“Forbidden Adventures: the History of the American Comics Group”
It’s hard to find a lot of mentions of the American Comics Group in the history books. To some extent that’s not surprising. Even when it comes to comics, history is written by the victors. Therefore, Marvel and DC are highlighted far more than their long out of business competitors. Still, while companies like Charlton and Tower Comics are still remembered and praised, ACG is almost forgotten. Michael Vance took a big step towards rectifying that problem with his book “Forbidden Adventures: the History of the American Comics Group,” which Roy Thomas has reprinted in issue #61 of Alter Ego. It’s an outstanding work of comics scholarship, and a bargain at the $7 cover price.
ACG has a long and complex history. Beginning in the shop system of the 1940s, and evolving into the Pines/Standard/Nedor comics lines in the 1940s, ACG survived all the way to 1967 with a small but interesting line of comics. In the ’40s, Pines/Standard/Nedor published anthology comics, mostly horror and romance, as those lines swelled in popularity. They also published a small but interesting set of super-hero comics, including the memorable Black Terror, who had one of the coolest costumes in comics history. By the ’50s, ACG was publishing mainly horror titles, series affected dramatically by the fortunes of EC Comics and the belief that horror comics caused (what used to be called) juvenile delinquency. By the ’60s, ACG was mainly publishing “mystery” anthologies and the odd super-hero. Their most memorable character of the era was Herbie the Fat Fury, perhaps the most unique heroic creation in comics history.
It’s interesting reading the history of a second-rate company like ACG because it feels like they are both insiders and outsiders to the great trends that affected comics. As romance, horror and super-hero comics start to ascend in popularity, there’s a feeling of ACG jumping aboard popular trends, working to piggyback on the genres for their own ends. ACG always seems like an outsider as these trends are happening, a small little company looking to ride the trends rather than influence them.
Vance and Thomas do a wonderful job of presenting the unique world of ACG comics. Vance’s narration terrifically shows how ACG jumped on trends and gives a good feel for the comics market as it was at various states of time. He uses quotes from people who worked for the company to flesh out his tale and give it a depth of feel. Vance’s book was originally written for an academic publisher, so the story is a little short in colorful tales of the creators, but they give the reader a great sense of characters like line editor Richard Hughes and staffer Norman Fruman.
Roy Thomas supplies the art for the issue – the original book contained one piece of art – which really adds to the story as Vance tells it. Thomas supplies a wide range of ACG artwork that really illuminates the company’s history. Thomas does miss one important feature, though: Vance goes to great effort to talk about the innovative 3-D like “true-vision” process, but Thomas only delivers one small example of true-vision in the issue. I was tremendously intrigued by the description of the process and was dying to see more of it.
Michael Vance delivers a piece that will undoubtedly become a standard work of comics history. Even if you’ve never read an ACG comic, you’ll probably find this issue very interesting.