By Ed Sanchez
In September 1938, Jumbo Comics became the first comic book title Fiction House produced. Thurman T. Scott, head of the Pulp producing company, was interested in getting into comic books when he was approached by businessman Jerry Iger and future comics legend Will Eisner to do just that. For its first 9 issues, Jumbo was an oversized anthology featuring a number of different strips, most notably the first appearance of Sheena in #1(1-8 were B&W). With the 10th issue, the title went regular size, increasing to 68 pages but keeping the anthology format. During its 167 issue run, fans of the title would see hundreds of Sheena adventures as well as a host of additional strips. However, there's no doubt that the real star of Jumbo Comics was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
Sheena is the original sexy white jungle goddess, plain and simple. She was conceived as a female Tarzan and first appeared in the British tabloid, Wags, in 1937. Those adventures were quickly reprinted in her early Jumbo appearances and Sheena never looked back.
Sheena was the daughter of explorer Cardwell Rivington. When Rivington is unintentionally killed by Koba, a native witch doctor, he raised Sheena as his own to make up for it (what a guy). Sheena grew into a drop dead gorgeous jungle Queen (of course), and had her choice of mates (pick me, Sheena, pick me!). Typically, Sheena chose a rugged white hunter named Bob Reynolds as her mate and then spent most every adventure rescuing the poor sap from all manner of jungle jeopardy. But who really cared? As long as Sheena was wearing her loincloth outfit, she had an audience. In fact, over the course of the strip's history, Sheena was one of the few things that didn't change. Her parents somehow became deceased missionaries, Koba became female witch doctor N'bid Ela, Bob Reynolds became Rick Thorne, and Sheena got an ape companion named Chim (clever, eh?). It's no secret that the strip's majic lay in as much "Good Girl" art they could pack into the strip and the covers (headlight & bondage covers, negligee and torture panels were common). Nevertheless, despite the pandering, Sheena cannot be so easily dismissed.
Sheena made her debut in the U.S. just a few months after Superman appeared in Action Comics #1 and she, like the Man of Steel, founded a genre of her own. In fact, Sheena was the first female comics character popular enough to have a spin-off title of her very own. There was also a pulp magazine dedicated to the adventures of our sexy jungle sister, though that only lasted one issue. Sheena was enough of a sensation that she had a host of imitators who aspired to be as sexy as the original jungle goddess, but none of them could ever touch the hem of her cleverly frayed loin-cloth outfit. Though lovely ladies, to be sure, neither Nyoka the Jungle Girl, Jann of the Jungle, or Fantomah could turn the public's head away from Sheena. Over the years, Sheena has been seen on TV and in movies, and has been portrayed by screen sirens Iris McCalla, Tanya Roberts and Gena Lee Nolin.
Jumbo Comics also featured a pack of additional strips for those who had the fortitude to withstand more adventure after one of Sheena's sweaty jungle jams. There was The Hawk, an escaped 17th century galley slave who brings together a group of fellow escapees to form the pirate crew The Hawks of the Seas. This strip ran for over 150 issues.
Playboy Alan Lanier decided to fight crime by donning a costume that would frighten the hardest of criminals and thus he became The Hunchback. Wilton of the West featured West Wilton fighting crime on horseback in the modern west as the Crimson Rider. Two-fisted crime-busting police inspector Dayton was one of the early strips(1st appearance Jumbo Comics #1). ZX-5 was such a great spy that he needed no explanation or superpowers. ZX-5 fought the evil Nazis, then came home to become an equally formidable private eye. Career soldier Fred Larkin inexplicably gained super strength and speed as well as the ability to fire electricity from his fingers, and naturally used these unexplained gifts to fight crime. Star Pirate, along with his sidekick Trodelyte (Trody to his best pals), robs from the space-dwelling rich and gives to the space-dwelling poor.
Those are just some of the fun strips you can find in issues of Jumbo Comics. Whether it's Sheena or ZX-5, Jumbo and the Fiction House titles in general had that early Golden Age sense of playfulness and fun that would eventually disappear when the Comics Code Authority would cast its shadow over the industry. Thank God we can look back to those original titillating adventures and see them as they were meant to be enjoyed.
CLICK BELOW TO SEE LISTINGS OF COMICS FOR SALE ABOUT THIS TOPIC!
Would you like to write an article featured on MetropolisComics.com? If you think there is a pre-1975 comic book title, character or genre about which Metropolis' visitors would enjoy reading, please email a 3-4 sentence proposal about the article you'd like to write to [email protected]. Please note, Metropolis reserves the right to edit submissions.