One of the biggest topics for comic book publishers in recent years has been the effort to get comics into schools. That doesn't mean kids bringing them to schools and taking a peak when the teacher's not looking. The goal today is getting them into official school curriculums and using them as tools to help teach and encourage reading, just like the initiative in the State of Maryland we've told you so much about, and just like they've been doing in Texas since 1926.
In terms of an educational model, the significance of Texas History Movies is difficult to overstate. Though collectors can rightly categorize its various editions as Platinum Age, Golden Age, Silver Age and Bronze Age comics, this series has an even more important standing. It was the very first comic book used as an officially issued classroom textbook. Likewise, it was part of a pioneering, corporately sponsored educational campaign revolving around comics used as textbooks. There has not been an education program like it since then, though don't expect that to be true much longer.
Just, as contributor Weldon Adams would point out, remember who was first.
Kids have been getting into trouble for bringing comic books into classrooms since probably the creation of the first true comic book. In recent history, some teachers themselves have purposefully brought comic books to the classroom to use them as teaching aids. But the crossover of comic books to textbooks has a much stronger link and goes farther back than many suspected.
It was the fall of 1926, a time when newspaper comic strips were very popular. The Director of News & Telegraph for the Dallas Morning News, E.B. Doran, had an idea for a new comic strip. His concept was to tell the history of the State of Texas in daily comic strip form. He recruited staff artist Jack Patton to draw the series and staff writer John Rosenfield, Jr. to supply the text.
The series title, Texas History Movies, was given by Dr. J. F Kimball, Superintendent of Schools in Dallas at the time. This shows there was an involvement with and consideration of the educational impact of the strip from the very beginning. And as misleading as the title may be by modern standards, at the time comic strips were sometimes referred to as 'movies in print'. This is a reference to way that several panels in a row can look like single frames of a movie reel.
The series ran Monday through Saturday from the October 5, 1926 until June 8, 1927. The strip took a summer break, but with the beginning of the next school year Texas History Movies was back in the paper from October 8, 1927 until the series ended on June 9, 1928. The break period coincided with summer break for public schools. It is evident that teachers were using this newspaper strip in the classrooms, and it perhaps corresponds that the strip never appeared in the Sunday editions of the paper.
These 428 strips chronicled the history of the state of Texas from the Spanish exploration of the New World in 1530 to Texas' reconstruction following the Civil War and on up through 1885. In the words of the creators, "Here the cartoons end abruptly, not because there was nothing else worth telling, but because the things that happened after that make dull pictures; albeit, fascinating reading."
In 1928, the P.L. Turner Company acquired the copyright from The Dallas Morning News and published a collection of the strips in a large hardback format. The hardcover volume of Texas History Movies measured 9 1/2 inches across and 12 1/2 inches tall. It collected all 428 strips and was 1/2 inch thick. The 4 panel strips were presented 2 on a page in a basic 9-panel grid. The top three panels and the first panel of the middle row were one strip. The center panel had the description line for both strips. And the last panel of the middle row started the second strip. The cover art featured the interior of a movie theatre showing a scene from the battle of the Alamo.
In that same year, the Magnolia Petroleum Company recognized the educational potential of the collection and sponsored a smaller digest size version with a cardstock cover. Reportedly, millions of copies of this version were distributed free of charge as a history textbook to students throughout the state of Texas. This 5 1/4" by 7" version had only 64 pages with 124 strips, but sported the same "Movie Theatre" cover.
There is a second edition of this version that was produced some years later. The two versions are almost identical except for some minor differences. The second edition has a square-bound blue taped spine. The second edition is on a thinner paper stock also, so it is noticeably thinner than the first printing version.
The back cover is different also. The second edition has an ad featuring 4 round signs showing the various trade logos these companies were using at the time. But biggest and most telling difference is that the interior of the second edition refers to both Mobilgas and Magnolia Petroleum as being "A Socony-Vacuum Company" (Socony was shorthand for Standard Oil Company of New York). The Socony Oil Company merged with the Vacuum Oil Company to form "Socony-Vacuum" in 1931. Therefore, this second edition could not have been printed before 1931. Therefore it seems likely that the second edition was published in 1932.
In 1935 Magnolia Petroleum once again sponsored bringing Texas History Movies back to the classrooms in a new horizontal format. Reprinted several times from 1935 to 1936, these horizontal versions had various covers. The first horizontal edition featured a covered wagon image on the primarily white cover. And there were at least two other covers featured on reprint editions. Both used a red and blue cover theme.
The horizontal editions were paperbacks that measured 9 inches wide by only 6 inches tall. However, there was also at least one 1935 hardcover horizontal edition. This had a green cover with the covered wagon art. The horizontal editions collect only 101 strips from the original 428, but have an additional 23 strips in a section titled "Part Two - The Industrial Development of Texas." These newly commissioned strips were by Jack Patton as well and have never appeared in any other editions of the book. The format for this edition was 4 panels across the top half of the page with the descriptive line underneath. The bottom half was a purely textual piece running approximately 160 words to the page for 125 pages. The credits for the text piece merely say "Text by One of the Foremost Historians of the State."
The Magnolia Petroleum Company itself has quite a bit of history in the State of Texas. One of its ancestor companies erected the first oil refinery in Texas at Corsicana in 1896, shortly after the period chronicled in Texas History Movies itself. Later known as Mobil Oil, their mascot of a red Pegasus became a familiar site in the Dallas skyline, and it was even included in the last panel in the expanded section of the 1935 horizontal edition.
In 1936, there was a "Centennial Edition" of the large format book published by the Turner Company to celebrate the anniversary centennial of Texas becoming a Republic. The Centennial Edition has a solid blue hardback cover and this time included several text sections in the front of the book that are not presented in any other edition including the text section from the horizontal editions. Also included in the Centennial Edition were three Texas history plays by Jan Isbelle Fortune, "1685 - The Cavalier from France," "1716 - The Rose Window of San Jose," and "1744 - The Massacre at San Saba."
In 1943, Magnolia Petroleum sponsored a large size format edition of the work. This has an orange cover on the book itself and a red, white and blue dust jacket featuring a photo of the Alamo and seven individual panels from the series. The contents matched the 1928 P.L. Turner edition containing all 428 strips.
That same year, Magnolia Petroleum purchased the copyright to the booklet editions from The Turner Co. and again reprinted the horizontal editions and distributed them to schools throughout the state. The Turner Co., however, retained the publication rights to the larger hardback format books.
In 1954, while a Senate committee in Washington, D.C. was deciding that comic books were leading children to juvenile delinquency, the Texas school systems were reissuing a Texas History Movies reprint as a classroom textbook to school children throughout the state. This time the Magnolia Petroleum Company reverted to the digest paperback format measuring 5 ¼" wide by 7" tall. At 128 pages, this edition collects 248 of the newspaper strips running them two to a page just as the hardcover edition did. This edition stayed in print for several years and had various similar covers. At least one version, although noted as copyright 1956, has had the text in the last panel changed to read: "And Texas has reached the estate of 1959." This indicates that the book was still reprinted and used in classrooms until that time.
Each time Magnolia Petroleum changed the format of the work, it seemed to include more and more of the original 428 strips. However by 1961, it had become clear to the successors to Magnolia Petroleum, Socony-Mobil Oil Co., that some of the contents of the book had become quite controversial, as racial issues were a charged topic of those times. They did still recognize the historical value of the work, however. It was at this time that Socony-Mobil Oil Co. donated their copyright on the booklet editions to the Texas State Historical Association.
In 1963, The Turner Co. combined the larger Texas History Movies book with a volume of readings in Texas history by Dallas teacher/author Bertha Mae Cox. The edition, titled Let's Read About Texas, was soon out of print, however. It is not known if this edition was distributed as a textbook.
In 1970, The Turner Co. was acquired by Graphic Ideas, Inc. They hired Texas history teacher O.O. Mitchell, Jr. to contribute new text pieces to accompany 400 of the original strips in a new large format hardback edition. The cover of this edition noted creators Patton and Mitchell only, and it featured cover artwork of a strip of movie film across the bottom. It is not known if this edition was distributed as a textbook.
In 1974, the Houston Chronicle approached the Texas State Historical Association about reprinting Texas History Movies as part of an educational program. The TSHA put together a board of advisors to examine the work. Anything that the board deemed offensive in the artwork or text was deleted, altered, or newly created work was substituted. Some panels were presented out of order with new text which completely changed the original meaning. Individual panels and at least two entire strips were substituted by an artist not nearly as talented as Mr. Patton. The booklet the TSHA produced was titled Texas History Illustrated and they published 100,000 copies. This edition had only 55 pages and reproduced the equivalent of only 102 strips. These strips were mainly taken from the 1935 editions. It is evident that they merely reprinted the format of the 1935 edition at two original pages per page of the new volume.
In 1986 the TSHA again republished their work, but this time they reverted to the series original title, Texas History Movies. This edition had a red and white cover with one panel from the series featuring Travis at the Alamo.
Also in 1986, in celebration of the Texas Sesquicentennial, Spaulding E. Jones and Pepper Jones Martinez reprinted the original 1928 large format book with all 428 strips. There was an exact replica of the 1928 original hardcover edition and a limited edition exact replica version as well. The limited edition version was offered at $250.00 per copy. These large format books were not used in classrooms as they were intended only for historical reference.
At this time, Pepper Jones Martinez, Inc. also published a new horizontal version of the book. Utilizing a staff of ten prominent Texas historians and advisors, they attempted to revise the work by making it "more accurate historically and more relevant to today's attitudes and values." Like the TSHA attempt to sanitize the work before them, PJM and their board cut the strips up, rearranged them and sometimes redrew panels and one entire strip. They did, however try to keep it to a minimum. The three noted art changes include: a drawing of a Mexican Governor, unlucky at love, kicking a cat that had been altered to show him kicking a soldier's helmet instead, two new panels concerning Santa Anna's destruction of Gail Borden's newspaper press as he stormed through the capitol at Harrisburg, and several new panels concerning the legend of Emily Morgan, the "Yellow Rose of Texas." The PJM board primarily chose to simply leave out offending or non-crucial panels and strips. Sometimes four panels from four different strips were combined to create a more succinct passage, but the spirit of the original artwork was still intact. This edition of the book has 153 pages and more or less reprints 152 of the original 428 strips.
The 1986 PJM large hardback and long-digest format reprint book garnered publicity in many newspapers and magazines in Texas. And it apparently made friends in unusual places. Several copies of the long-digest format have been seen with a "Complements of Hochheim Prairie Insurance Companies" sticker on the inside fly page and back covers. It is evident that this company was using the PJM version as a premium or gift for signing up.
Given the number of clients that a state-wide insurance company must have and the finite number of copies of the 1986 edition print run, it is obvious that they would one day run out. The book must have been a useful premium for the company because in 1996 they created and published their own version of a cartoon history of the state in an almost exact format. Published in 1996 by Heritage Publishing in Dallas Texas Cultural Heritage - An Illustrated History was an original work commissioned and produced for Hochheim Prairie Insurance Companies. A three-page introduction tells an interesting story of the creation of the Hochheim Prairie Insurance Company. And a two-page foreword by publisher Rod Dockery goes to great lengths to explain the ethnic diversity necessary to the creation of the state. The artwork in this book is by Raul Castro. While not as talented as Jack Patton, it is obvious that Castro was doing his best to emulate the look and feel of the previous work while still being an original presentation. All in all, a worthwhile effort and much superior than the new artwork created for the TSHA edition. The text sections for this book were written by Caleb Pirtle III and are very good. His closing remarks include this phrase: "They irrigated the land with their blood and their sweat. When adversity confronted them, they were too determined to run, too stubborn to quit." That captures the spirit of Texas founding fathers very well.
Overall, Texas History Movies presented the history of Texas in a fun, exciting and informative manner. The artwork itself is some of the best of the time. Expressive and detailed, it is capable of ranging from slapstick to serious in only 4 panels daily. To make the work resonate with 1926 audience, the creators purposefully used then-current slang and colloquialisms. For example, one strip features a covered wagon heading to Texas (then known as New Phillipenas) with "New Phillipenas or Bust" scrawled on the side. In the original introduction to the hardcover edition, creators Patton and Rosenfield wrote, "The authors of the series directed every effort to keeping the stories humorous, human, vivid and real."
Due to the proclivities of the time during which the work was published however, it is not as politically correct of a historical presentation as is taught in schools today. It is important to note that the work does not make any specific group of people out to be evil, lazy or stupid. Although there are specific instances that depict Negro slaves, Mexicans, and American Indians in a harsh light, there are also many more instances that depict Anglos and even Texas' founding fathers just as harshly.
In the introduction to the 1970 large format reprint edition, Mr. Mitchell had this to say:
"Names out of the past become active, living people with problems, pride, pain and susceptibility to mistakes which make men of all ages brothers. Though Texas heroes are often portrayed bigger than life, Texas History Movies also shows them to be quite human in their reactions to events in their day-to-day lives--and not always too heroic in their decisions."
In the daily series, one strip notes Jim Bowie's character as being peaceful, sociable, generous with his friends and brave. The very next day reports he traded with pirates at Galveston, bought slaves and smuggled them into Louisiana, and used his wife's position as daughter of the Lt. Governor of Texas and Coahuila to his financial advantage. Although satirical and humorous, the series was fair and honest at the same time. And Texas has always been a land proud of its history and heritage, warts and all.
It is interesting to note that both the Centennial edition and the Sesquicentennial editions of the book celebrated Texas becoming an independent republic in 1836. Indeed in 1986 the Texas Sesquicentennial was a statewide event. However, nine years later, the 150th anniversary of Texas becoming a State of the Union passed with hardly a ripple.
Texas History Movies was used in classrooms every few years from 1928 until 1959. In 1963, 1974 and 1986 it showed up in classrooms again, although as a reference book and not issued as a textbook. And the collected works were reprinted to help celebrate both the Texas Republic Centennial and Sesquicentennial.
Those educated in Texas schools with the work remember it fondly. Famed editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent of Austin Statesman credits the book as having an influence on his interest in Texas history and cartooning as well. Cartoonist and comic book writer Michael H. Price credits his introduction to Texas History Movies in the 1950s school system of Amarillo as being crucial to his learning to cartoon in the first place, and underground creator Jack Jackson readily admits that it's easy to see the influences of the series in his The Secret of San Saba.
Collecting Texas History Movies books is both challenging and rewarding. The pre-1943 editions all have a combination of events that severely limit the number of books that have survived to the next century. They were (primarily) soft cover books that were issued into the care of school children. In addition, these editions had to survive the paper drives of WWII. The post-1943 editions up through 1959 still have the problem of being soft cover books issued to school children, with wear and tear of entire school years on these them, so getting them in top condition is always a challenge.
Another difficulty for collectors is the original one-state-only distribution of these books. While the 1986 editions are fairly plentiful, finding any of the others is difficult even in Texas. Out of state, it used to be basically impossible, though eBay has improved the odds slightly.
Serious enthusiasts will likely find the long-digest format of 1935/1943 and the standard digests from the 1950s to be the most desirable. This is because the long-digest format contains an additional 23 strips that have never been reprinted in any other editions. The 1950's editions contain 248 of the original 428 strips. Although the 1950's editions are slightly more plentiful, they contain twice as many strips. To have a copy of all 451 individual strips, a collector would have to have a copy of one of the large hardback editions and one of the long-digest formats.
All in all, this work is of great historical value not just for recognizing comic strips as an educational media, but also as a wonderful window into both Texas history and the history of education in the state of Texas.
1926 Original comic strips begin appearing in the Dallas Morning News
1928 Series ended it run as a newspaper strip.
1928 Original Hardcover edition
1928 64 Pg. Digest format. "Movie Theater" cover Saddle stitched/taped.
1932 Pg. Digest format. "Movie Theatre" cover (c. 1932)
Hardback horizontal edition w/ green cover.
Standard Horizontal edition contents w/ green "Covered Wagon" cover
1935 Paperback horizontal edition w/ white "Covered Wagon" cover
Paperback horizontal edition w/ Red & Blue "2 Panel + Flag" cover
"Centennial Edition" in honor of Texas Republic Centennial.
(Includes text sections appearing nowhere else; Dust jacket features
7 individual panels and photo of Alamo.)
1943 Paperback horizontal edition w/ Red & Blue "2 Panel + Flag" cover
1954 Digest sized paperback.
1956 Digest sized paperback.
1974 Texas History Illustrated
1986 Replica Edition of original 1928 hardcover edition.
Weldon Adams, an Overstreet Advisor, is a native Texan and nearly life-long comic book collector. He was worked in the retail, distribution, manufacturing, production and marketing ends of the business. This article appeared in slightly different form in The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #35.