Comic Creator Jerry Iger

Jerry Iger

Sam Iger, S.M. Iger, S.M. Regi, Betty Marion, Jerry Maxwell, Jerry Williams, E. Lectron, Tagor Maroy, George Thatcher

(22 August 1903 - 5 September 1990, USA)   United States

Jerry  Iger

Bobby, by Jerry Iger
'Bobby', from Famous Funnies #24.

Jerry Iger was an American cartoonist, comic editor, advertising illustrator, and one of the key players during the Golden Age of Comic Books. In the 1930s he was at the vanguard of the upcoming comic book market as head of the Eisner & Iger Studio, which became the S.M. Iger Studio after his business partner Will Eisner left. The team produced entire comic books on demand for publishing companies like Fox, Quality and Fiction House, with Iger doing writing and lettering chores, while mainly overseeing the business aspects of the firm. Although Iger is generally credited as (co-)creator of several of the studio's features, most notably 'Sheena, Queen of the Jungle', the importance of his role has often been refuted. Critics view him as an  author who claims credit for other people's creations, just like Bob Kane and Stan Lee. Whatever the case, one can safely assume that Eisner was the creative genius of the partnership. Iger's several attempts to launch his own kids comics 'The Harlem Gang' (1927-1928, later retitled as 'The Harlem Gang' and 'Mickey and his Gang', 1928-1929), 'Bobby' (1935-1936), 'Pee Wee' (1935-1936) and 'Little Buddy' (1935-1939) in either newspapers or comic books, met with little success.

Early life and career
Samuel Maxwell Iger was born in 1903 in New York City. His parents were Jewish immigrants from the Polish region of Austria. During most of his early childhood, the family lived near the Choctaw Indian reservation in Idabel, Oklahoma, where Iger's father ran a general store. At age 13 they moved back to New York and by 1925 (some sources say 1919) Jerry Iger got a job at the art department of William Randolph Hearst's newspaper New York American. Without any formal art training, he was assigned to make cartoons to illustrate the paper's news items. Working in one of the paper's offices, nicknamed "The Cookoos Nest", the young cartoonist was surrounded and trained by artists such as as Winsor McCay, Joe McGurk and Bugs Baer. During the 1920s Iger also worked as an advertising designer and poster artist, and according to comic historian Jerry Bails' Who's Who in American Comics?' he was either animator or production artist at the Fleischer Studios in 1922.

Iger and his characters are introduced to the readers of The Standard Union on 17 November 1928.

Kid's gang comics
Iger also ventured into syndicated comic strips, working under the name "Sam Iger". These early attempts were done through the New York-based Paramount Newspaper Feature Service (A.K.A. PNF Service). Between 16 September 1927 and 28 June 1928 he made a typical kid's gang comic called 'The Gang', which consisted of Mick(e)y, Tubby, Snooky and Elinore. By August 1928 it appeared under the title 'The Harlem Gang' in at least the "black" newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier. For this publication, the gang was transformed into a group of black kids. It is unknown whether the original panels were altered or that Iger made new gags for this version, but the artist didn't resort to any stereotypical blackface depictions of his characters. The original version of the comic reappeared under the title 'Mickey and his Gang' (1928-1929) in The Standard Union from Brooklyn, New York from 19 November 1928 until at least the fall of 1929. According to samples from The Evergreen Courant (Alabama), the Casa Grande Dispatch (Arizona) and the Lincoln News Messenger (California), 'Mickey and his Gang' was still (or again) in circulation in the 1932-1935 period. In October 1928 Jerry Iger married Louise Hirsch, the cartoonist of the features 'Tessie Tish' and 'Charlie Chirps', who worked for the same syndicate. The couple divorced in the mid-1930s.

'Mickey and his Gang' in The Standard Union (19 November 1928).

'The Harlem Gang' in The Pittsburgh Courier (4 August 1928).

Famous Funnies
In 1935-1936 Iger was one of the artists working for what is generally considered the first actual American comic book: Eastern Color Printing's Famous Funnies. Subtitled "The Nation's Comic Monthly", the title not only had colored reprints of daily newspaper strips, but also new, original material, including Iger's three features. While 'Happy Daze' starred a smart-mouthed entrepeneur in the cookie business, the other two once again had kids as title heroes. 'Pee Wee' was more of a street kid, while 'Bobby' came from a more prosperous background. Bobby was in fact based on Iger's nephew Arthur (who would become the father of future CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger). All three were gag strips, signed with either "Sam Iger" or "S.M. Iger".

'Happy Daze' from Famous Funnies #20.

WOW, What A Magazine
With his cartooning career not really coming off the ground, Iger was offered a job by John Henle to edit a comic book called Wow, What A Magazine!. It had the same outset as Famous Funnies, mixing reprints of newspaper strips like E.C. Segar's 'Thimble Theater' and Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' with new material. Iger himself contributed the funny animal feature 'Jocko', the humor page 'Wow What Laffs!' and new 'Pee Wee' gags. Only four issues were published between July and November 1936 when the title was cancelled. It left Iger without a job, but with a new partnership alongside one of the magazine's contributors: Will Eisner.

Eisner & Iger Studio
Jerry Iger and Will Eisner joined forces and in 1936 formed Eisner & Iger Associates, or Eisner & Iger in short. There is some debate on how the partnership was formed, as both Eisner and Iger have given different accounts. Iger claimed he was already in business, and that Eisner was simply an artist for hire, until he had to make him a partner because otherwise he couldn't pay him. Eisner on the other hand stated that Iger was broke, and that it was he who came up with the money ($15) and idea to set up a comic book production studio. The new firm opened its doors at the corner of Madison Avenue and 53rd Street, with Eisner doing most of the creative work and Iger focusing on sales.

Newspaper comics
Under the "Universal Phoenix Features Syndicate", the duo syndicated several of their previous strips for Wow to newspapers, including Iger's 'Bobby' (1938-1939) and 'Pee Wee' (1938-1939), Eisner's 'Harry Karry' and 'Hawks of the Seas' and Bernard Baily's 'Gilda Gay' (1938-1939). Eisner and Iger also launched a new humor strip under the "Carl Heck" byline, 'Uncle Otto'. Iger is also believed to have drawn the weekly strip 'Little Buddy' under the name Bruce Stuart through Lincoln Features from 4 March 1935 until 1939. In 1937, Iger and Eisner also tried to syndicate a comic strip based on 'Scrappy', an obscure animated cartoon character created by Dick Huemer for Charles Mintz's studio. It never appeared in U.S. newspapers, but some publications in France and Australia are known. Even though it was credited to "Jerry Williams", which seems a joint pen name for Iger and Eisner, the artist is yet to be identified. The material was later reused for the 'Shorty Shortcake' feature in the comic books Wonder Comics and Wonderworld Comics, published by Victor Fox.

'Little Buddy' by Bruce Stuart (is it a pen name of Jerry Iger?). From the Cache American of 25 January 1938.

One of Eisner & Iger's first major clients was the Editors Press Service, who sold their material to not only U.S. magazines, but also the Canadian, British and Australian markets. One of such publications was Wags, a British tabloid magazine. In 1937-1938 it ran the studio's 'Inspector Dayton', 'ZX-5 Spies in Action', 'Hawks of the Seas' and 'Spencer Steele', but also marked the first appearance of a far more enduring character: 'Sheena, Queen of the Jungle', written by "W. Morgan Thomas" (Eisner and Iger) and drawn by Mort Meskin.

Comic book packaging
The main source for Eisner & Iger's output was however the new American comic book market. They were among the first of the so-called "packagers": studios that produced comic books on demand for the several publishing companies. At the start of the so-called "Golden Age of Comic Books", several of such firms arose. Lloyd Jacquet's Funnies, Inc., the Harry "A" Chesler shop and Ben Sangor's Sangor Shop were Eisner & Iger's main competitors. One of Eisner & Iger's first clients in the comic book market was Centaur Publishing. With a convincing sales pitch, Iger also persuaded pulp magazine publisher Thurman T. Scott to venture his company Fiction House into the comic book market. Under their Real Adventures Publishing Company imprint, the first issue of Jumbo Comics was released in September 1938. It was completely produced by the Eisner & Iger staff.

Jumbo Comics
The early issues of Jumbo Comics featured reprint material from Wags and the newspaper features, but gradually new material was produced. The comic book most notably marked the return of 'Sheena, Queen of the Jungle', who would become their major success series. Sheena is the young daughter of a white explorer in Africa. While visiting a native witch doctor, Koba, Sheena's father accidentally drinks a magic potion and dies. Koba takes his responsibility and adopts her. By the time she reaches adulthood Sheena has become "queen of the jungle", leaping from tree to tree in her leopard skin outfit and protecting her tribe and all creatures from danger. Originally she had a chimpanzee sidekick, Chim, while the attractive hunter Bob Reynolds was her love interest. In later episodes Koba was remodelled into a woman, N'bid Ela, with Chim becoming her pet, rather than Sheena's. Sheena also received a new partner: the hunter Rick Thorne. The comic strip obviously cashed in on the success of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'Tarzan' novels, adapted as a comic series by Harold Foster and Burne Hogarth since 1929 and, from 1932 on, as an equally beloved film series starring Johnny Weissmuller. Yet the character's name was inspired by "She-who-must-be-obeyed" from H. Rider Haggard's novel 'She' (1886), while her personality was lifted from William Henry Hudson's novel 'Rima, the Jungle Girl' (1904). Following her run in Jumbo Comics, Sheena received her own comic book series in the spring of 1942.

'Pee Wee' from Jumbo Comics #38.

Working method
Within no time, Iger and his crew were also filling comic books for Fox Comics and Quality Comics. As their list of clients increased, Eisner & Iger could branch out and hire additional artists. Eisner stated that by 1939 the firm had 15 writers, artists and letterers on staff. Some future comics legends actually started their career at the firm, including Bernard Baily, Nick Cardy, Reed Crandall, Lou Fine, August FroehlichBob Kane, Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin, Bob Powell, John Spranger, George Tuska and Wallace Wood. The Eisner and Iger shop was the first to divide the production chores in an assembly line. Scripts, pencil work, background art, inking and lettering were generally done by separate people, a usage still common in the American comic book industry today. While this method certainly sped up the production, it makes it difficult to determine who did what? Some artists had their own regular features, but most was studio work. Some signed their work, others worked anonymously or under a (collective) pseudonym. This had led to much research and debate among comic scholars and historians in later years, also because memories of those who were there were either clouded or colored.

Jerry Iger's contributions?
It is generally accepted that Will Eisner was the creative genius behind most of the characters, yet Iger has often downplayed his role, labelling him as just an artist under his employ. Iger however also did his share of the writing, using pen names like S.M. Regi, Jerry Maxwell, Jerry Williams, E. Lectron or Tagor Maroy. Claims by Iger to be the creator of 'Sheena', 'The Ray', 'Wonder Boy', 'Phantom Lady', 'Doll Man' and 'Black Condor' have largely been refuted. He might have done scriptwork on those features, but their creation should be credited to either Eisner alone or the two of them.

S.M. Iger Studio
In 1940 Will Eisner was bought away by Everett M. "Busy" Arnold of Quality Comics to create his own newspaper supplement. This resulted in the launch of 'The Spirit' in June of that year. With their partnership dissolved, Eisner sold his share of the company to Iger, who continued on his own as the S.M. Iger Studio. Since all of their joint creations were now in his possession, he might have also assumed sole authorship over them. His jealousy of Eisner did not go by unnoticed. It soured his relationship with Busy Arnold, who in December 1941 sent him an angry letter with complaints. Iger however found a new business partner in Ruth Roche, who had already written several features for the studio. Matt Baker became one of the company's top artists from 1944 on, while the Iger Studio also meant the debut of a young Al Feldstein, among many other artists.

The studio continued to produce material for a variety of companies throughout the 1940s and most of the 1950s. Besides Fiction House, they also packaged books for Holyoke Publications, Harvey Comics, Farrell Publications, EC Comics and Gilberton's 'Classics Illustrated' series. One of the company's most remarkable post-Eisner creations was 'Kismet, Man of Fate' (1944), a Muslim superhero fighting Nazis in wartime France. He appeared in all four issues of Bomber Comics by the Elliot Publishing Company, and was credited to "Omar Tahan", a pen name of Ruth Roche. Chuck Winter, Alex Blum and Henry Kiefer were among the artists. Iger also tried his hand at publishing. He teamed up with Fred Fiore in late 1941 and began the Great Comics line. It spawned two titles, Choice Comics and Great Comics, which both only lasted three issues. Between 1945 and 1947 Iger returned to publishing his own comic books, this time under his own name. But again most titles folded after a few issues. These included 'The Adventures of Alice', 'Bobby Comics', 'Cartoon Digest', 'Claire Voyant', 'Flyin' Jenny', 'Hank' 'Seven Seas Comics', 'Slick Chick Comics' and 'Stony Craig'.

'Bobby Comics' and 'Claire Voyant'.

Other media
By the end of World War II, Iger and Roche also tried their luck outside the comic book industry. Iger owned the publishing imprint Action Play-Books too  and released a series of twelve children's books by different authors. These included 'Bobby's Diary' (1944) and 'Pee Wee and the Sneezing Elephant' (1944), marking yet another reboot of Iger's early characters, only this time written by Roche and illustrated by David B. Icove. The Phoenix Features syndicate also arose from the ashes. Reprints of 'Bobby', 'Pee Wee' and Eisner's 'Hawks of the Seas' were back in circulation. Iger furthermore launched a new weekly panel with courtoom humor, called 'Court Chuckles' (1948-1955), again under his S.M. Regi pseudonym. Other new features were the all-female comic series 'Flamingo' (1952-1953) by Ruth Roche and Matt Baker and a newspaper comic based on Mickey Spillane's 'Mike Hammer' detective stories (1953-1954), drawn by Ed Robbins.

'Court Chuckles' from the Shawnee American of 11 January 1952.

Closing of the studio
Iger continued to produce, edit and launch new titles for Fiction House until the mid-1950s, most notably Jumbo Comics, Jungle Comics, Planet Comics, Fight Comics and Rangers Comics. The closing of the company in 1955 also meant the end of the Iger Studio. Iger then served as an art director for the comic book publisher Farrell Publications, but left the industry altogether in 1957 and turned to commercial art. He spent his final years in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens, New York City, where he passed away in 1990 at the age of 87.

In the 1980s Blackthorne Publishing released several Iger-related collections: including the compilations 'The Iger Comics Kingdom' (1985), 'Jerry Iger's Classic Jumbo Comics' and 'Jerry Iger's Classic National Comics', as well as the six-issue series 'Jerry Iger's Golden Features' (1986). In 2009, he was inducted posthumously into the Will Eisner Comic book Hall of Fame, ironically named after the artist whose legacy has largely overshadowed his own. Still, Jerry Iger remains a key player from the early days of the comic book industry.

Jerry Iger by Herny Major
Jerry Iger by Henry Major in 1925.

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