On Strips: Shelly Mayer

By | Friday, May 05, 2017 Leave a Comment
Sheldon "Shelly" Mayer is a well-known name in the comic book industry. He was one of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's earliest employees at the company that would later be known as DC Comics, and is often credited with "discovering" the Superman sample strips that eventually led to Action Comics #1. He would also go on to oversee the creation of the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Wonder Woman, and others, and he himself created Red Tornado (the first female superhero) and Sugar & Spike taking on the writing and drawing duties for those characters. When his eyesight started failing enough to keep him from drawing, he continued writing, working on titles like House of Mystery, House of Secrets, and Forbiden Tales of Dark Mansion as well as co-creating Black Orchid. He eventually passed away in 1991.

So if Mayer spent his entire career working for DC Comics, why is he the subject of my "On Strips" feature?

Because just before finding Superman and joining DC, he spent about five months working as a nationally syndicated cartoonist.

George Storm created the comic strip Bobby Thatcher in 1927. The titular character was a 15-year-old orphan who ran away from an abusive guardian, leading to a decade's worth of adventures. It was an adventure strip not dissimilar to Little Orphan Annie but without a Daddy Warbucks character to have as a safety net for the hero. Think: a slightly younger Tintin.

The strip was fairly well-received, weathering the Great Depression with seemingly little difficulty. That said, the character wasn't exactly a chart-topper, as evidenced that he was never picked up for other media, the way Annie, Flash Gordon, and other adventure heroes were.

For reasons I can't seem to uncover, Storm left the strip in mid-1937. As he went on to live until 1976, it doesn't seem to have been a health issue. He worked for DC, Dell, and other comic book publishers throughout much of the 1940s, so there doesn't sound like he had any issues with his drawing ability, either physically or emotionally. I did come across a quote from Mayer online suggesting that Storm had gotten tired of the drudgery of a daily strip and Mayer had been largely ghosting the strip for several months anyway. (Although the site where I found that doesn't cite a source.) But regardless, Storm left the Bobby Thatcher and it was Mayer who kept the story going.

Mayer's time on the strip is believed to be from June 7 until October 16, 1937. The strips had simply been numbered sequentially for most of it's run, with a switch to actually dating them on June 7, suggesting that's when Mayer took over. The aforementioned site also seems to suggest that Storm was still doing the basic storytelling, perhaps doing pencils or rough layouts, with Mayer doing at least the inking if not a majority of the illustration. This also seems to be at the behest of the McClure Syndicate, who distributed the strip, as indicated by their telling Mayer to finish inking the last two weeks of strips before it would be cancelled.

Sadly, I can't seem to find a copy of one of Mayer's strips that isn't behind a pay wall. So, just to show an example of the strip in general, here's one from early in Storm's run.
The style didn't seem to evolve much over the life of the strip from what I've seen, and I would presume Mayer tried to mimic the same basic style when he was ghosting (and later taking more direct control over) the strip.

But it's an interesting footnote to Mayer's long career in comics that one of his earliest jobs was still working on a nationally syndicated strip. And it says much to Mayer's influence on the medium that he did so much other work later that Bobby Thatcher is scarcely ever even mentioned!
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