St. John Publications was an American publisher of magazines and comic books. During its short existence (1947-58), St. John's comic books established several industry firsts. Founded by Archer St. John (1904-1955), the firm was located in Manhattan at 545 Fifth Avenue. After the St. John comic books came to an end in 1958, the company continued to publish its magazine line into the next decade. Flying Eagle Publications was a magazine affiliate of St. John Publications.
Archer St. John
The younger brother of noted World War II correspondent Robert St. John, Archer St. John was born c. 1904 in Chicago, Illinois. Their mother Amy, a nurse, and father John, a pharmacist, moved the family to suburban Oak Park in 1910. Following the father's death in 1917 and the mother's eventual remarriage, Archer attended the St. Albans Episcopal Academy boarding school in Sycamore, Illinois. Both brothers became journalists, with Archer founding the Berwyn [Illinois] Tribune in the early- to mid-1920s.
He had left that newspaper by 1930, by which time he'd become advertising manager of the New York City-based model train maker, Lionel Trains Corporation. Among his duties, he edited the company's hobbyist magazine, Model Builder, debuting January 1937. It included true railroad stories in its editorial mix, eventually adding such illustrated featurettes as "Famous Railroad Sagas".
By the early 1940s, St. John was editor of the 17-issue magazine Flying Cadet (Jan. 1943 - Oct. 1944). Like Model Builder, it too mixed editorial prose with comics-style instructional featurettes. That changed with its final issue, a standard comic book that included fictional adventure ("Buzz Benson" by Maurice Whitman and George Kapitan; the remarkably progressive Lt. Lela Lang, art by Kapitan, about a female bomber pilot) and humor ("Grease Pan Gus") strips. The company — also called Flying Cadet — additionally published American Air Forces #1 (Oct. 1944), as well as some issues of Dynamic Comics and Punch Comics.
Either editing in his off hours while continuing to work at Lionel, or having left and returned to the company — a December 1944 letter that he signed places St. John in the Lionel advertising department at that time[verification needed] — St. John left the model-train maker in early 1945. After acquiring a reported $400,000 in start-up financing, he began publishing the comic-strip reprint comic books Comics Revue and Pageant of Comics, under his own name as publisher, in 1947. Shortly afterward, his comic-book company took on the name St. John Publications.
The group of magazines published by St. John included crime fiction (Manhunt, Mantrap, Menace, Murder, Verdict), a Western digest (Gunsmoke), the scandal -exposé title Secret Life and the men's magazine Nugget. Manhunt began January 1953 as the monthly digest, Manhunt Detective Story Monthly. The title was shortened to Manhunt early in 1956. It expanded to a larger standard-size format from March 1957 to May 1958 but then returned to digest size and a bimonthly schedule. The popularity of Manhunt kept it running for 114 issues until April-May 1967. Verdict ran as a digest-size monthly from June 1953 to September 1953 and was briefly titled Verdict Crime Detection Magazine (August to November 1956) before a shortening back to Verdict.
The company's notable comics include the first 3-D comic book, Three Dimension Comics #1 (Sept. 1953 oversize format, Oct. 1953 standard-size reprint), featuring the Terrytoons movie-cartoon character Mighty Mouse. According to Joe Kubert, co-creator with the brothers Norman Maurer and Leonard Maurer, it sold an exceptional 1.2 million copies[verification needed] at 25 cents apiece at a time when comics cost a dime. St. John also published the second 3-D comic, the aptly named 3-D Comics, the single issue of which incongruously billed itself as "World's First!"
Other St. John comic books included the first movie-comedian tie-in series, Abbott and Costello Comics; one of the first proto-graphic novels, the 25-cent "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950); and a five-issue series (Sept. 1953 - Oct. 1954), appearing under three titles, that introduced the enduring Kubert prehistoric hero Tor.
St. John Publications utilized the first African-American comic-book artist[verification needed]in mainstream media, Matt Baker, who contributed to the ostensibly true-crime series Authentic Police Cases, the light humor comic Canteen Kate, the romance books Cinderella Love and Teen-Age Romances, and many others.
Mice and men
St. John acquired the license to publish comics based on the movie cartoons of producer Paul Terry. The Terrytoons properties, originally adapted as comic book by Timely Comics, the 1940s predecessor of Marvel Comics, included such characters as Mighty Mouse, the crows Heckle and Jeckle, Gandy Goose, and Little Roquefort. The first such St. John comic was Mighty Mouse #5 (Aug. 1947), its numbering taken over from the Timley run.
The company expanded into licensed characters from another animation company, the joint Paramount Pictures-Famous Studios, which included the future Harvey Comics characters Casper the Friendly Ghost (unnamed in his movie 'toons to that time, and given his familiar designation in his eponymous comic-book's September 1949 premiere), Baby Huey (who premiered in that comic before his March 3, 1950, screen debut, "Quack A Doodle Do"), and Little Audrey.
Little Eva, Audrey's lesser-known replacement, was added to the publishing schedule in 1952 after the Audrey license passed on to Harvey. Eva could be viewed as one of the company's few original comic characters of the period, although her originality is dubious at best; both Audrey and Eva may be described as literary descendants of Marjory Henderson Buell's Little Lulu.
Continuing in the popular vein of reprinted comic strips, St. John published comic books of such gag strips as Moon Mullins and Nancy, and of the NEA syndicate's private detective adventure strip Vic Flint. This hardboiled fiction by the pseudonymous Michael O'Malley (writer Ernest Lynn and others) and artists Ralph Lane, Dean Miller, Art Sansom, and John Lane, was reprinted in the comic books Vic Flint (#1-5, Aug. 1948 - April 1949); all but the first issue of Fugitives from Justice (#1-5, 1953); and some issues of Authentic Police Cases (#1-38, 1948-1955).
St. John entered the new field of romance comics with Hollywood Confessions #1 (Oct. 1949)[verification needed], a title that metamorphosed two issues later into Hollywood Pictorial, and then shifted from comic book to movie magazine (Hollywood Pictorial Western) with issue #4 (March 1950). This was the first title in what eventually became the St. John magazine group.
The company introduced several other, mostly short-lived original series from 1948 through 1953, including a rare, for the company, superhero series, Zip-Jet, starring a yellow-clad "supersonic enemy of evil." That and the two St. John series titled Atom-Age Combat (see in Bibliography, below) directly reflected the era's Cold War "nuclear jitters" and popular-culture fascination with the breaking of the sound barrier.
Pioneering "Picture Novels"
In 1950 — more than 20 years before Gil Kane & Archie Goodwin's Blackmark and almost 30 before Will Eisner's A Contract with God and Don McGregor & Paul Gulacy's Sabre — St. John helped pioneer the medium that would become known as the graphic novel. The digest-sized, adult-oriented "Picture Novel" It Rhymes with Lust was a film noir-influenced slice of steeltown life starring a scheming, manipulative redhead named Rust. Touted as "an original full-length novel" on its cover, the book by pseudonymous writer "Drake Waller" (Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller), penciler Matt Baker and inker Ray Osrin, was sold at newsstands. It proved successful enough to lead to an unrelated second picture novel, The Case of the Winking Buddha, by pulp novelist Manning Lee Stokes and illustrator Charles Raab.
- Comicartville Library: "Archer St. John & The Little Company That Could", by Ken Quattro
- Grand Comics Database
- 1950s 3-D Comic Book Checklist
- Vic Flint