One of the biggest topics for comic book publishers in recent years has
been the effort to get comics into schools. That doesn't mean kids bringing them
to schools and taking a peak when the teacher's not looking. The goal today is
getting them into official school curriculums and using them as tools to help
teach and encourage reading, just like the initiative in the State of Maryland
we've told you so much about, and just like they've been doing in Texas since
In terms of an educational model, the significance of Texas
History Movies is difficult to overstate. Though collectors can rightly
categorize its various editions as Platinum Age, Golden Age, Silver Age and
Bronze Age comics, this series has an even more important standing. It was the
very first comic book used as an officially issued classroom textbook. Likewise,
it was part of a pioneering, corporately sponsored educational campaign
revolving around comics used as textbooks. There has not been an education
program like it since then, though don't expect that to be true much longer.
Just, as contributor Weldon Adams would point out, remember who
Kids have been getting into trouble for bringing comic
books into classrooms since probably the creation of the first true comic book.
In recent history, some teachers themselves have purposefully brought comic
books to the classroom to use them as teaching aids. But the crossover of comic
books to textbooks has a much stronger link and goes farther back than many
It was the fall of 1926, a time when newspaper comic strips
were very popular. The Director of News & Telegraph for the Dallas
Morning News, E.B. Doran, had an idea for a new comic strip. His concept was
to tell the history of the State of Texas in daily comic strip form. He
recruited staff artist Jack Patton to draw the series and staff writer John
Rosenfield, Jr. to supply the text.
The series title, Texas History
Movies, was given by Dr. J. F Kimball, Superintendent of Schools in Dallas
at the time. This shows there was an involvement with and consideration of the
educational impact of the strip from the very beginning. And as misleading as
the title may be by modern standards, at the time comic strips were sometimes
referred to as 'movies in print'. This is a reference to way that several panels
in a row can look like single frames of a movie reel.
The series ran
Monday through Saturday from the October 5, 1926 until June 8, 1927. The strip
took a summer break, but with the beginning of the next school year Texas
History Movies was back in the paper from October 8, 1927 until the series
ended on June 9, 1928. The break period coincided with summer break for public
schools. It is evident that teachers were using this newspaper strip in the
classrooms, and it perhaps corresponds that the strip never appeared in the
Sunday editions of the paper.
These 428 strips chronicled the history of
the state of Texas from the Spanish exploration of the New World in 1530 to
Texas' reconstruction following the Civil War and on up through 1885. In the
words of the creators, "Here the cartoons end abruptly, not because there was
nothing else worth telling, but because the things that happened after that make
dull pictures; albeit, fascinating reading."
In 1928, the P.L. Turner
Company acquired the copyright from The Dallas Morning News and published
a collection of the strips in a large hardback format. The hardcover volume of
Texas History Movies measured 9 1/2 inches across and 12 1/2 inches tall.
It collected all 428 strips and was 1/2 inch thick. The 4 panel strips were
presented 2 on a page in a basic 9-panel grid. The top three panels and the
first panel of the middle row were one strip. The center panel had the
description line for both strips. And the last panel of the middle row started
the second strip. The cover art featured the interior of a movie theatre showing
a scene from the battle of the Alamo.
In that same year, the Magnolia
Petroleum Company recognized the educational potential of the collection and
sponsored a smaller digest size version with a cardstock cover. Reportedly,
millions of copies of this version were distributed free of charge as a history
textbook to students throughout the state of Texas. This 5 1/4" by 7" version
had only 64 pages with 124 strips, but sported the same "Movie Theatre"
There is a second edition of this version that was produced some
years later. The two versions are almost identical except for some minor
differences. The second edition has a square-bound blue taped spine. The second
edition is on a thinner paper stock also, so it is noticeably thinner than the
first printing version.
The back cover is different also. The second
edition has an ad featuring 4 round signs showing the various trade logos these
companies were using at the time. But biggest and most telling difference is
that the interior of the second edition refers to both Mobilgas and Magnolia
Petroleum as being "A Socony-Vacuum Company" (Socony was shorthand for Standard
Oil Company of New York). The Socony Oil Company merged with the Vacuum Oil
Company to form "Socony-Vacuum" in 1931. Therefore, this second edition could
not have been printed before 1931. Therefore it seems likely that the second
edition was published in 1932.
In 1935 Magnolia Petroleum once again
sponsored bringing Texas History Movies back to the classrooms in a new
horizontal format. Reprinted several times from 1935 to 1936, these horizontal
versions had various covers. The first horizontal edition featured a covered
wagon image on the primarily white cover. And there were at least two other
covers featured on reprint editions. Both used a red and blue cover
The horizontal editions were paperbacks that measured 9 inches
wide by only 6 inches tall. However, there was also at least one 1935 hardcover
horizontal edition. This had a green cover with the covered wagon art. The
horizontal editions collect only 101 strips from the original 428, but have an
additional 23 strips in a section titled "Part Two - The Industrial
Development of Texas." These newly commissioned strips were by Jack Patton as
well and have never appeared in any other editions of the book. The format for
this edition was 4 panels across the top half of the page with the descriptive
line underneath. The bottom half was a purely textual piece running
approximately 160 words to the page for 125 pages. The credits for the text
piece merely say "Text by One of the Foremost Historians of the
The Magnolia Petroleum Company itself has quite a bit of history
in the State of Texas. One of its ancestor companies erected the first oil
refinery in Texas at Corsicana in 1896, shortly after the period chronicled in
Texas History Movies itself. Later known as Mobil Oil, their mascot of a
red Pegasus became a familiar site in the Dallas skyline, and it was even
included in the last panel in the expanded section of the 1935 horizontal
In 1936, there was a "Centennial Edition" of the large format
book published by the Turner Company to celebrate the anniversary centennial of
Texas becoming a Republic. The Centennial Edition has a solid blue hardback
cover and this time included several text sections in the front of the book that
are not presented in any other edition including the text section from the
horizontal editions. Also included in the Centennial Edition were three Texas
history plays by Jan Isbelle Fortune, "1685 - The Cavalier from France," "1716 -
The Rose Window of San Jose," and "1744 - The Massacre at San Saba."
1943, Magnolia Petroleum sponsored a large size format edition of the work. This
has an orange cover on the book itself and a red, white and blue dust jacket
featuring a photo of the Alamo and seven individual panels from the series. The
contents matched the 1928 P.L. Turner edition containing all 428
That same year, Magnolia Petroleum purchased the copyright to the
booklet editions from The Turner Co. and again reprinted the horizontal editions
and distributed them to schools throughout the state. The Turner Co., however,
retained the publication rights to the larger hardback format books.
1954, while a Senate committee in Washington, D.C. was deciding that comic books
were leading children to juvenile delinquency, the Texas school systems were
reissuing a Texas History Movies reprint as a classroom textbook to
school children throughout the state. This time the Magnolia Petroleum Company
reverted to the digest paperback format measuring 5 ¼" wide by 7" tall. At
128 pages, this edition collects 248 of the newspaper strips running them two to
a page just as the hardcover edition did. This edition stayed in print for
several years and had various similar covers. At least one version, although
noted as copyright 1956, has had the text in the last panel changed to read:
"And Texas has reached the estate of 1959." This indicates that the book was
still reprinted and used in classrooms until that time.
Magnolia Petroleum changed the format of the work, it seemed to include more and
more of the original 428 strips. However by 1961, it had become clear to the
successors to Magnolia Petroleum, Socony-Mobil Oil Co., that some of the
contents of the book had become quite controversial, as racial issues were a
charged topic of those times. They did still recognize the historical value of
the work, however. It was at this time that Socony-Mobil Oil Co. donated their
copyright on the booklet editions to the Texas State Historical
In 1963, The Turner Co. combined the larger Texas History
Movies book with a volume of readings in Texas history by Dallas
teacher/author Bertha Mae Cox. The edition, titled Let's Read About
Texas, was soon out of print, however. It is not known if this edition was
distributed as a textbook.
In 1970, The Turner Co. was acquired by
Graphic Ideas, Inc. They hired Texas history teacher O.O. Mitchell, Jr. to
contribute new text pieces to accompany 400 of the original strips in a new
large format hardback edition. The cover of this edition noted creators Patton
and Mitchell only, and it featured cover artwork of a strip of movie film across
the bottom. It is not known if this edition was distributed as a
In 1974, the Houston Chronicle approached the Texas
State Historical Association about reprinting Texas History Movies as
part of an educational program. The TSHA put together a board of advisors to
examine the work. Anything that the board deemed offensive in the artwork or
text was deleted, altered, or newly created work was substituted. Some panels
were presented out of order with new text which completely changed the original
meaning. Individual panels and at least two entire strips were substituted by an
artist not nearly as talented as Mr. Patton. The booklet the TSHA produced was
titled Texas History Illustrated and they published 100,000 copies. This
edition had only 55 pages and reproduced the equivalent of only 102 strips.
These strips were mainly taken from the 1935 editions. It is evident that they
merely reprinted the format of the 1935 edition at two original pages per page
of the new volume.
In 1986 the TSHA again republished their work, but
this time they reverted to the series original title, Texas History
Movies. This edition had a red and white cover with one panel from the
series featuring Travis at the Alamo.
Also in 1986, in celebration of the
Texas Sesquicentennial, Spaulding E. Jones and Pepper Jones Martinez reprinted
the original 1928 large format book with all 428 strips. There was an exact
replica of the 1928 original hardcover edition and a limited edition exact
replica version as well. The limited edition version was offered at $250.00 per
copy. These large format books were not used in classrooms as they were intended
only for historical reference.
At this time, Pepper Jones Martinez, Inc.
also published a new horizontal version of the book. Utilizing a staff of ten
prominent Texas historians and advisors, they attempted to revise the work by
making it "more accurate historically and more relevant to today's attitudes and
values." Like the TSHA attempt to sanitize the work before them, PJM and their
board cut the strips up, rearranged them and sometimes redrew panels and one
entire strip. They did, however try to keep it to a minimum. The three noted art
changes include: a drawing of a Mexican Governor, unlucky at love, kicking a cat
that had been altered to show him kicking a soldier's helmet instead, two new
panels concerning Santa Anna's destruction of Gail Borden's newspaper press as
he stormed through the capitol at Harrisburg, and several new panels concerning
the legend of Emily Morgan, the "Yellow Rose of Texas." The PJM board primarily
chose to simply leave out offending or non-crucial panels and strips. Sometimes
four panels from four different strips were combined to create a more succinct
passage, but the spirit of the original artwork was still intact. This edition
of the book has 153 pages and more or less reprints 152 of the original 428
The 1986 PJM large hardback and long-digest format reprint book
garnered publicity in many newspapers and magazines in Texas. And it apparently
made friends in unusual places. Several copies of the long-digest format have
been seen with a "Complements of Hochheim Prairie Insurance Companies" sticker
on the inside fly page and back covers. It is evident that this company was
using the PJM version as a premium or gift for signing up.
number of clients that a state-wide insurance company must have and the finite
number of copies of the 1986 edition print run, it is obvious that they would
one day run out. The book must have been a useful premium for the company
because in 1996 they created and published their own version of a cartoon
history of the state in an almost exact format. Published in 1996 by Heritage
Publishing in Dallas Texas Cultural Heritage - An Illustrated
History was an original work commissioned and produced for Hochheim Prairie
Insurance Companies. A three-page introduction tells an interesting story of the
creation of the Hochheim Prairie Insurance Company. And a two-page foreword by
publisher Rod Dockery goes to great lengths to explain the ethnic diversity
necessary to the creation of the state. The artwork in this book is by Raul
Castro. While not as talented as Jack Patton, it is obvious that Castro was
doing his best to emulate the look and feel of the previous work while still
being an original presentation. All in all, a worthwhile effort and much
superior than the new artwork created for the TSHA edition. The text sections
for this book were written by Caleb Pirtle III and are very good. His closing
remarks include this phrase: "They irrigated the land with their blood and their
sweat. When adversity confronted them, they were too determined to run, too
stubborn to quit." That captures the spirit of Texas founding fathers very
Overall, Texas History Movies presented the history of Texas
in a fun, exciting and informative manner. The artwork itself is some of the
best of the time. Expressive and detailed, it is capable of ranging from
slapstick to serious in only 4 panels daily. To make the work resonate with 1926
audience, the creators purposefully used then-current slang and colloquialisms.
For example, one strip features a covered wagon heading to Texas (then known as
New Phillipenas) with "New Phillipenas or Bust" scrawled on the side. In
the original introduction to the hardcover edition, creators Patton and
Rosenfield wrote, "The authors of the series directed every effort to keeping
the stories humorous, human, vivid and real."
Due to the proclivities of
the time during which the work was published however, it is not as politically
correct of a historical presentation as is taught in schools today. It is
important to note that the work does not make any specific group of people out
to be evil, lazy or stupid. Although there are specific instances that depict
Negro slaves, Mexicans, and American Indians in a harsh light, there are also
many more instances that depict Anglos and even Texas' founding fathers just as
In the introduction to the 1970 large format reprint edition,
Mr. Mitchell had this to say:
"Names out of the past become active, living
people with problems, pride, pain and susceptibility to mistakes which make men
of all ages brothers. Though Texas heroes are often portrayed bigger than life,
Texas History Movies also shows them to be quite human in their reactions
to events in their day-to-day lives--and not always too heroic in their
In the daily series, one strip notes Jim Bowie's character as
being peaceful, sociable, generous with his friends and brave. The very next day
reports he traded with pirates at Galveston, bought slaves and smuggled them
into Louisiana, and used his wife's position as daughter of the Lt. Governor of
Texas and Coahuila to his financial advantage. Although satirical and humorous,
the series was fair and honest at the same time. And Texas has always been a
land proud of its history and heritage, warts and all.
It is interesting
to note that both the Centennial edition and the Sesquicentennial editions of
the book celebrated Texas becoming an independent republic in 1836. Indeed in
1986 the Texas Sesquicentennial was a statewide event. However, nine years
later, the 150th anniversary of Texas becoming a State of the Union
passed with hardly a ripple.
Texas History Movies was used in
classrooms every few years from 1928 until 1959. In 1963, 1974 and 1986 it
showed up in classrooms again, although as a reference book and not issued as a
textbook. And the collected works were reprinted to help celebrate both the
Texas Republic Centennial and Sesquicentennial.
Those educated in Texas
schools with the work remember it fondly. Famed editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent
of Austin Statesman credits the book as having an influence on his
interest in Texas history and cartooning as well. Cartoonist and comic book
writer Michael H. Price credits his introduction to Texas History Movies
in the 1950s school system of Amarillo as being crucial to his learning to
cartoon in the first place, and underground creator Jack Jackson readily admits
that it's easy to see the influences of the series in his The Secret of San
Collecting Texas History Movies books is both
challenging and rewarding. The pre-1943 editions all have a combination of
events that severely limit the number of books that have survived to the next
century. They were (primarily) soft cover books that were issued into the care
of school children. In addition, these editions had to survive the paper drives
of WWII. The post-1943 editions up through 1959 still have the problem of being
soft cover books issued to school children, with wear and tear of entire school
years on these them, so getting them in top condition is always a challenge.
Another difficulty for collectors is the original one-state-only
distribution of these books. While the 1986 editions are fairly plentiful,
finding any of the others is difficult even in Texas. Out of state, it used to
be basically impossible, though eBay has improved the odds slightly.
Serious enthusiasts will likely find the long-digest format of 1935/1943
and the standard digests from the 1950s to be the most desirable. This is
because the long-digest format contains an additional 23 strips that have never
been reprinted in any other editions. The 1950's editions contain 248 of the
original 428 strips. Although the 1950's editions are slightly more plentiful,
they contain twice as many strips. To have a copy of all 451 individual strips,
a collector would have to have a copy of one of the large hardback editions
and one of the long-digest formats.
All in all, this work is of
great historical value not just for recognizing comic strips as an educational
media, but also as a wonderful window into both Texas history and the history of
education in the state of Texas.
1926 Original comic strips
begin appearing in the Dallas Morning News
1928 Series ended it run as
a newspaper strip.
1928 Original Hardcover edition
1928 64 Pg. Digest
format. "Movie Theater" cover Saddle stitched/taped.
1932 Pg. Digest format.
"Movie Theatre" cover (c. 1932)
Hardback horizontal edition w/ green cover.
Standard Horizontal edition contents w/ green "Covered Wagon"
1935 Paperback horizontal edition w/ white "Covered Wagon"
Paperback horizontal edition w/ Red & Blue "2 Panel + Flag"
"Centennial Edition" in honor of Texas Republic Centennial.
(Includes text sections appearing nowhere else; Dust jacket features
individual panels and photo of Alamo.)
1943 Paperback horizontal edition w/
Red & Blue "2 Panel + Flag" cover
1954 Digest sized paperback.
1956 Digest sized paperback.
1974 Texas History Illustrated
1986 Replica Edition of original 1928 hardcover edition.
Adams, who became an Overstreet Advisor last year, is a native Texan and
nearly life-long comic book collector. He was worked in the retail,
distribution, manufacturing, production and marketing ends of the business.
This article appeared in slightly different form in The Official Overstreet
Comic Book Price Guide #35, on sale now.