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Colour Comics: Beginnings

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KG Murray began reprinting National Periodical Publications material in mid-1947 when import restrictions ensured that no original DC comics were available in Australia.

Superman All Color Comic 1, 1948
All Color Comics: The series started in colour, but by 1950 "Colour Comics" was just a logo for mainly black and white reprints. (Superman 1, 1947)

The first of KG Murray's DC super-hero reprints appeared after the end of the US "Golden Age", when a flood of western, adventure, mystery and romance titles began outselling super-heroes titles in the United States.

From 1947 to 1950, KG Murray introduced a selection of reprint titles for those DC super-hero comics that survived the end of the Golden Age: Superman, Action Comics, Batman, Detective Comics, World's Finest Comics, and Adventure Comics. Of DC's continuing super-hero titles, Wonder Woman is noticeably missing from the Murray line up.

When DC premiered a rare new super-hero title in 1949 with the release of Superboy, the title was quickly picked up by KG Murray.

Batman 75, August 1956
A 'Color' interlude: The reprints briefly converted to colour in 1956-57 (UK Batman 75, August 1956). Image courtesy .

The Early KG Murray Format

The new DC reprint series were monthly titles following the existing Murray style, format and pricing. The titles typically included one or two stories starring the lead character, with back-up strips. Many early reprints squeezed an extra story in by printing two pages of artwork per page in landscape format.

These comics were printed on lower quality paper and generally had less pages than the US originals, weighing in at around 28 to 32 pages, including covers. Counting covers in the page count was common for British comics, which often used the same paper stock throughout and ran stories on the covers. In early Murray titles, stories frequently began or ended on the inside front and back covers.

When the Murray reprints began, the six pence (6d) cover price matched the Australian price for US import comics. The pricing then follows the guidelines reported by Roger and Edda Morrison [Morrison: 1997) for Australian comics in general. The cover price of a standard Australian comic was six pence (6d) until March 1951, when soaring newsprint prices forced an increase. From then until December 1956, the price was eight pence (8d) or nine pence (9d). From January 1957, the price rose to one shilling (1'-).

Super Adventure Comic, July 1950
Long running adventures: The Super Adventure title lasted 35 years, in various guises with an occasional hiatus (UK Super Adventure Comic 1, July 1950). Image courtesy .

Early issues of Superman were printed in colour, under the banner "All Color Comics". By 1949, "Colour Comics" became just branding and the reprints converted to the characteristic format of black and white interiors with colour covers.

Adventure Comics Featuring Superboy 1, March 1949
Second series: Australian reprints quickly followed the launch of Superboy's US solo series (Adventure Comics Featuring Superboy, March 1949). Image courtesy .

KG Murray continued with black and white reprints under the "Colour Comics Pty Ltd" banner until mid-1973. A rare exception to the black and white format was the colour reprints in Superman, Batman, Superboy and Super Adventure from mid-1956 to mid-1957.

The Early Murray DC Titles

Superman premiered in mid-1947, reprinting DC's Superman and Action Comics. The series set new comic sales records in Australia, selling  150,000 copies at its peak.

One or more Superman stories featured in each issue along side other DC heroes such as Zatara the Master Magician (Action Comics) and Johnny Quick and His Magic Formula (Adventure Comics). The main stories were regularly filled out with short cartoons, including many Henry Boltinoff strips and original Australian material early in the run from the likes of Hart Amos (The Adventures of Devil Doone) and Lloyd Piper (Ginger Meggs)

In 1949,  Adventure Comics featuring Superboy was launched, but retitled Superboy from issue 6. The series reprinted the US Adventure Comics and Superboy.

Further new titles, Batman Comics (soon retitled Batman) and Super Adventure Comic, followed in mid-1950. Batman reprinted stories from Batman and Detective Comics, while Super Adventure Comic included Superman and Batman tales from World's Finest Comic, alongside Superboy stories.

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen 1, 1955
Solo career: The solo Jimmy Olsen series followed a regular run in Superman (Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen 1, 1955).

The Mid-50s Boom

Murray's next new DC super-hero reprint titles did not appear until the mid-1950s, when Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen began with stories reprinted from the US comic of the same name.

Stories from early issues of DC's Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen regularly appeared in Superman following the 1954 debut of Jimmy's solo series. The quick launch of a new series may have reflected Australian reader's support for the character.

Two adventure titles, Strange Adventures and My Greatest Adventure, were also launched. While not originally super-hero titles, they later included classic super-powered characters.

Strange Adventures predominantly featured short, one-off science fiction tales at that time, but science fiction oriented super-heroes such as Captain Comet also appeared. My Greatest Adventure began with short stories told from a distinctive first person perspective, but the US series was eventually taken over by the Doom Patrol in 1963 and renamed The Doom Patrol with issue 86.

Buzzy 1, 1955
Branching out: The mid to late 1950s saw a boom in non-super-hero titles (Buzzy, 1956?).

During this period, Murray also launched other titles based on the many non-super-hero titles that dominated comics during the 1950. A wide range of genre's were tried, included teen comedy (Buzzy, Leave it to Binky), western (Davy Crockett and the Frontier Fighters and Hopalong Cassidy), television and movie spin-offs (Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis), adventure (The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog), jungle (Congo Bill and Janu the Jungle Boy), and funny animals (Funny Folks)

Not an Exact Reprint

While the titles routinely reprinted particular US series, the stories were rarely reprinted in order and there was little consistency in the length of time it took for the reprints to appear. Some stories were available in Australia within a few months of original publication, others took years—or were not reprinted at all! The cover could be sourced from one US issue, the first story from another (particularly if it was a generic cover), and backup tales from other issues or even titles.

A notable peculiarity of early Murray reprint titles was that many backup stories were reprinted "two up", that is, on the side with two page images per sheet of paper.

Reworking the cover: Robin is replaced on the cover to advertise the Superboy reprint story. (Australian Super Adventure Comic 15, 1951, and US World's Finest Comics 32, 1948)

Early issues of Superman, in addition to being printed in full colour, often featured back-up strips by local artists, such as Hurricane Hardy, illustrated by Hart Amos. However, apart from the odd filler pages and some covers, Murray soon eliminated Australian content from its comics until the late 50s.

Cover illustrations were routinely reprinted from original American cover artwork or, at times, were colour reproductions of a single panel of interior artwork. Early cover artwork for Super Adventure Comic was sourced from World's Finest, but routinely had Robin redrawn as Superboy to match the series' contents (Batman, Superman and Superboy).

Localising the story: Changes to American spellings were often  inconsistent and clumsy. (Two panels from Superman in "The Duplicate Disasters", Super Adventure Comic 93)

Other artwork changes were also made to "localise" the stories. Spelling was amended to Australian standards and dollar signs changed to pound signs prior Australia's conversion to decimal currency in 1966.

It is easy to imagine these changes were made to avoid confusing impressionable children—although the routine use of "color" rather than "colour" on covers is a paradox!

Changes to the artwork were frequently obvious, clumsy and heavy handed. Reworded text suffered from being squeezed or stretched to fit, and lettering was distorted by overprinting white paint, the main correction method of the time.

Exporting the Exports

KG Murray reprints were also consistently printed and distributed in the UK, which also had import bans on US comics at the time.

Australian release: Numbering for Australian Superman distributed reprints is higher than comparable UK issues (Superman 43, January 1951).

In 1950, KG Murray trialled its reprints in the UK. At least one un-numbered Superman issue was released (based on Australian reprint Superman 1), followed by numbered and dated issues Superman 1 (April 1950) to Superman 12 (March 1951). The issues were reprinted in the UK and distributed by Atlas Publishing & Distributing Co. Ltd.

In October 1951, Atlas collected the July to December 1950 issues and released them as the Superman Bumper Edition. The cover reprinted Superman 53 (July-August 1948) which was also used on Australian reprint Superman 18 (December 1948). Regular Superman, Batman, Superboy and SuperAdventure Annuals followed, along with regular reprinting and distribution of KG Murray's range of titles.

However, at least some early Australian issues of Super Adventure Comic were not available in the UK, possibly up until mid-1951 when UK reprints came to (almost) exactly match the Australian editions.

UK release: Despite a brief price increase in 1951, later UK issues are distinguishable by the 6d pricing (Superman 16, July 1951). Image courtesy Book Palace.

The early UK Superman issues (up to number 14) appear to be a selection of Australian issues prior to number 40, with new, renumbered covers. From UK Superman 15 (reprinting Australian Superman 42), UK reprintings matched Australian issues, but with numbering consistently 27 behind Australian numbering. UK versions appear to have been released around six months behind the Australian versions.

In 1956, five Australian issues appear to have not been released in the UK. This resulted in UK numbering 32 issues behind, with the issues released in that country virtually concurrently with Australia.

Other UK-distributed reprints do not appear to have the same numbering discrepancy with Australian releases as the Superman titles. However, the 1951 Australian price increase was matched only be a brief increase to 8d in the UK in late 1951. Later UK issues can be identified by the 6d pricing, while Australian issues sported eight pence (8d), nine pence (9d) and one shilling (1/-) cover prices.

Low numbered Australian Superman reprints can be identified by "all color comics", "color comics" or "comics" on the cover, while these sub-titles are generally missing on the UK versions (except for 3, 4, 6 and 7, which can be identified by the UK dating).

British redistribution of Murray reprints continued into the early 1960s, even after US comics began to be officially distributed in that country. The final UK Superman appears to be issue 117, with the runs for Superboy, Batman and Super Adventure matching the Australian versions.

Changes in the Wind

These early Murray reprints continued until 1960. Superman ended around issue 150, Superboy at issue 131, Batman at issue 115, and Super Adventure Comic also with issue 115. Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen and Strange Adventures appear to have finished earlier in 1958. However, with the introduction of new anthology titles in 1958, these stories—and more—continued to be reprinted.

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