The Gold Standard for the Golden Age: Centaur Comics

by Blaise Tassone

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Centaur Comics (or Centaur Publications) was founded in 1938 and lasted until 1942. It was one of the earliest publishers of American comic books with titles that are highly sought out today due to both scarcity and for historical reasons.

In this post, I’ll look at some of the most significant titles published by Centaur, a great incubator of super-hero comics.

Among collectors of Golden Age comics, the very name ‘Centaur’ can conjure up images of pure comic book magic. This company may not have lasted long, but it left a mark that is far more significant than its limited history would suggest. The origins of Centaur actually go all the way back to 1936. It was at that time that, The Comics Magazine Company, Inc., based in New York City, was founded by John Mahon and Bill Cook. Mahon and Cook were former employees of National Allied Publishers (later known as DC). It was with the publication of The Comics Magazine (in May 1936), that the CMC released an anthology book reprinting content from earlier National titles and work from other publishers.

In 1937, Mahan and Cook’s The Comics Magazine Co. was bought out by Ultem Publications (originally Chesler), and in this way acquired all their titles and publishing rights adding to their own impressive stable the four titles published by Ultem: (Comic Magazine, Detective Picture Stories, Funny Picture Stories and Western Picture Stories). Finally, in January of 1938, Ultem was bought out by Centaur Publications, Inc. a distributor of pulp fiction magazines, run- since 1933 -by Joe Hardie, Fred Gardner, and Raymond Kelly.

When Hardie and Gardner decided they would replace the Ultem publishing brand with their own, ‘Centaur Comics’ was born.

Because of its tangled history many characters and titles from Centaur are interchangeable with earlier Chesler and Ultem properties. Some of the notable employees at Centaur, including Bill Everett, Carl Burgos and editor Lloyd Jacquet ,would later go on to form Funnies Inc. (i.e. the forerunner to Timely/Marvel).

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Funny Pages v1 #6 (November 1936) – First appearance of the Clock

With this release, the CMC had the distinction of publishing the first ever American super-hero character to wear a mask: the Clock. Released simultaneously with Funny Picture Stories v1 #1, this George Brenner scripted and illustrated comic is a classic that clearly shows the basic strength of what would become Centaur: a company emerging at the right time (the very inception of the Golden Age) and corralling together standout properties from the burgeoning superhero genre. A 7.5 graded copy of this proto-Centaur book sold on ComicConnect on 06/14/2017 for $7, 422.00 and the last sale (a 6.0) sold on eBay on 06/17/2019 for a $2, 961.00.

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazing Man Comics #5 (September 1939) – Origin of Amazing Man; First appearance of A-Man the Amazing Man by Bill Everett; The Cat-Man by Tarpe Mills, Mighty Man by Filchock, Minimidget & sidekick Ritty, & The Iron Skull by Burgos begins

Centaur took the new concept of the super-hero and experimented. When we read Centaur comics today, therefore, we can see the future of American comics unfold before our eyes.

Nowhere is this truer than in the case of Amazing Man Comics #5, if my data is correct, this would be the first comic ever published with the title taken from a super-hero protagonist. ‘Aman’ as his allies call him is also known as ‘the Green Mist’ because of his ability to become Green Mist! His origins hit all the tropes that will later get recycled by DC and Marvel (Magic and Exotic cults, super-strength and other powers). The Cat-Man and Mighty Man are also featured in this issue. This is actually one of the scarcest comics around, Even by Golden Age standards it is difficult to find. If you do find a copy, the last 3.5 grade sold for $4, 000.00 on a ComicConnect sale of 03/11/2019. Of the 30 total CGC copies, there is one 9.4 listed. It sold on Heritage Auction back on 02/20/2014 for $56, 762.50.

 

 

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Amazing Mystery Funnies #1 (August 1938) – First Bill Everett cover; Dick Kent Adventure story; Skyrocket Steele in the Year X on cover only

Bill Everett would basically go on to create the Marvel universe by introducing the Sub-Mariner and the Earth-616 cosmos. Before he inspired the origins of Marvel he was working for Centaur contributing standout covers like this one. A 7.5 copy recently sold on ComicConnect on 03/11/2019 for $6, 300.00. Before that a 7.5 on Heritage Auction ended at $3,226.50 on 11/17/2016 an almost +50% appreciation in ROI for this comic in that grade over a mere 3 and a half years.

 

 

 

 

 

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Funny Pages v3 #7 (September 1939) – First Appearance of the Arrow

Obviously the concept of a hero with a bow can be traced back in the English speaking world to Robin Hood. Today we still have characters like Hawkeye and the Green Arrow as bow wielding super-heroes. But the prototype for the modern day Robin Hood can be found here. This is the first appearance of the Arrow. A Bondage cover hasn’t exactly hurt its collectability either. The most recent sale of a very fine 7.0 copy, on Comic Link, sold at $3, 200.00.

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