Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Comic Book Experts - Can You Help Us?

I'm currently corresponding with a researcher who, as part of an ongoing project, is trying to track down some background material on the Smith-Mann Syndicate. This is the syndicate that produced the color comics for the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper from 1950-55, a national paper for black audiences (you'll find a series of posts about this comics section in the blog archives for July 2006).

I always assumed that the Courier was administering the Smith-Mann Syndicate in-house, but this researcher has found a very interesting and informative article in the July 21 1951 issue of Editor & Publisher that shows otherwise. But, as usual, when we learn new information it just creates a new set of questions. I believe that, unlike me, some of you folks are comic book experts, and we're hoping someone with that background can shed some light on Ben B. Smith and John J. Messman, both of whom apparently were in the comic book business in the 1940s.

We're also looking for any information on the Carousel comics section, of which we've never seen a copy. It was advertised in E&P 1951-54. Just a wild guess, but I wonder if this was also known as the Arrow Family Comic Weekly, an insanely rare preprint Sunday section that ran in only one known paper in 1953. The roster of features dovetails rather well.

Here's the article that prompted the questions:

Smith-Mann to Launch Comics Supplement
by Erwin Knoll

Carousel, an eight-page tabloid comics section with a set of entirely new comics, will make its entrance into the syndicate field this fall.

Intended primarily for the general group of smaller newspapers, Carousel will be distributed in mat form or as a pre-printed four-color supplement.

Distributors of Carousel will be Smith-Mann Syndicate, New York, established 18 months ago by Ben B. Smith and John J. Messmann. The syndicate prepares a weekly comics section for the Pittsburgh Courier and distributes several weekly and semi-weekly columns.

According to Mr. Messman, the syndicate's aim in establishing Carousel is "to supply a top-notch 4-color comics supplement to papers which previously could not afford it because of prohibitive costs or because top features were not available in their areas."

The supplement will include 11 features covering the major comic strip categories, including secret agent adventure, science fiction, sea adventure, historical romance, private eye, fairy tales, jungle adventure, a page of puzzles and games and three "fact" panels. All features will be written in the Smith-Mann office and farmed out to cartoonists for the artwork only.

As for advertising in Carousel, Mr. Smith pointed out that "we are not going in with the intention of soliciting advertising. If advertisers wish to buy space, however, we will sell it and share the profits with the participating newspapers."

Mr. Smith's experience before entering the syndicate field includes ten years' work in distribution and general management of comic magazines. He originated the Negro comics supplement which Smith-Mann services to the Pittsburgh Courier.

Mr. Messmann is also a veteran of the comic book field, and utilized the comic strip technique in an education program conducted for the UN information office.

I checked Jerry Bails' Who's Who web site and found the following that may help:

Name and vital stats
MESSMAN, ERIC JON (editor; writer)
Pen names
Print Media (non-comics)
Writer: Novels: Romances; Westerns; Adult Books
Various features (own/) 1950-55 through Smith-Mann Syndicate > 50 51 52 53 54 55
Various features (own/) 1955-58 through Eric Jon Associates > 55 56 57 58
Comics Studio (Shop)
FUNNIES INC. (wr/) c1943 > 43
Text (wr/) c1942-c46 > 42 43 44 45 46
CAPTAIN MARVEL JR. (wr/) mid 1940s > 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49
DON WINSLOW OF THE NAVY (wr/) mid 1940s- > 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51
GABBY HAYES (wr/) late-1940s > 47 48 49
TEX RITTER (wr/) c1950 > 50
Text (wr/) 1947 > 47
TOM MIX (wr/) late-1940s > 47 48 49
HUMAN TORCH (wr/) c1943 > 43
SUB-MARINER (wr/) c1943 > 43

Studio personnel
MESSMAN, JOHN (wr/) c1943 > 43

my best
-Ray Bottorff Jr
Hi Ray -
Thanks very much for the Bails info! I wonder which name is right -- Eric Jon Messman or John J. Messman? My bet is on the former, since the Smith-Mann Syndicate definitely was renamed Eric Jon Associates later.


My name is Eric Jon Messmann. (you have my named spelled incorrectly) My father John Joseph, created Eric Jon Associates, which was named after me. In his later years, he went by Jon J Messmann, using my middle name, however his first name was John. Some of his close friends even called him "Eric Jon". He passed away a little over 4 years ago.
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