William E. Blake Collection of True Life 1940s Era Comics
Dr. William E. Blake, Professor Emeritus of VCU's History Department, donated his collection of 1940s true life comics to Special Collections and Archives in 2001. The collection includes over 300 rare comic books and memorabilia from the Golden Age of comic book publishing. This site includes a listing
of the comic books in the collection, an article
about true life comics written by Dr. Blake, and numerous images of items from this rare and important collection.
The Blake Collection of True Life Comics is part of Special Collections and Archives' Comics Arts Collection -- which includes an extensive collection of reference periodicals and books about the art and history of comic strips, comic books, and related subjects; over 30,000 comic books dating primarily from the 1960s through today; the papers and drawings of two Richmond newspaper political cartoonists, and several other manuscript collections. For more information about these collections, please email Special Collections and Archives.
The 1940s are considered the Golden Age of comic books. What started out as selling reprinted Sunday comic strips, became a new field of publishing in the 1930s as original comics became the standard. Superhero comics became all the rage after the 1938 introduction of Superman in Action Comics and the 1939 appearance of Batman in Detective Comics. By 1941, superhero titles had inundated the comic book market.
When the editors at Parent's Magazine noticed the proliferation of comic titles, they decided it was time to publish something educational. The United States participation in World War II was looming in the very near future and a cultural shift towards patriotism was taking place. True Comics, according its publisher, was a comic book and a newspaper combined. It hit the newsstands in early 1941. It featured stories about historical events, scientific discoveries, and heroic individuals. The first run of 300,000 copies sold out within two weeks and returned to press for a second run. It remained a popular title for a number of years until it folded in 1950. The collection includes issues #1 - 65 spanning from April 1941 to October 1947.
Index to True Life Comics -- Maintained by Michigan State University Libraries: Special Collections Division.
In April 1980, Dr. Blake presented a paper on the history of "true life" comics,"A View of History: True Comics, 1941 - 1945", to the Popular Culture Association in Detroit, Michigan. It discusses the impact of True Comics during the war years.
Inspired by the success of True Comics, Better Publications rushed to press Real Life Comics in the fall of 1941. It was another factual and history comic book anthology. It enjoyed an immediate success that last for the next eleven years. A companion true adventure comic, It Really Happened, was published in 1944. The collection includes issues #1 - 40 covering September 1941 until July 1947 of Real Life Comics and issues #2 - 4 dated 1944 of It Really Happened.
True Comics and Real Life Comics are just two titles of true life comics that can be found in Dr. Blake's collection. The collection also includes educational, war, and other titles. Additional true life comic titles include Real Heroes, Sports Stars, Picture News, and Real Fact Comics. Educational comic titles include Science Comics, Picture Stories from American History, Classic Comics, Classics Illustrated, and Famous Stories. A few of the numerous war comic titles include War Heroes, United States Marines, Navy Heroes, Flying Cadet, and American Air Force. Other titles include The 1946 Comics Calendar, New York World's Fair Comics, Railroads Deliver the Goods, and Rails Across America. There are even a few superhero titles.
Visit this complete listing of the Blake Collection of True Life Comics.
In addition to the comic book collection, Dr. Blake donated several pieces of personal comic book related items. Items of note include a Little Orphan Annie Decoder Pin (made famous by the film "A Christmas Story") that is dated 1935. The items from the Supermen of America Club include a certificate, decoder, and pin circa 1939. The Junior Justice Society of America items are dated 1942 and include a badge, circular decoder, and certificate.
Dr. William E. Blake, a professor of history at VCU from 1965 through 1992, was born in 1930 in Richmond, Virginia where he began collecting comic books as a young teenager. His interest in history and current events led him to concentrate his comic book collection on "true life" comics. He received a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati (1956), a M.A. from Cincinnati Christian College (1957), a B.D. from Cincinnati Christian Seminary (1958) and a Th.M (1962) and a Ph.D (1968), both from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. He began his affiliation with VCU in 1965 as a professor of history at Richmond Professional Institute (which merged with MCV to become VCU in 1968). He served twice as Chairman of the VCU Department of History and Geography. He also helped organize the VCU Faculty Senate and the Virginia Faculty Senate, serving as the first president of both of these organizations. Dr. Blake retired as a Professor Emeritus in 1992 although he has continued to teach classes.