Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was born in January 1890 in Greeneville, Tennessee. After attending the military academy, The Manlius School in New York, he joined the U.S Cavalry as second-lieutenant, in 1917. Differing accounts credit Wheeler-Nicholson as rising in the ranks to become either the youngest major in the army or at least one of the youngest. By his account Wheeler-Nicholson “chased bandits on the Mexican border, fought fevers, led a battalion of infantry against the Bolsheviki in Siberia, helped straighten out the affairs of the army in France,” and so much more.
Following World War I, Wheeler-Nicholson went on to study at Saint-Cyr in France. Around this time, Wheeler-Nicholson penned an open letter to President Harding criticizing the Army command – published in the New York Times. In June 1922, he was convicted in a court-martial trial for violating the 96th Article of War in publishing the open letter. Although he was not demoted, Wheeler-Nicholson resigned his commission in 1923. It was after this resignation that he decided to further pursue his passion for writing. Wheeler-Nicholson had already written the nonfiction book The Modern Cavalry, as well as the Western fiction The Corral of Death.
Expanding his writing wheelhouse, Wheeler-Nicholson began writing short stories for the pulps, along with penning military and historical adventure fiction for such magazines as Adventure and Argosy. Additionally, the major ghost wrote several adventure novels starring air hero Bill Barnes for Street & Smith Publications. In 1925, Wheeler-Nicholson founded Wheeler-Nicholson Inc. to syndicate his daily comic strip adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. As the popularity for oversize magazines reprinting comic strips grew, Wheeler-Nicholson founded National Allied Publications. In 1935, he made history with the publication of New Fun #1 which served as the first comic book containing all-original material.
New Fun #6 featured the comic book debuts of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the future creators of Superman, who began their careers with swashbuckler Henri Duval. Wheeler-Nicholson added a second magazine, New Comics, which later became Adventure Comics with issue 32. The third and final title published under his company would be Detective Comics, which would become a sensation with the introduction of Batman in issue 27. Unfortunately, by then Wheeler-Nicholson was long gone. Due to his increasing debt to magazine distributor Harry Donenfeld, Wheeler-Nicholson was compelled to form Detective Comics Inc. with Jack S. Liebowitz.
As financial problems continued to plague Wheeler-Nicholson, in 1937 he sold his publishing business to Donenfeld and Liebowitz. National Allied and Detective Comics Inc. merged to become National Comics Publications Inc. on September 30, 1946. Although it became known colloquially as DC Comics for years, the official adoption of that name occurred in 1977. Today, DC Comics is a household name and serves as one of the U.S.’s largest comic book publishers. While Wheeler-Nicholson did not have a share in the evolution of his company into DC Comics, he is still considered by many to have created the foundation for the expansion.