The following article was written and first published by Daniel L. Symmes in 1982. We have updated some text and added newly restored 3-D images utilizing our unique anaglyph restoration process. Click on smaller images to expand.

To help complete your Golden Age 3-D comic book collection, the bottom of this page has a link to our fully restored cover gallery.

To view these images in optimum quality, you must use a pair of red/blue anaglyph glasses. With high quality glasses and a properly calibrated monitor, there should be no double-image or ghosting whatsoever. 

Be sure to place the blue lens over your right eye.

17 Jun 1953, New York State, USA --- Original caption: 6/17/1953-Hicksville, NY: A popular outgroth of the popularity of 3-Dimensional movies is 3-D comic books, which has the children wearing various viewing glasses to see their favorite cartoon characters stand out on the pages. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

THE HISTORY OF 3-D COMIC BOOKS


There were fifty 3-D features produced and shown in Polaroid 3-D during the Golden Age. Ironically, there were fifty 3-D comic books as well. Unlike the movies which had peaked during April through December 1953, the comics had a much shorter life span. Here is their story.

In the summer of 1953, as the 3-D movie craze was approaching its crest, 3-D printing began to flood the newsstands. Anaglyphic 3-D advertising appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, London’s Picture Post and the Wisconsin Waukesha Freedman. “Stars and Stripes,” the newspaper for U.S. soldiers stationed overseas, stuck a pair of glasses in a special issue and printed a 3-D article featuring a still from THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE. The folks back home got an even bigger thrill with the first issue of 3-D Movie Magazine, which ran an ultra-dimensional photograph of Marilyn Monroe dancing cheek to cheek with Walter Winchell. Popular Science Monthly included a 3-D article on how to run a buzz saw. Thriftily, they left out the glasses and instead showed readers how to make their own using filters of gelatin and food coloring.

All these publications were printed from stereo photographs using techniques that had been developed decades earlier. Some were even printed by American Colortype, a firm that been in the 3-D printing business since the 1920’s. But when hand-drawn 3-D comic books hit the newsstands in early July 1953, the world saw something new.

Mighty Mouse was the first to appear, in an action-packed comic full of meteors and nasty cats from outer space. The added dimension opened a world of new directions in which the little mouse could fling his enemies. Published by St. John Publishing Company, by special arrangement with Terrytoons, the 3-D Mighty Mouse provided the first public demonstration of a process invented by Joe Kubert and Norman Maurer, two young comic book artists. Kubert and Maurer were friends from childhood in New York, where they had shared an early passion for cartooning. Each had started taking commercial work before the age of twelve.

In 1950, Kubert joined the Army, and, while stationed in Germany the next year, he came across a German movie magazine with red and blue anaglyphic photographs and glasses. He was immediately struck by the possibilities for using the effect in comic books.

After his discharge from the Army in 1952, Kubert approached Archer St. John –an innovative young publisher—with ideas for some new comic books, including one based on the character Tor, which Kubert had developed while in the service. St. John was interested, and the two entered into a co-publishing arrangement. Kubert handled the writing, drawing, and production; St. John paid the bills; and both men shared in the profits. It was a good arrangement for a young artist at a time when most people in the field were drawing for a low page rate.

With high hopes for the success of his new character, and with the knowledge that he was now in a position to test 3-D comics, Kubert asked Norman Maurer to join in the venture. Maurer was living in California, married to the daughter of Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, but with some coaxing he was persuaded to move to New Jersey, where Kubert had set up a studio. 

In the early s
pring of 1953, the two began to draw for St. John. They started with a book featuring Tor and a cartoon version of the Three Stooges. While strolling through Times Square in late April, they had noticed the huge crowds lined up to see HOUSE OF WAX at the Paramount Theater. They set out to draw and manufacture a high-quality 3-D comic book at a price competitive with the full-color ten-cent comics that were then the standard. With the help of Norman’s brother Leonard, who had an interest in science and mechanics, they attacked the problem. They determined where to have the glasses made and how to insert them in the books. They chose printing inks to work with the colored filters of the glasses and developed a simple and efficient method of making drawings. It was in this crucial step of preparing the drawings that they brought real innovation to the field of comic books (although their claim to the invention would later be challenged in a patent dispute.) 

Film animation studios had long worked with acetate cells as a labor-saving device. Using the cells, only certain parts of the artwork had to be redrawn for each exposure, and other acetate layers could be easily shifted in measured steps to yield the effect of motion. It required only a small leap of the imagination to create stereo cartoons with the acetate cells, as the various layers could, without too much trouble, be spread apart in space and photographed using normal stereo techniques. Tru-Vue had made 3-D cartoon strips since the late 1930’s using this method, and even comic-book companies, including E.C. Comics, had experimented with the process, but found it un-economical. The obstacle lay mainly in the way comic-book publishing was organized; the artwork was prepared at the publisher’s office or in the artist’s studio, and the camerawork was done by the printer. Either time-consuming, elaborately lit setups had to be made at the printer’s, or the publisher had to invest in camera equipment.

Kubert and Maurer neatly bypassed the problem by putting two sets of carefully placed peg holes in the acetate sheets. Using their keying system the printer could photograph all the layers sandwiched together as a flat piece of art, then easily and accurately shift the second view of the stereo pair. The artist had only to leave some overlap in the background layers-so that gaps wouldn’t appear after the shift-and create an opaque backing for the foreground objects-so that the background wouldn’t show through.

Kubert and Maurer named their system the 3-D Illustereo Process, hired a lawyer to file a patent for it, and formed a company – the American Sterographic Corporation – to sell licenses. They decided to give St. John first shot at the process, after which they would make it available to other publishers. They prepared two sets of sample pages – one set featuring the new character Tor, and the other a Three Stooges.
A fellow artist, Bob Beane, drew a third set, using halftone shading, of a bathing beauty at the beach. (Beane moved on, in the 1960’s, to head Wilde Productions, a major animation studio.)  The three sets of samples were brought in to show Archer St. John. St. John went wild for the idea, just as Kubert “knew he would.” He loved it and wanted to go into production immediately. But rather than using Tor or the Three Stooges, St. John decided to try Mighty Mouse for the first test, as the little mouse had built up a loyal following over the years. St. John presented Kubert and Maurer with a book that had already been drawn, that was ready to go into production as a color comic, and asked the enterprising pair to convert it to 3-D and get it on the newsstands as soon as was humanly possible.

The two artists returned exhilarated to their New Jersey studio. Three days and three nights later, finished art in hand, they flew to Washington, to the plant of a printer outside the circle of New York trade talk. There they set up story boards, supervised the camerawork, and followed the book through a rushed production. The first printing of a million and a quarter copies arrived at newsstands on Friday, July 3, barely six weeks after the original meeting with St. John.

Despite its price of twenty-five cents, on racks full of ten-cent comics, the extra-dimensional Mighty Mouse was an astounding success, a virtual sell-out. Children loved the effect of putting on the Mighty Mouse Space Goggles to discover a magical world growing from the book’s pages. Spaceships flew through space; explosions scattered flying debris; and asteroids came at the beleaguered hero from all directions.

When the sales results started coming in, St. John saw a bonanza in the making. He wanted to convert everything on his list into 3-D. Kubert and Maurer were assigned to produce 3-D editions of Tor and the Three Stooges, and a staff was hired to redraw existing comics. By the end of August,  St. John had produced five more 3-D comic books: the October issues of Tor, The Three Stooges,  Little Eva, The House of Terror and a new satire comic, Whack.

 
 
Tor had made his debut in the 2-D September issue. He was a super-strong, super-handsome caveman of a million years ago, who carried a cave monkey, Chee-Chee, on his shoulder. In the 3-D issue, he continued his exploits, battling dinosaurs and evil cavemen with his strength and wits. Torchlit caves that fade into a murky distance, rocky outcrops, lunging prehistoric beasts, and Tor’s active club, all provided opportunities for the artists to show off the graphic potential of 3-D drawings. In the first story, Tor is captured by an ugly clan of cave people and sacrificed to a “killer beast,” a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which he manages to spear with a giant stalactite. In other stories he wrestles a giant turtle, escapes a destructive fire, and gives the reader a tour of his world, where “might is right,” and “your life can be decided at the whim of a breeze…sniffed by the giant dinosaur.”

Tor met more human enemies in his next issue – giants, madmen, and tyrants – and Kubert tried out a variety of panel arrangements, from tall, thin segments, to a two-page center spread, dubbed a “Panelrama.” Through skillful blending of planes – a Brontosaurus in one drawing stretches through four levels, the breaks in its neck, body and tail visible only with careful scrutiny – Kubert created a sophisticated stereo world.


 
As might be expected, the Three Stooges found zanier adventures. Their 3-D panels are crammed with sight gags and oddball graphics. Kubert and Maurer had drawn two Three Stooges comics in 1949 for Jubilee and had started the series up again with St. John in 1953. The 3-D October issue is almost too much for the eyes to take; every frame is crammed with the calamitous adventures the boys get themselves into. In the first story they take a roundabout trip to the moon, along the way crashing a junkheap of an airplane after deducing that its propeller is the cause of a draft. The Stooges also make a showing as medieval knights in diving suits – Moe wearing an Ike campaign button – and end up in the water beneath the Olden Gate Bridge. In the November issue, also in 3-D, the Stooges are given title to Belly Acres Ranch and discover gold there – in Moe’s teeth. Despite the obvious silliness of the stories, Kubert and Maurer clearly put a great deal of effort into the artwork. The depth in most panels was broken into five or six levels, and great care was given to every detail of draftsmanship.

The House of Terror proved to be St. John’s only venture into the 3-D horror line, but not because the book lacked grisly effect. Though the cover is less than forbidding, young readers in 1953 must have known they were in for a treat when they donned their glasses and looked into the gleaming eyes of Satan on the first page. “Picture of Evil,” “The Violin of Death,” “The Curse of Khar,” “The Devil’s Chair” – the story titles themselves are spine-chilling, and they are presented one after the other without so much as a Dubble Bubble ad to ease the tension. Evil curses, twilight mists, and walking corpses abound here, made even more chilling in 3-D.

                                             
Whack, St. John’s answer to the just-founded Mad from E.C., contains spoofs of Dick Tracy (“Keyhole Kasey” by Chestnuts Mould), and Mickey Mouse (in “Mouse of Evil”), a love story featuring Scowboat Sadie, and a story about Maurer and Kubert titled “The 3-D-T’s”. In the last tale we get a rare glimpse of the two artists drawing 3-D comics, or rather driving their workers to draw them. The last panel of the story is inscribed, “The End, thank goodness,” the final touch added by an exhausted slave to 3-D.
By August 1953 St. John was moving heavily into 3-D and had more than thirty people at work redrawing all the artwork on hand into acetate sheets. Kubert and Maurer had also moved ahead with plans for licensing the Illustereo process to other publishers, though their lawyers were still troubling over the patent application. Power Publishing Company had purchased the first license for a 3-D comic to be called “The Space Kat-ets,” and E.C. Comics had expressed an interest. But in a disturbing turn for Kubert and Maurer, other publishers were preparing 3-D comics without consulting them.

National Comics was unabashedly proceeding with a large-format 3-D edition of Superman. After the success of Mighty Mouse, Jack Adler, the production manager at National, was asked if he could put out a similar book. Without a second thought he said yes, secure in his memories of the MacyArt books from his childhood that there was no great secret to 3-D printing. After a careful inspection of the St. John Mighty Mouse comic, Adler figured out for himself the method used to shift the layered drawings to produce the two stereo images, and instructed his staff artists in the technique.

Superman, in startling 3-D Life-Like Action came out in September 1953 in an edition of over a million copies and proved a huge success. Though the stereo effect was far from elaborate – four levels of depth is the maximum – the star of the book was Superman, and National had cast him in some classic stories, including "The Origin of Superman."


Harvey, too, published a 3-D comic in September; the now-classic Adventures in 3-D, which featured Harvey’s own “True 3-D” process. Inside the front cover, the publisher described the “many years of research and experiment” that had been spent on the process in order to produce “a sensational TRUE-LIFE depth.” Actually, the idea had come to Harvey just two months earlier, after the competition’s success with Mighty Mouse, but Harvey had indeed come up with some new tricks.

Sid Jacobson, an editor at Harvey, saw a golden opportunity in a 3-D comic book aimed at older children, a market Harvey was already serving with a series of mystery and adventure comics. Jacobson, Leon Harvey, and Warren Kremmer figured out the basics of the process, then went a step further by finding an artist who could make drawings that receded into the distance evenly, without being broken into flat planes. (In fairness to the history of 3-D, it should be stated that this sort of drawing dates back at least as far as Professor Wheatstone in 1838; and sophisticated stereo drawings had been made though the 1840’s; also, a very simple example of a pole stretching from in front of the page to well behind it appeared simultaneously in the second 3-D Three Stooges comic.) A careful look through the pages of Adventures in 3-D reveals some unusual effects: a spaceship that spears back into the page, a leopard that leaps out toward the reader, and on the first page the work “THREE” angling back through the center of a “D.”

For the artwork Harvey hired Bob Powell and Howard Nostrand. They were shown how to prepare the acetate layers and were offered twice the normal page rate for their work. The two split up the assignment, each handling two stories in the first book. Powell, assisted by Marty Epp and George Siefringer, worked in a studio in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Nostrand, twenty-two at the time and a former inker for Powell, had just set up his own studio in nearby St. James. For the background drawings the artists used a material called Craf-Tint, which, if wetted with a special fluid, gave shading in vertical lines and, if treated with another fluid, produced darker cross-hatch shading. The acetate they used was untreated and would accept only a very thick, sticky ink. Nostrand, an extremely talented inker, remembers most clearly the aggravation of working with this special ink: “It was like tar,” he recalls, and the artist had to wear cotton gloves to prevent smudging. They were given a tight deadline, and Nostrand often spent nights drawing on the acetate while his wife whited in the backs of his finished sheets.

When it was completed, Adventures in 3-D was an exceptional comic. The stories led the reader through some nice twists of the imagination: time travelers fought among themselves; the reader became a monster in one sketch; and every story featured an unexpected ending. The artwork remained consistently strong, and the “True 3-D” touches helped to break up the cardboard cutout look.


 


Harvey stepped deeper into 3-D with the December issues of True 3-D (a sister publication to Adventures in 3-D), 3-D Dolly, Harvey 3-D Hits (featuring Sad Sack), and Captain 3-D, a new character drawn by Jack Kirby. Harvey had high hopes for Captain 3-D, a superhero able to travel in “unseen dimensions,” invented by one of the kings of comic book art. Early in his career, Kirby had joined with Joe Simon to create Captain America, and he had since come up with a stable of successful characters. Harvey contacted Kirby in the summer of 1953 and asked him to develop a hero to lead the 3-D boom. Captain 3-D was the result. Passed down through the generations in the Book of D, Captain 3-D came to life when viewed through the ancient glasses, fulfilling his mission to battle the forces of evil. 


 
 


Unfortunately, by the time the Captain reached the newsstands, Harvey was discovering the fragility of the 3-D comic-book market. St. John, as the first publisher in the field, was also the first to discover how easily success could evaporate. After the incredible ninety-nine percent sale of Mighty Mouse, St. John had plunged headlong into 3-D, with five October issues, and seven November issues, all with editions of more than a million copies. But sales, instead of gathering momentum as expected, began to dwindle instead. The second batch of comics, the October issues, yielded sales of only seventy-five percent and fifty percent, and the third batch, the November issues – which appeared with National’s and Harvey’s first efforts – showed miserable sales of thirty-five percent, twenty percent, and even ten percent. That drove St. John from the field. The final December issue of Mighty Mouse was a parting gesture. For St. John, a small business that had made a massive commitment to 3-D with huge print runs and a special staff of thirty artists, the financial losses nearly proved fatal. 


National proceeded with much more caution. Their Superman was successful, but a single December issue – Batman – did not fare as well, so they abandoned the glasses and resumed business as usual with ten-cent color comics. The Batman cover was later modified to Space Comics and used in an episode of THE MICKEY ROONEY SHOW which aired over NBC on September 4, 1954. In "The Moon or Bust," Mickey and his pal launch a home-made space ship to the moon.

Harvey managed to slide through the fall without serious damage, but there are signs that they, too, beat a hasty retreat from 3-D. Their November Adventures in 3-D and December True 3-D issues sold exceedingly well, each more than ninety percent, but the company viewed those results warily. They had taken on eight extra artists to put out four December issues, but that was their peak month. In January and February they published only one issue each of Adventures in 3-D and True 3-D, an ad for a second Captain 3-D that never appeared, and a pair of ten-cent comics, The Katzenjammer Kids and Jiggs and Maggie, which each included a single 3-D story, but no glasses.


Behind the scenes, there was a heated legal battle between Archer St. John and William Gaines over the patent dispute. The December issue of Whack published a satirical version that was not far removed from the truth.


The withdrawal of three publishers from the field did not mean the end of 3-D comics – not quite. A number of other publishers were   busily preparing to give the idea a try. In December 1953, twenty-three new 3-D comics hit the stands, more than any other month:    3-D Love, Jungle Thrills, Indian Warriors, Jet Pup, Sheena the Jungle Queen, Katy Keene, Felix the Cat, The First Christmas and a    number of children’s cartoon books were released and all met with rapidly declining sales and interest.


 
3-D Love
, and the January 1954 3-D Romance were the only 3-D comics made for older girls. Both were published by Steriographic Publications, a company formed by Ross Andru and Michael Esposito, and both are filled with surprisingly sophisticated stereo graphics. Inner thoughts and feelings are given a hovering presence in the distant background, flings in the city show up in a crazy collage of champagne bottles, dancing couples, neon lights, and maracas layered into diminishing space. The stories are sometimes unexpectedly sordid. A Viennese beauty marries an American soldier only to discover when he brings her home to Ohio that he is – horror of horrors – a factory worker! A gigolo’s life is ruined, his heart broken, when he falls for a gigolette. A career woman lies and cheats her way to the top only to be stuck with a man who is as sly as she. Alcohol, full moons, treachery, and tragic endings swirl thickly through these, the scarlet ladies of the 3-D comics.

   

Sheena the Jungle Queen was a heroine tailored – or untailored – to the interests of adolescent boys. Her full figures and skimpy leopard-skin outfit must have had great appeal among junior high romeos. In a reversal of the Tarzan-and-Jane syndrome, Sheena had her Bob, a handsome klutz who required constant rescuing. Sheena’s jungle reign began in 1937 and ran until 1953. The December 3-D issue was her last appearance, and she fought her way through it in a parting blaze of glory, dodging spears, swinging through the trees, and breaking up a slave ring. Sheena’s disappearance in 1953 coincided with a growing movement toward censorship of the comics. Her shapeliness aroused the indignation of worried mothers and forced her into early retirement. 


In another memorable one-time appearance, Katy Keene put on a fashion show in her only 3-D comic, published in December 1953 by Close-Up, an imprint of Archie Comics. Bill Woggon, her artist, was asked to work up flat art for a special 3-D issue, which would be redrawn for 3-D in Archie’s New York office. This Woggon did, fitting Katy into costumes submitted by readers from all over the country. From her dresses down to her underwear – and even to her boyfriends’ cars – Katy appeared as her readers wanted to see her. (Had she had veto power, she might have escaped appearing in a Jolly Green Giant suit, but Woggon had the final say.)
 

From the flat line art, Bob White, at Archie, prepared the 3-D version of Katy Keene. His treatment is limited to three levels, crude work compared to St. John’s or Harvey’s comics, but he did come up with an interesting effect by leaving plain areas of red and blue for sky, walls, and decoration. The colored areas certainly make the book the most attractive to look at without filters, but seen through the glasses, colors take on a neon look, as one eye sees white and the other black. The red-and-blue patchwork technique is hard on a reader’s eyes, but it does liven up Katy’s surroundings.

The flurry of 3-D activity in comic-book publishing during the summer and fall of 1953 did not go unnoticed by American gum-card manufacturers, who were looking for enticing ways to sell gum to the same children who bought comic books. Before the end of the year, the young adult had three 3-D gum-card series to collect: a set of antique automobile cards, from Bowman, and two sets of Tarzan cards from Topps, showing the stories from the new movies, Tarzan and the She Devil and Tarzan’s Savage Fury. While the Bowman set only contained a handful of actual 3-D cards mixed in with color images, the Tarzan cards were extremely well produced, printed on a bright, coated card stock. They remain among the finest examples of anaglyphic printing. The drawings, by an artist whose name has since been lost, made fine use of stereo imagery within the restrictions of the small card size.


  




By January 1954 publishers were drawing back from 3-D. St. John and National, as we have seen, made their last attempts in December 1953, and by January, Harvey was experimenting with limited 3-D issues at the standard ten-cent cover price. In the same month Atlas – an imprint covering the work of a number of publishers – tried their hand with a pair of over-size, full 3-D comics at the bargain price of only fifteen cents – complete with two pairs of glasses. 

The two Atlas titles, 3-D Action and 3-D Tales of the West, offered rough, tough tales of war and adventure in limited – three level – 3-D. The western book served up gunfights, brawls, Indians, and all-American patriotism. In one scene Big Jim Fraser stops a band of raiders from attacking a work party on the transcontinental railroad by punching their leader and giving the rest a speech. “He told them about the Railroad and about their country! He told them about his dream and their future! They listened – ‘That’s what this Railroad means! It means commerce and industry! It means America will be great…There will be schools here, great cities, happy families, and good living…’” When the moralizing ended, the raiders signed on as members of Fraser’s work party.

3-D Action presented championship boxing, Russian spies and combat adventure from Korea. In one leathery story Sergeant Socko Swenski explains how to take a Korean hill, first blasting the “Reds” on top with howitzers and mortars, then charging up with bayonets. When the “scummies” run, the bombers are called in to finish the job. As a final touch, “some G.I. pulls a flag outta his shirt and hangs it on a battered tree!”


These were pre-Vietnam times of American bravado, of patriotism frenzied by fear. The Russians had exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949, and while Americans dug bomb shelters under their lawns from coast to coast, the cold war stakes rose. In November 1952 a U.S. test of the hydrogen bomb destroyed the atoll of Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, and just nine months later the Russians exploded their own H-bomb in Siberia. In October 1953 Senator Joseph McCarthy launched an investigation of the U.S. Army, which he suspected of Communist subversion. And in the national climate of fear and suspicion, the comics too came under attack – not as Communist propaganda, but as corruptors of youth.

The two Atlas comics seemed to be making a conscious effort to remove themselves from the line of the coming attack, and , indeed, they each carry a tiny star on the cover with the legend “conforms to the comics code,” an early indication of self-regulation and self-protection by the comic industry. During the spring of 1954 popular outrage against comic books reached a fever pitch. In April, in response to “thousands of letters,” a US. Senate subcommittee investigating juvenile delinquency began to focus its attention on comic-books. In the same month, Frederic Wertham’s book, Seduction of the Innocent, was published to a great hue and cry.

Wertham’s book is difficult to read seriously today, as its assertions are often wild and unfounded – that Batman and Robin, for instance, were homosexuals and that Wonder Woman was a lesbian sadist – but at the time it was read with great concern by parents across the country. A pre-publication excerpt in the Ladies’ Home Journal generated a flurry of letters, and women began to form censorship committees to blacklist comics and convince newsdealers to carry a more limited selection.

In the middle of the dispute, hoping it would all die away, sat the comic-book publishers. One of the prime targets among them was William Gaines, the originator of horror comics in the 1940’s and the last to publish 3-D comics in the spring of 1954.

Gaines’s father, M.C. Gaines, had been a comic-book pioneer in the 1930s; by some accounts he created the standard comic-book format. After World War II the elder Gaines formed a new company, Educational Comics, popularly known as E.C., which published a wide range of material from Bible stories to adventures of the superheroine Moon Girl. William Gaines inherited the company in 1947 and, after a period of searching, began to turn the business on its ear with some radical innovations. In 1950 he launched Crypt of Terror, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Two Fisted Tales, and Crime SuspenStories, in what he described as E.C.’s “New Trend” in comic books. Their success can be measured by the flocks of imitators that followed over the next few years.

Gaines had assembled some of the finest artists and writers in the industry when he launched his “New Trend” line – Graham Ingels, John Craig, Albert Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, and Wallace Wood. When the comics went into circulation they attracted even more artists to E.C. – among them Bernie Krigstein, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Frank Frazetta, Joe Orlando, George Evans, and John Severin. The comics they produced stood out from the competition like the apple in the Garden of Eden, and in the end caused almost as much trouble.

In 1952 E.C. introduced Mad, the invention of editor Kurtzman, and it swiftly grew into the wildest success story in the business. Gaines had turned his company – and the comic-book industry – around and onto a new track in the space of three years.

It is not surprising that Gaines wanted to try 3-D when it came along, nor is it surprising that he pursued a course different from that of his competitors. He had long been interested in 3-D, even outside his business. He was one of the early owners of the Stereo Realist camera, and when 3-D movies started coming out, he went to every one, wearing a pair of specially made prescription 3-D glasses. In 1952 Gaines and Al Feldstein experimented with 3-D comics, using stereo cameras and three-dimensional setups, but they couldn’t devise any practical production methods. Both men recognized the breakthrough Kubert and Maurer had made when Mighty Mouse was released, and E.C. purchased a license from the two innovators for the production of two comic books. As part of the agreement, Will Elder was sent to New Jersey for training in the Illustereo process.

At the same time E.C. undertook a patent search on its own, in order to be on firm legal footing when its first 3-D books were published. Before long E.C.’s lawyers located a patent granted to Freeman H. Owens in 1936 for a “Method of Drawing and Photographing Stereoscopic Pictures in Relief” (patent no. 2, 057, 051), which had anticipated in every detail the Illustereo technique. Al Feldstein found Owens in the Manhattan phone book and still remembers his response to the first telephone call. In a dry voice he said, “I was wondering when one of you guys would call.”

Though the patent would remain effective through October 13, 1953 – seventeen years being the legal duration of patents – E.C. bought it from Owens and promptly filed suit against every other 3-D publisher for infringement. The E.C. lawsuit drew a countersuit from St. John, and effectively enmeshed the 3-D comic business in a messy legal tangle.

Plodding calmly through it all, Gaines continued with preparations for his two comics. By the time they were finally published, in the spring of 1954, the luster had decidedly worn off 3-D. Both E.C. books were printed in small quantities – approximately 300,000 – and both sold poorly. 

 
 
The first, Three-Dimensional E.C. Classics, included stories by Wood, Krigstein, Evans and Ingells, redrawn for 3-D from their original appearances in Mad, Weird Science, Frontline Combat, and Crime Suspenstories. Classics is an odd assemblage of the whacky and the mysterious, containing both a Mad-style story by Wallace Wood about a voluptuous vampiress – the only woman in all of 3-D who rated an extra plane for her bust – and an elegantly drawn Krigstein tale, “The Monster From the Fourth Dimension,” in which deceptively simple graphics evoke the plain, open feeling of a Midwestern farm invaded by a gruesome time-traveling blob.

The second E.C. comic, Three-Dimensional Tales from the Crypt of Terror, is more consistently horrible. Stories by Davis, Elder, Craig, and Orlando have been redrawn from Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, to give the reader a chain of grisly 3-D thrills. Davis’s contribution, “The Trophy,” is a perennial favorite in its flat version. Equally macabre are Elder’s story, “The Strange Couple” – which at the end sends the reader spinning in an angst-producing cycle of repetition – Craig’s piece about a true batman, and Orlando’s “The Thing from the Grave.”

All the stories in the second volume are introduced by the Crypt Keeper, E.C.’s famous M.C. of horror. He delights in serving up a nasty bill of severed heads, partly decayed corpses, and bloodthirsty fiends in a dank milieu, shaded to a heavy grayness by the E.C. artists.


 
 

The E.C. comics provided an appropriate finale to the brief flurry of 3-D comic publishing – a fitting last gasp. In April 1954 the national mood of suspicion about comic books provided Gaines with more serious worries than the failure of his two forays into 3-D. In that month he was called to testify in a special televised hearing before the U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating the causes of juvenile delinquency. Gaines’s testimony followed that of Frederic Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, and the senators were clearly eager to get political mileage out of grilling a horror-comic publisher. The New York Times, in a front-page story, described Senator Estes Kefauver asking Gaines if he considered in “good taste” the cover of one of his publications “which depicted an axe-wielding man holding aloft the severed head of a blonde woman.”  He replied, "Yes, I do - for the cover of a horror comic. I think it would be in bad taste if the head were held a little higher so the neck would show with the blood dripping out." Senator Kefauver responded: "You've got blood dripping from the mouth." Gaines came off poorly in both the interrogation and the news accounts.


After his television appearance, sales of Gaines’s comics plummeted, as newsdealers steered clear of the poisonous publicity. During the spring and summer more citizens’ groups came out against comic books. The activists included the Women’s Club Federation, the County and Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, and the American Legion. In September 1954, comic-book publishers responded by forming the Comics Magazine Association to enforce a “comic code.” As one of its first actions, the group banned crime and horror publications.

Comic books as a creative medium disappeared under this censorship, and the industry was not to recover for many years. William Gaines was forced to divest himself of every title except Mad, which he put into a longer non-comic-book format in order to sidestep the critical eye of the association. He is still saving the artwork he amassed for a 3-D science-fiction comic, completed in 1954 but never published because of the pressures of the marketplace. (The fanzines Witzend and Squa Tront eventually presented the unpublished  science fiction stories. Unfortunately, they were only released flat.)

Just as 3-D comic books were dying on the stands, several publishers began issuing full-color comics with a 3-D effect. The first company was the American Comics Group and their process was called Truevision. Appearing in Eight issues of Adventures into the Unknown, two issues each of teen comics The Kilroys and Cookie, several issues of Lovelorn and Romantic Adventures and one issue of Commander Battle and the Atomic Sub, Truevision consisted of letting characters and objects slip out of the restraints of the panels and into the area surrounding them. At the same time they had the artists render the background less distinct, like something seen at a distance, while the colorist saw to it that only the close-up main characters were in full color.

 
 



Other publishers quickly jumped on the bandwagon and released several comics with 3-D effects. The Magazine Enterprises art by Frank Bolle utilized in Red Mask and Tim Holt was similar to the Truevision comics except they retained white borders around the panels. The Deep Dimension comics Crime and Punishment and Black Diamond were drawn by Alexander Toth utilizing layered halftone screens to make faces and figures more dimensional. In addition, the artwork was presented in a curved panel, simulating the widescreens commonly seen in many theaters in 1954. PictureScope Jungle Adventures was a black and white coloring book with artwork by Jay Disbrow. Each page featured a single panel with a 3-D effect image.


By the summer of 1954, just like the stereoscopic movies which had inspired their creation, 3-D comics had all but vanished. Mad featured a satirical look at the 3-D fad in their June 1954 issue. When the dust had finally settled, Harvey had such a huge stock of comics in their warehouse, they were still selling copies in 1960 through ads in Famous Monsters of Filmland.


Today, the original 3-D comics are highly collectible. Many of the issues can still be found for reasonable prices, especially the early ones that were printed in such large quantities. Our cover gallery will show you every issue published in 1953/54.  Get out your Three Dimension Space Goggles, shop around and have fun!

A very special thank you to the following individuals for their help with this article: Peter Apruzzese, Hillary Hess, Lawrence Kaufman, Greg Kintz, Greg Theakston and Jack Theakston.




I highly recommend the following pages for additional
information on the patent battle of 1953:


This page has some original art from Captain 3-D.

Click here for more information on the second issue of Captain 3-D. It remained on the shelf for almost half a century until AC Comics ran the
origin story and some of the material scheduled for this issue in their
Men of Mystery Comics #15 in 1999.

This page has the four stories from the E.C. science-fiction 3-D comic
from 1954, with artwork by Wally Wood, Al Williamson/George Evan,
Reed Crandall and Bernie Krigstein.






Bob Furmanek is an award-winning producer, writer and motion picture archivist/historian
He is available for research and consultation work with respect to 3-D and aspect ratio information.

Contact Bob at:

3-D GALLERY

PLEASE NOTE: Nearly sixty years have faded these once vibrant 3-D images. Below is a before/after comparison. A great deal of time and effort has gone into their restoration.  If you would like to share any restored images, kindly ask permission and please credit your source.

High-resolution TIFF files are also available.




 



The following two pages from the first issue of TOR feature artwork by Russ Heath.
for our Golden Age 3-D Comic Book cover gallery.