On History: Jon Mayes

By | Tuesday, October 11, 2016 Leave a Comment
Jon Mayes is the very first comic book artist. At least in terms of what we generally think of as a comic book. He was the guy who did the cover to Famous Funnies #1 circa 1934. As you may recall, that issue is typically regarded as the first regular comic book. The book was the idea of Harry Wildenberg of the Eastern Color Printing Company and Maxwell Gaines, who would later go on to found EC. (And to clarify, it was "Educational Comics" at the time. It was his son William who changed it to "Entertaining Comics" and switched over the much more popular horror comics EC became known for.)

But Famous Funnies #1 was all reprint material from newspaper strips. As advertised on the cover, it featured Mutt & Jeff, Hairbreadth Harry, Nipper, Tailspin Tommy, and many others from the papers. But the cover itself is new, showcasing many of the characters in a single, wraparound scene. So all of the interior art was created for newspapers, but the cover was created for the book. So if Famous Funnies #1 is the first comic book, that makes Jon Mayes the first comic book artist.

But here's what I find interesting... We know the cover is by Mayes because he signed it. But that seems to be the only piece of work he ever contributed to the medium. I can find no other record of Mayes working on any comics, ever. The only time his name comes up in regards to comics is this one cover image. Because comics were such an unknown quantity at the time, I can only assume he was hired in a hey-my-cousin's-nephew's-schoolmate-can-draw-why-don't-you-hire-him sort of manner. With the second issue, he was replaced with the Ecuador-born Victor Pazmiño, who worked as a cartoonist throughout the 1930s. With only one comic credit to his name, we know little about Mayes.

While he didn't have a long career in comics, Mayes could be argued to still be one of its most important artists, just by virtue of his being first. And yet we know nothing about him. Since "Jon Mayes" is not an uncommon name, more general searches for him return loads of clearly unrelated people.

So who was Jon Mayes? How did Wildenberg find him? Why did he leave comics after drawing a single image? Was he even paid for his work? What's the story?
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