gibson and published by Harcourt Brace Javanovich in 1979, Alter Ego #66 (March 2007). Special thanks to Bob Powell’s son, Seth Powell.
- Gary Groth, “Interview with Gil Kane” The Comics Journal, issues #186 (April 1996).
- Anthony Tollin, “The Comic Book History of Edd Cartier, The Shadow #74, Sanctum Books, June 2013.
- Anthony Tollin: Four Color Shadows which appeared in The Shadow #13 by Nostalgia Ventures (November 2007)
- Bhob Stewart, The Mystery Artist; Howard Nostrand. The Comics Journal #96, March 1985.
There are a number of issues of The Shadow Comic that can be read for free on the web at https://archive.org/details/ShadowComics.