Wham-O Giant Comics

By | Friday, April 05, 2024 Leave a Comment
Back in 1967, Wham-O set aside their frisbees and hula hoops long enough to try publishing a comic book. They produced Wham-O Giant Comics with the intention of it being an ongoing title, but it was cancelled after the first issue. (I'll get to why in a bit.) Despite it's only single issue run, it does hold a unique place in comics history.

The book clocks in at 52 pages, giving it a lower page count than the "80-Page Giants" that DC had been publishing. However the "Giant" part of the Wham-O comic's name refers instead to the page dimensions: a whopping 14" x 21"! That's larger than most of IDW's Artist's Edition books. It includes work by comic legends like Wally Wood, Lou Fine, Ernie Colon, and John Stanley, and is billed as the "world's largest comic book" with "over 1500 action panels!" Ward Kimball, one of Disney's Nine Old Men, is listed as "faculty advisor" and contributed a short piece as well.

What I was hoping to discover in digging around with this was why? Why would a toy manufacturer try their hand a comic book, and do one so obnoxiously large? The son of Richard Knerr, co-founder of Wham-O, offered the following explanation in the comments on this very blog several years ago...
Why would Wham-O produce Comics? I may have had some influence as my tall stacks of comic books did not go unnoticed by my Dad. In other words, there was a market.

In addition Dad’s brother in-law, William Anderson, worked for Walt Disney. Uncle Bill introduced Dad to Ward Kimball. Ward provided the introductions to the artists...

Disney provides another reason. Spud [Melin] and Dad noticed the connection between Disney media, films, TV, Comics and Theme Park, and the demand created for character toys. If Wham-O could publish a comic that developed an audience, it would be a natural content marketing platform for a toy company.
As to why such a borderline-prohibitively-large comic? He added...
Spud and Dad were great at creative thinking. One of their techniques was to look at a product from extremes. What if it was miniature? What if it were huge? The other is they both grew up with fond childhood memories of spending Sundays sprawled out on top of the Sunday Newspaper Comics pages on the floor. Talk about immersive media! It was one-on-one, personal, and not just lean-forward media, it was plop-down media.
Why the series wasn't continued seems obvious. They were a toy company with toy company contacts. The buyers of their products were toy people, not newsstand people. So even if they were selling to outlets that did stock periodicals as well as toys, they were not infrequently talking to the wrong person. Additionally, it's sheer size meant that it couldn't be displayed alongside other comics. I understand that Wham-O had to send out a custom display stand in order to hold these. Which was placed next to their frisbees and hula hoops, instead of anywhere near a newsstand because, again they were talking with toy people not newsstand people.

They also spent a good chunk of money on advertising, running both radio and TV spots in at least some areas. I found copies of two virtually identical commercials...

It would seem that retailers weren't willing to work with Wham-O on this at all, and a good many of them sat in a warehouse and were eventually sold off as bulk, to be sold in discount stores for half price. I had to pay $9.00 plus shipping for mine a few years ago.

The comics themselves are a bit of mixed bag, as with most anthologies. Even though their largest talents were considered past the primes, and not really draws in the comic industry, they still clearly had some solid storytelling chops. Not all of the stories are by those legendary creators, though. And regardless, Knerr's son also pointed out: "I admit I was disappointed by Wham-O’s [comic book] because what I really wanted was Superman, Batman, Sgt. Rock, etc. Like any good storyline; it’s the characters you invest in."
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