Wednesday, July 11, 2007: #2 - Gangway for Captain Marvel - Part 2 - Captain Billy's Whiz Bang



or How a Super-Hero Rode the Coattails of a Prohibition-Era Men’s Magazine

When the first issue of Whiz Comics was released to newsstands in late 1939, it was backed by a publishing company that had built itself on the profits of a men’s humor magazine.
Captain Billy's WHIZ BANG #16 (January 1921)
Captain Billy's WHIZ BANG #16 (Jan 1921)
What was to become Fawcett Publications started as a simple digest-sized booklet titled “Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang,” and was authored by Captain Wilford H. Fawcett, a Spanish-American War and World War I veteran.

Captain Fawcett probably never dreamed that the ribald and corn-fed humor of his risqué men’s magazine would give rise to the most prosperous and popular comic book super-hero of the 1940s. And sadly he never saw that popularity realized as Captain Billy died a shortly after the first issue of Whiz Comics hit the newsstands.

Fawcett's office of publication was based in Robbinsdale, Minnesota and it wasn't until the late 1930s that the office was split in two with one part moving to Greenwich, Connecticut and the other to New York City. Robbinsdale still celebrates "Whiz Bang Days" in honor of Captain Billy and his seminal publication. Fawcett also left his mark on the town of Greenwich. Fawcett was initially located at 22 W. Putnam Avenue but moved to its own larger building as its various publications grew in circulation. In the early 1990s, the city of Greenwich turned the old Fawcett Publications building into an office and retail complex and renamed its address to 1 Fawcett Place.

Spot reviewing issues of CAPTAIN BILLY'S WHIZ BANG is an interesting exercise. Most issues contained a compilation of jokes, stories, poetry and cartoons that mostly dealt with getting the girl. Here's a sampling of one liners from various issues:

  • A Lot of Erin is Done in a Murphy Bed.

  • An absent-minded guy is the fellow who looks up SKIRTS in the dictionary.

  • The Honeymoon is over when the groom first notices the cobwebs on the ceiling and and the bride discovers a hole in the rug.

  • This Month's Drawing Account: The Boss drew the cork, the stenog drew the curtains and the office boy drew his conclusions!

  • You can't hang anything on me said the octogenarian at the nudist colony.

  • No doubt you 've heard about the absent-minded flapper musician who kissed her violin goodnight and took her bow to bed with her.

Captain Billy's WHIZ BANG #54 (January 1924)
Captain Billy's WHIZ BANG #54 (Jan 1924)
Cartoons were often peppered with double-entendre conversations such as this one between two flappers:
Flapper Lily — Did you girls come in Pete's car?
Hulda — No I came in Shorties and Babe came in Teddies
And there were also homphobic overtones as well as a dig to the men in the Navy with this one-liner:
For being a sailor, Robinson Crusoe was quite a genius — he lived without women and he never worked on a Friday.

Aside from the generally well-done cartoons featuring young ladies bending over or spouting double-entendres, the magazine also targeted ethic groups as a source of humor. Swedes were a common source of jokes (based on the large number found in Minnesota) and African Americans had at least two regular columns devoted to their antics: WHIZ-BANG BLACKOUTS and BURNT CORKERS (after the vaudeville convention of applying black-face). When African-Americans appeared in the cartoons they were drawn in the over-exaggerated style of the time with huge white lips.

It's clear that this sterotyping was accepted by the staff at Fawcett because soon after CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES became popular, Billy Batson (Captain Marvel's alter-ego) hired a black valet named Steamboat who bore the same exaggerated features. Steamboat appeared in many Captain Marvel stories until executive editor Will Lieberson, thankfully, banned the character as being exploitive and racially insensitive.

Tom Mix chats with Robbinsdale Police Chief Bloberger and Captain Billy in this photo from 1929
Tom Mix chats with Robbinsdale Police Chief Bloberger and Captain Billy in this photo from 1929
As WHIZ BANG'S popularity grew and as Fawcett branched out into magazines featuring movie stars, it was only natural that they would start appearing in publicity photos. The cowboy movie star Tom Mix stopped by Robbinsdale for a stay and would later star in his own comic book, published by Fawcett, of course.

Fawcett published several different motion-picture magazines which were the forerunners to the celebrity magazines of today. Three of those magazines were Motion Picture, Screen Secrets and Movie Story.

Fawcett wasn't bashful about name-dropping and he mentioned many a star in his opening columns for WHIZ BANG.

It’s plainly evident how much of the Captain Marvel mythos was drawn from the logo of Whiz Bang. Young Batson adopted Captain Billy’s own familiar name. Marvel, himself, gained his military rank from Fawcett. The title of Cap’s debut comic drew its inspiration from Whiz Bang and Captain Marvel’s chest emblem appears born out of the lightning bolts exploding from the Whiz Bang logo.

WHIZ BANG #5 (Nov. 4, 1942)
WHIZ BANG #5 (Nov. 4, 1942)
Evertually, Fawcett spun off a secondary publishing company, Country Press. The new imprint was based in the same Greenwich building and was responsible for the publication of a magazine-sized version of WHIZ BANG that was notable in that it was missing the possess