Happy Birthday to Jack Kirby Hall of Famer, Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Famer, and Captain Marvel co-creator C.C. Beck!
Beck joined Fawcett Publications in 1933, where he worked as a staff artist, illustrating their pulp magazines.
In the fall of 1939, when Fawcett decided to get into the new and exciting comic book game, they asked writer and editor Bill Parker, along with Beck, to create a line of characters for them. That fall, they created Captain Thunder, later to be renamed Captain Marvel.
According to C.C. Beck’s testimony in the famous National v Fawcett trial, at one point Captain Thunder was a boy whose alter ego was an adult who possessed a powerful lightning-tipped wand with vast powers. It’s also been said that at one point – I do not know originally by whom – that Captain Thunder was also a character who led a squad of lieutenants, each of whom were gifted the powers of a god.
The concepts for the former were later attributed to other Fawcett characters, Ibis the Invincible, and Spy Smasher, the latter of which Beck also illustrated.
Said Beck of creating Captain Marvel:
When Parker and I went to work on Fawcett’s first comic book in 1939, we both saw how poorly written and illustrated the super-hero comic books were. We decided to give our readers a real comic book, drawn in comic strip style and telling an imaginative story based not on the hackneyed formula of the pulp magazines but going back to the old folk tales and myths of classic times. Captain Marvel’s attributes derived from the powers of five Greek and Roman gods and one Hebrew king, and he was called into being by the use of the magic word “SHAZAM,” not by the putting on or the taking off of a disguise.
Billy Batson was the standard penniless boy hero of all children’s stories; Sivana was the evil sorcerer of folk tales, now wearing a white laboratory jacket instead of a long robe and pointed hat; Shazam was the ancient keeper of hidden lore that has appeared in stories all over the world for thousands of years. I drew Shazam to look like Moses or some other Old Testament figure on purpose, knowing that he would be instantly recognized by readers everywhere as a kindly guardian of mankind.
Captain Marvel debuted on newsstands in WHIZ Comics #2 on December 1st, 1939.
Beck later began his own studio in New York in 1941 and continued to illustrate for Fawcett’s comic book division. Beck would be the first and last artist to illustrate Captain Marvel for Fawcett Publications.
When Fawcett settled with National Comics, they agreed to pay a hefty sum to National and agreed to stop publishing Captain Marvel. In addition, they also decided to shut down their comics division due to declining sales.
Beck left the comic book industry after that, but got into commercial art, though he once attempted to do a comic strip with long-time Captain Marvel writer Otto Binder, but was rejected by various publishers.
It would not be until around 1967 that Beck re-entered the comic book industry, where he co-created Fatman the Human Flying Saucer with Binder. When DC Comics licensed Captain Marvel in 1972, they got Beck on board to illustrate Captain Marvel once more. Beck’s run with DC only lasted 10 issues. He left due to “creative differences.”
That would be the last time Beck illustrated Captain Marvel for a publisher.
In his retirement, Beck did some work as the editor of the newsletter of the Fawcett Collectors of America, which to this day, often publishes insightful articles of the World’s Mightiest Mortal.
Beck passed away in 1989.
Thank you, Mr. Beck, for giving us one of the most endearing and enduring characters today.
As always, Shazam!