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Four Color, also known as Four Color Comics and One Shots, was an extremely prolific Americanmarker comic book anthology series published by Dell Comics between 1939 and 1962. The title is a reference to the four basic colors used when printing early twentieth-century comic books: cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

More than 1,000 issues were published, usually with multiple titles released every month. An exact accounting of the actual number of unique issues produced is difficult because occasional issue numbers were skipped and a number of reprint issues were also included, although the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide nonetheless lists well over 1,000 individual issues, ending with #1354, but some numbers were skipped. It currently holds the record for most issues produced of an American comic book; its nearest rivals, Action Comics and Detective Comics, both still publishing monthly issues after more than 70 years, only recently passed their 800th issues. The first 25 issues are known as "series 1"; after they were published, the numbering began again and "series 2" began. Four Color is notable for having published many of the first comics featuring characters licensed from Walt Disney.

History

Unlike most comic book series of the day, which were either devoted to one character, or were anthologies with collections of stories starring the cartoon characters of a particular studio, Four Color instead devoted each individual issue to different characters. One issue might feature a popular cartoon character, while the next might be an adaptation of a popular movie or TV series. Thus the phrase "one shot" which was used in the publisher's code in the first interior page of the first story. For example issue 223 (1949) was denoted DDOS 223 which translates as Donald Duck One-Shot #223. Most Four Color titles featured licensed properties; relatively few original characters were created for the line. The first Four Color comic featured comic strip and movie serial hero Dick Tracy; the last (issue number 1,354, series 2) was based upon the TV series Calvin and the Colonel.

The primary purpose behind Four Color was as a try-out showcase for potential new Dell Comics series. For example Tarzan and Little Lulu in early 1948 launched their own titles (starting with no.1) after proving themselves via a number of Four Color try-out issues. But during the 1940s the transition wasn't always so prompt, as a number of prominent funny animal characters starred in 20-30 issues of Four Color (these include Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Porky Pig). Comic book historian Michael Barrier notes by the early 1950s Dell seemed to be giving more emphasis to subscription sales (promoted via premium giveaways as part of the Dell Comics Club), which necessitated stable series instead of one-shots. At one point in 1951 some issues of Four Color were double-numbered reflecting the issuances for particular characters; thus issues 318 and 328, featuring Donald Duck, carried the notation "nos.1-2" on the cover underneath the Four Color series number. This may indicate thought at that point was being given to the eventual transition of these characters from one-shots to their own titles. And indeed beginning in the early 1950s it became more prevalent than previously for Four Color titles, if they proved popular enough, to become ongoing, independent series. In some cases the issue numbering of these spin-offs took into account any previous Four Color issues (albeit sometimes mis-counting the one-shots; Donald Duck started with #26 despite actually twenty-eight Four Color issues with the character preceding it).

Identifying Four Color comics can be a challenge, as only issues published between c.1940 and 1946 actually carried the title Four Color Comics on the cover.

Documenting the extent of the Four Color series was among the bibliographic tasks undertaken in the early 60s by emerging comic book fandom. Uber-fans Donald and Maggie Thompson took the lead in this endeavor and in 1968 finally issued A Listing of Dell Special Series Comic Books (and a Few Others) as Bibliographic Supplement no. 1 to their legendary fanzine Comic Art. In its 35 pages it listed not only individual titles of comic books published in the Color/Four Color series but those in these series: Black and White, Large Feature, United Feature Single Series, Comics on Parade, McKay Feature Books, Stories by Famous Authors Illustrated, and Classics Illustrated (Classic Comics).

Footnotes

  1. MichaelBarrier.com (column): "And of Comic Books" (Feb. 15, 2008), by Michael Barrier


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