Today we look at Worth B. Carnahan’s contributions to the Golden Age of comics, focussing on some of his many stamp features. When we last left off, Worth had rejoined Adolphie Barreaux’s Studio in 1937. In 1938, Harry Donenfeld had moved the Studio into his company headquarters on Lexington Avenue while he attempted to consolidate all the pieces of his comic book operations into what would become DC Comics.
The Golden Age of Comics
By 1939 Donenfeld felt secure enough in his legal control of DC Comics to allow Adolphe to return to 110 West 46th Street. After the move, Adolphe renamed his business Majestic Studios and it continued to operate as a subsidiary of Donenfeld’s publishing empire.
Worth was employed by Majestic on and off at least until the end of WWII and some accounts suggest that he continued to do freelance work for Majestic as late as 1951.
In 1939, Donenfeld published the New York World’s Fair Comics. The comic went on sale April 30th (opening day) and was available throughout the fair. The front cover was drawn by Vin Sullivan and Fred Guardineer. It included an image of Superman – with blonde hair – and introduced The Sandman (see Figure 1a).
The back cover was drawn by Worth Carnahan and featured a full sized image of Benjamin Franklin (see Figure 1b). The comic was extremely popular then and is highly collectible today.
In 1939, Superman became a Syndicated newspaper comic strip and on February 2, 1940 The Adventures of Superman radio show began. The script and theme music was written by Robert Maxwell Joffe.
During the 1940s, the artists at Majestic Studios were kept busy producing work for the comic books of the Golden Age (1938-1950). Adolphe, himself, contributed illustrations to many comics, such as The Black Spider, The Raven and Patty O’ Day.
In addition to DC Comics, Worth’s art appeared in Dell Comics and Harvey Comics. The latter was founded by the Harvey brothers, Leon, Robert and Alfred. The brothers started by acquiring one title, Speed Comics, from Brookwood Publications.
Their next move was to add Champion Comics. The first six issues of Champion Comics (released in 1939-1940) were edited and published by Worth B. Carnahan. The publisher was listed inside as the Worth Publishing Company, however, Worth may have published Champion Comics as a joint venture with Leo Greenwald. This is due to the fact that the address for Worth Publications was listed as 1 East 42nd Street – a building leased to Greenwald.
Further, some comic book historians believe it is possible Worth Publishing was just another “front” for Donenfeld, to disguise his financial involvement. At the time, the 1940 census listed Worth as a “commercial artist”, living with his family in Yonkers, NY and with an an annual net income of zero. The entire family was supposed to have lived off his wife’s income from the telephone company.
As this does not reconcile with a wealthy publisher, it has fueled speculation about some kind of a Carnahan-Donenfeld “arrangement”. This would not be unusual, in that – at one time or another – nearly all of the other principles in this story, including Frank Armer, Adolphe Barreaux, Merle Hersey and Jack Lebowitz were listed as publishers of periodicals produced by Harry Donenfeld.
Regardless, those first issues of Champion Comics are very important to our story. For within each comic book, Worth included one or two pages devoted exclusively to stamps.
The first issue of Champion Comics is believed to have been published by Worth in November of 1939 as a black and white edition which was intended to be sold in movie theaters for a nickel and published in newspapers for free.
The cover of Champion Comics #2 provides a short bio of the comic’s protagonist, “The Champ”. The comic below is signed by Worth just above the title and is shown courtesy of the Carnahan family (see Figure 3a).
Inside this comic, Worth extols the virtues of stamp collecting. In a section titled Big Game Hunting in Your Stamp Album, we find the feature article Elephants in Stamps. It is spread across two pages (one facing left and one right). Here, Worth explains that a stamp collection can be much more than “a quantity of pretty little pictures”.
He lists history, geography, art and natural history as subjects that can be taught by stamps and tells readers that “stamp collecting in the right way also teaches concentration, attention to details, neatness and color appreciation” (see Figures 3b and c).
Champion Comics #3 was published in January of 1940. Inside we find Worth’s feature article, Birds In Stamps. Here Worth explains that many collectors choose to specialize in collecting stamps from a particular country or subject. He then goes on to suggest birds on stamps as a most interesting possibility (see Figures 4a and b).
Champion Comics #5 was published in March of 1940. Inside we find Worth’s last double page comic book stamp feature, A Visit To The Postage Stamp Zoo. In this article Worth points out that you do not have to go to an actual zoo to see the animals of the world – stamps can “bring the zoo to you… rain or shine, any day you choose” (see Figures 5a and b).
Champion Comics #6 was the last in the series to include a stamp feature by Worth. It was published in April of 1940 and inside we find the feature has been reduced to a Champion Stamp Page.
Airships in Stamps was less of an article and more like a typical comic book page with illustrations and extended captions (see Figure 6). It is interesting to note that Worth mentions the U.S. 1918 inverted airmail stamp and states a value of $4,500.00 at that time.
Champion Comics #7-10 did not have a stamp feature by Worth (after which the comic was discontinued). Some accounts list Worth as the publisher for these issues, although it seems clear that by the seventh issue the comic was being produced by the Harvey brothers.
It may be (as some have speculated) that Worth only edited and did the lay-out for Champion Comics. If the first six issues were actually produced by Donenfeld (with whom Worth had a long standing relationship and considerable political capital), it is reasonable to assume he would be allowed to include content about stamp collecting – one of his life-long passions.
Following this line of reasoning, when Champion Comics was produced by Harvey – they simply didn’t allow Worth to include his stamp features. This, however, was not the last of Worth’s stamp features to be included in comics from the Golden Age.
William M. Cotton was born in College Grove, Tennessee on March 29, 1904 to John Eather Cotton and the former Mary Alice Sweeny. William was an only child and growing up, the family lived at 1200 Buchanan Street in Nashville. His father worked at a paper mill as a bookkeeper or accountant.
After graduating from high school in Nashville, William attended Cumberland College in Lebanon, Tennessee. While at Cumberland, he met and married Lucille Dies. She was a year younger than William (born on March 25, 1905 in Lebanon,TN) and had just graduated from high School.
After the couple married, William left college to work at the same paper mill where his father worked. By 1928 he was working as the production Supervisor for Fawcett Publications in Minneapolis.
By 1934 Fawcett Publications had outgrown their facilities in Minneapolis and moved to the east coast. They built a printing plant in Connecticut and executive headquarters in New York City. On September 26, 1936 The New York Times reported that William M. Cotton had been promoted to Advertising Director for Fawcett.
In 1937 William resigned from Fawcett to start The Ideal Publishing Corporation. His first two publications were movie fan magazines, Movie Life and Modern Movies. Eventually Ideal Publishing became a subsidiary of Grosset & Dunlap.
When the sales of comic books exploded in 1939-40, Ideal’s two biggest competitors, Fawcett and Dell, got into comic books in a big way. In response, William founded Bilbara Publishing (named after his daughters Billie and Barbara) to publish his own comic books.
In June of 1940 Bilbara published their first comic, Cyclone Comics #1. The editor was Worth B. Carnahan, whose wife, Elizabeth Mary Slaydon, was also from Nashville and a childhood friend of Lucille Cotton.
The original Cyclone Comics contract remains with the Carnahan family (see Figures 7a and b).
The cover of Cyclone #1 (not done by Worth) features the protagonist, Tornado Tom, and the inside includes a one page stamp feature by Worth, How to Collect Stamps. In the expanded text box, Worth states “The collecting of stamps is one of the most interesting and instructive hobbies… Another reason for stamp collecting is the ever increasing values that make every value an investment”. Those were the days!
For this comic, in addition to the cover and stamp page, we are able to see the original paper negative for the stamp page courtesy of the Carnahan family (see Figures 8a, b, and c). Note that the stamp page is authored “by Philately” and features a small colored inset of Worth located in the upper left (see enlargement, Figure 8d).
The cover for Cyclone Comics #2 was drawn by Worth, as evidenced by his signature in the lower right corner – a “w” inside of a “c” (see Figure 9). I could not find the insides of Cyclone #2 but it almost certainly contained a stamp page by Worth.
The cover for Cyclone Comics #3 was drawn by Worth and is one of his wildest. Inside we find Around the World with Stamps by Worth. The featured country is Aden, which implies that he intended to go around the world, alphabetically, in subsequent issues (see Figures 10a and b).
I could not find anything for Cyclone #4. However, by Cyclone #5 (not pictured) he was showing stamps from Malta so apparently Worth decided to skip around a bit.
I have selected OK Comics #1 to be the next of Worth B. Carnahan’s comics to be discussed today. Various sources alternatively credit Worth as the editor and publisher (Worth Publications) or simply as editor with United Features Syndicate/Hit Publishing being the publisher in July of 1940.
While Worth did not design the cover, he had several features inside. This included the script, pencils and inks for Leatherneck the Marine (six pages), The Further Adventures of Ulysses (five pages) and Curious Stamps From All Over The World (one page).
I thought it might be nice to end this post with some examples of Worth’s typical comic book work so we will start here (see Figures 11a and b).
Worth continued to make contributions to Golden age comics until the end of WWII. In 1942 Dell Publishing introduced the extremely popular War Heroes comics.
Worth played a major role in War Hereos #2, writing the scripts for Flying Tigers (six Pages) and The First Bombing of Japan (six pages), as well as doing pen and inks (along with E.C. Stoner) for Corregidor “The Gibralter of the Pacific (see Figures 12a and b).
The importance of Worth B. Carnahan’s comic contributions cannot be overestimated as it was in no small part through comic books that the youth of wartime America learned about history, geography, world events and, yes, stamp collecting.
By including Information about stamps and collecting in so many different pulps and comics – from The Lone Ranger Magazine to Cyclone Comics, Worth undoubtedly played a huge role in cultivating a new generation of collectors.
Comic books also served as an important escape from the harsh and often frightening real world. In this way, they served a therapeutic purpose – similar to that of the girlie pulps for an older audience during The Great Depression.
After WWII Worth and his family left the New York City publishing world and moved to Nashville, Elizabeth’s hometown.