Loc: San Francisco
I am pleased to report that right now I am holding in my hands a copy of The Nightingale published by Henry H. Stansbury’s Once-Upon-A-Time Press Inc. in 1948 (10c, 7-1/4x10-1/4”, 14 pgs., 1/2 B&W). Overstreet describes the book:
(Very Rare) - Low distribution; distributed in Westchester County & Bronx, N.Y. only; used in Seduction of the Innocent, pg. 312, 313 as the 1st and only "good" comic book ever published. Ill. by Dong Kingman; 1,500 words of text, printed on high quality paper & no word balloons. Copyright registered 10/22/48, distributed week of 12/5/48 (by Hans Christian Anderson).
Various members of this board have weighed in on the rarity of this book, and, until today, the consensus was that the only known copy resided in the Library of Congress, where it was donated as part of Frederick Wertham’s personal files. Some members of this board have stated they were looking for this book for decades, and never found one for sale or even saw a picture of it until SOTIcollector discovered the Library of Congress copy.
That any copies survive is a near miracle. Only 5,000 copies were printed, and distribution was limited to the Bronx and Westchester County with most copies given away at public schools.
This comic is not in Gerber. There are no copies on the CGC census. It has never been sold by Heritage or any other major auction site. As of today, there are only two known copies. Overstreet’s “very rare” designation is extremely apt. This comic deserves a “Gerber 10” designation.
This is a major discovery. This isn’t just some variant foreign edition or obscure premium that is notable only because of its rarity. This is a U.S. comic which played a prominent role in the history of comic book censorship. It was the subject of major press coverage when it came out back in 1948. The story surrounding the issuance of this comic, and the publishing venture’s failure to take off, was a key point in Wertham’s anti-comic book publisher case. It is a true GA “key.” More on that later.
If I sound like I’m hyping this discovery it is because I am. This is really exciting! Discoveries like this aren’t made very often.
I’ll post a picture after my work day ends, assuming I can figure out how to work the scanner and get a picture on this site.
Loc: San Francisco
Originally Posted By: mrmitchgro
Can you give us details on its history and how it surfaced? Congrats on the find!
Sure. Let's start with the history, since I was going to post that anyway and have it handy.
The anti-comics crusade that ultimately led to the adoption of the CCA and the death of publishers like EC started in earnest in 1948. I'm not going to go into great detail on this, but if you're interested this is an excellent website to check out:
Suffice it to say that in 1948 the national media focused on comic books in a big way, but not a positive way. Comic book publishers found themselves the target of increasing criticism for peddling "filth" to children. And this was the year that Frederick Wertham (who would go on to publish Seduction of the Innocent in 1954) first became active on the issue and garnered notice from the national media.
Confronted with the media's criticism of comics, some parents began to scrutinize what their children were reading. One of these parents was Henry Stansbury. Wertham describes his story in SOTI thusly:
The idea that by giving children something good to read, crime comics can be combated, purified or eliminated has proved naive wherever it was tried. It does not take into account the mass character of the seduction, which is precisely why crime comic books are an entirely new phenomenon not equaled before at any time nor place. You cannot clean up the muddy water in a stream by planning a clear brook that flows in the opposite direction.
I had an opportunity to watch an experiment showing the hold of the crime-comic-book industry on the market and on public opinion. One day Wally, a five-year-old boy, went home to his parents in Mamaroneck with a comic book filled with half-dressed jungle queens and all kinds of sadistic exploits and cruelties. His parents, like millions of other parents, had thought he had been reading Donald Duck and other such animal comics. That experience gave Mr. Henry H. Stansbury the idea of combating bad comic books with really good ones.
With eleven other fathers - having altogether forty-nine children - who had had similar experiences, he started a small publishing venture. There was to be a series of good comic books. The first, which has been called the only good comic book in existence, was the beautiful story of The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen. It is illustrated by the well-known water colorist Dong Kingman and printed in beautiful colors. The paper is of much better quality than the usual comic book and the printing is good and clear. Although it cost ten cents The Nightingale was not a regular comic book because the dialogue was not in balloons. And it did not conform to the comic-book formula according to which a story is so abundantly illustrated that the action can be followed almost without reading any of the words.
With this series Mr. Stansbury hoped to deal a blow to the onslaught of crime comics. But how to bring this about by getting the project before the public? A national magazine, the Woman's Home Companion, was enthusiastic about it. They had already prepared a layout for an article dealing with this new comic-book series. But at the last moment Mr. Stansbury was told by the "child care expert" of the magazine, herself a senior staff member of the Child Study Association of America, that he must first "submit" the comic books to the Consultant of Children's Reading of the Child Study Association of America, who (according to the Kefauver Committee) is in the employ of the comic-book industry. Mr. Stansbury pleaded with the editors who had liked his plan and The Nightingale so much. He asked why he must go to "somebody whose name appears on some of the most objectionable comic books." But that is what had to be done before they would print his article. He refused, and the Woman's Home Companion never printed a word about the project.
That is how things are sewed up in the comic-book field. The industry won again, and the children lost. I know many other similar examples. They show how unrealistic it is to think that the flood tide of crime comics can be stemmed by trying to launch good comics. The public, of course, does not know about these connections.
Recently, a researcher reviewed Wertham’s personal files and notes and concluded that he was prone to exaggeration to support his anti-comics crusade. Which begs the question: Is there any truth to his story about the Nightingale comic? Then answer is: Yes and no.
I’ll start with the “no.” Wertham’s implication that the Nightingale was precluded from receiving any national press by the actions of nefarious comic publishers is simply incorrect. As I'll detail in a follow up post, the comic book was the subject of national media coverage when it was issued in December 1948. So while I have no idea whether Wertham's assertion that Women’s Home Companion killed its story about the comic is true, other national media did promote the comic.
As for the “yes,” the media stories published when the comic was issued generally confirm Wertham’s story about the background on the comic (and also appear to be the source for Overstreet’s information on the publisher, page count, and limited distribution in NYC and Westchester schools).
Loc: San Francisco
The media attention The Nightingale comic book garnered when it was issued in December 1948 goes directly to its historic significance. On December 5, 1948 the New York Times publicized the comic under the headling “New War Started on Crime Comics." The New York Times article states, in part:
A new assault on comic books that depict crimes of violence was begun today in this village [Mamaroneck] and neighboring Westchester communities, when a group of irate parents placed on sale at news stands a different type of 10-cent animated picture book.
It all started early this year when Henry H. Stansbury of the Hawthorne Garden Apartments noticed that his son, Wally, 5 years old, was bringing home comic books containing crime and sex stories. Inquiry showed that eleven other fathers, possessing forty-nine children, had identical complaints.
The result was that Once-Upon-A-Time Group was organized, with Mr. Stansbury as head and several neighbors lending up to $500 each to get the project started.
Mr. Stansbury went to Midtown Galleries in New York and obtained the cooperation of Allan D. Gruskin, galleries director, and Mrs. Gruskin, and the artists they represent. As parents, many of the artists showed exceptional enthusiasm for the idea.
The first book was examined by New York and Westchester librarians and educators, who promptly endorsed it. So did many of the thirty-nine Westchester police chiefs who have begun an all-out drive against comic books that "depict methods of murder, suggested rape or attempted rape, destruction of life and property. robbery and assault, methods of torture, gang leaders, and criminals."
"Clever art to disguise murder and sex under titles professing to preach the evils of sin is so obvious it stinks - and, in this case, even Ben Johnson would go along with the use of the word," a statement by the parents said.
"The pseudo scientific do-gooders in the 'comic' field who disdain the 'gangster' books have done little more scientifically than take us to far away planets to show us bigger and better sex art." ....
A similar Associated Press story entitled “One Comic Book Solution: Classic Tales Are Activated” .appeared in a various newspapers between December 5 and 12, 1948. You can read the AP story here:
One way to persuade your child not to read the comic books of which you disapprove is to take him out in the woodshed and say it with a hickory stick.
Another way is to supply him with comics of which you do approve. An attempt to pull this little trick is being made right this minute on youngster in Mamaroneck and surrounding Westchester County, New York, ....
The upshot is that this comic is of undoubted historic significance. Aside from Wertham calling it the “the only good comic book in existence,” the comic was the subject of major national media when it was released back in 1948 and is part of a key chapter in the history of comic censorship.
How many comic books got national press, are a key part of a fascinating chapter of comic history, and are essentially unseen by collectors? I think this is the only one. Again, I view this as a major find.
Loc: San Francisco
As far as how I came to acquire it. I first started looking for this comic as a result of reading a thread started by Mark Seifort on this comic a couple of years ago. He had asked whether anyone had ever seen it. No one had.
What caught my eye on the thread was that the artist was Dong Kingman. I live in SF and Dong Kingman was born in this area and is famous for his SF illustrations and watercolors. He's a famous nationally recognized artist. Pardon the source, but here's what Wikipedia has to say about him.
Dong Kingman (31 March 1911 – 12 May 2000) was a Chinese American artist and one of America's leading watercolor masters. As a painter on the forefront of the California Style School of painting, he was known for his urban and landscape paintings, as well as his graphic design work in the Hollywood film industry. He has won widespread critical acclaim and his works are included in over 50 public and private collections worldwide, including Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brooklyn Museum; deYoung Museum and Art Institute, Chicago.
Dong Kingman was born Dong Moy Shu in Oakland, California, the son of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong. At the age of five, he traveled with his family back to Hong Kong, where his father established a dry goods business. He began his formal education at the Bok Jai School, where he was given a school name in accordance with Chinese customs. Hearing that he aspired to be an artist, his instructor gave him the name "King Man" (lit. "scenery" and "composition" in Cantonese). He would later combine the two names into Kingman, placing his family name first in accordance with Chinese naming conventions, creating the name Dong Kingman.
Kingman continued his education at the Chan Sun Wen School, where he excelled at calligraphy and watercolor painting. He studied under Szeto Wai, the Paris-trained head of the Lingnan Academy. It was under Szeto's instruction that Kingman was first exposed to Northern European trends. Kingman would later state that Szeto was his "first and only true influence."
Kingman returned to the United States in his late teens. In 1929 he attended the Fox Morgan Art School while holding down a variety of jobs. It was at this time that he chose to concentrate on watercolor painting.
His critical breakthrough occurred in 1936, when he gained a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Art Association. This exhibition brought him national recognition and success.
In the late 1930s, Kingman served as an artist in the Works Progress Administration, painting over 300 works with the relief program. He served with the U.S. Army as an artist during World War II in the Office of Strategic Services at Camp Beal, California and Washington, D.C. In 1941 and 1942 Kingman received the Guggenheim Fellowship.
Kingman settled in Brooklyn, New York after the war, where he held a position as an art instructor at Columbia University and Hunter College from 1946 for the next ten years. In New York he was associated with Midtown, Wildenstein and Hammer galleries.
During the 1950s, Kingman served as a United States cultural ambassador and international lecturer for the Department of State. In the 1950s and 1960s, Kingman worked as an illustrator in the film industry, designing the backgrounds for a number of major motion pictures including "55 Days at Peking", The Sand Pebbles and the Hollywood adaptation of "Flower Drum Song". Over 300 of his film-related works are permanently housed at the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California.
In 1981, Kingman made history as the first American artist to be featured in a solo exhibition following the resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China when the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China hosted a critically acclaimed exhibition that drew over 100,000 people.
The 1990s saw major exhibitions in Taiwan at the Taipei Modern Art Museum in 1995 and the Taichung Provincial Museum in 1999.
Dong Kingman died of pancreatic cancer in his home in New York City in 2000, at age 89.
I collect art by a different Asian-American SF area artist, Chiura Obata, and the Dong Kingman connection really piqued my interest. So I started searching for the book; however, the focus of my search was not comic sellers. After two years of searching, I lucked out and found the comic from someone in, as you would expect, the State of New York. That person viewed it as significant only because it was illustrated by Dong Kingman. I seriously doubt I would ever be able to find another copy by searching these non-comic seller sources again. My belief is that the Library of Congress copy and this copy are all that's left, unless some old time collector has one buried away that they just won't reveal to anyone.