In the following article, you will see the first 3D comic, the famous “Mighty Mouse” that logically, came with some cool glasses to see in 3D that was all the rage in the 50s.
You will see its beginnings, how it all started and how two childhood friends managed to create a resounding success with their story, a really interesting article if you like the history of the drawing.
How did it all begin?
We all know Joe Kubert for works like Sgt. Rock, Hawkman, Tarzan or Tor. He was an exceptional cartoonist and a pioneer in the teaching of comics, to the point of creating his own school, The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.
He was also one of the creators of the first three-dimensional comic book in history, Three-Dimensional Comics, starring Mighty Mouse.
Together with his partner and childhood friend Norman Maurer, he invented the 3D comics that flooded the market in the early 50’s. We invite you to get to know this fabulous story!
Joe and Norman, two friends who made a splash
Norman and Joe met at the Manhattan High School of Music and Art.
Joe had already landed his first jobs as a cartoonist at the age of 12.
He would go back and forth to the office of the Archie Group, then MLJ, carrying his drawings wrapped in newsprint, watching a dozen artists do their comics.
The first year of Art School, Joe met Norman, with whom he hit it off because of their shared love of drawing.
They started attending school two days a week, and the other three days they used to take their work to different publishers, take a comic, for example, one of Catman’s, and look for the directions they needed on their covers or interiors.
They would walk many blocks, to show their drawings to all the publishers along the way, without appointments, but those walks paid off, as, they both started publishing for publishers like Holyoke, along with other young people who needed the money.
From the age of 16, Joe works at All-American Comics, where he draws Hawkman, until 1944 when DC buys the publishing house. From then on, Joe works at DC, alongside great figures such as Jack Kirby.
Like Norm, he begins to draw in St. John Publishing Company, some time before he is drafted into the army in 1950, a year later, he is transferred to Germany, from where he continues drawing stories for DC.
When he is discharged in 1952, Joe returns to the U.S. and takes a vacation with his wife, they drive to California and visit Norm in Los Angeles.
This is when Joe becomes definitively associated with Norm and the idea of producing the first 3D comic book in history is born.
Pivotal moment, Joe has an idea h2.
He excitedly tells Norm his great idea, when he was stationed in Germany, Joe had seen copies of 3D magazines with red and green lenses inserted.
So Joe proposes to Norm to create a kind of comic book that is a little different.
The team in charge of the project consisted of Joe, Norm and his brother Lenny. The latter was technically minded and had a lot of experience in graphics and printing.
Together they came up with a way to produce the 3D effect and sell it at a reasonable price, including the glasses, a difficult process, since they had to be designers and engineers, think about the shape of the glasses, or match the inks to the lenses.
Joe says that one of the first samples they made in 3D was on a Three Stooges comic book. What does the Three Stooges have to do with all this?
Norm had already made two comics of these comedians in 1949, for Jubilee Comics (where Joe was working as editor) based on the short films shot for Columbia Pictures.
He became the manager of The Three Stooges years later. Norm’s lifelong association with the Three Stooges began years earlier when he married Joan Howard on June 29, 1947, daughter of Moe Howard, one of the members of the famous comic group.
For the first 3D comic, they ended up selecting Mighty Mouse, the famous flying super rodent from the cartoons, the reason, according to Joe, was that the character was gaining notoriety and St. John had already licensed the work.
This way, they would save time, since, the flat cartoon drawings were already done and they only had to convert it to 3D.
Success and downfall
This Three Dimension Comics #1 was a resounding success. It is estimated that it sold 1.2 million copies at 25 cents each, at a time when comics cost ten cents.
The profits were of such magnitude, that they allowed Joe to buy his first house, in addition, both of them, one of the first times they received their money, left the office and on their way home, they stopped at a Buick store, where each of them bought a new car.
The production could not be handled in the artists’ homes, so St. John gave them an entire floor of his offices on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
The 3D comic is a landmark of the 1950s. According to Joe, St. John Publishing begins converting everything to 3D, based on the success of the first book.
It publishes two more issues of Three Dimension Comics and two issues of the Three Stooges, plus many other 3D titles.
Unfortunately, this fad doesn’t last long, the market begins to become saturated with 3D comics, and readers question the lack of content in the stories.
For Joe, this was one of the causes of the death of 3D.
“Publishers thought the gimmick would last forever, so everyone tried to use the gimmick on everything.” Each new issue published brought in less profit than the previous one, which may have been one of the causes of St. John Publishing’s subsequent demise.
As we could observe during the course of the article, using a new visual technique in a comic book can lead you to a success you can’t imagine, but you must not forget, that what you tell is just as important.
Joe, Norm and Lenny’s imagination gave rise to a phenomenon so great that it signified its own collapse. Beyond that, the value of these comics in the history of art is indisputable, since they opened our eyes to other possibilities of making our productions.
The friendship between Joe and Norm was perpetuated throughout their lives and gave birth to wonderful works and anecdotes.
We hope you enjoyed the article, see you next time!