New York City
January 14, 1991 (aged 75–76)|
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
|Area(s)||Writer, Editor, Publisher|
There Oughta Be a Law!|
Harry Shorten (1915–1991) was an American comic book writer, editor, and book publisher best known for the syndicated gag cartoon There Oughta Be a Law!, as well as his work with Archie Comics and his long association with Archie's publishers Louis Silberkleit and John L. Goldwater. From the late 1950s until his 1982 retirement, Shorten was a book publisher, overseeing such companies as Leisure Books, Midwood Books, Midwood-Tower Publications, and Belmont Books.
Early life and education
Shorten attended New York University, where he played halfback for the football team and acquired the nickname "Streaky." He graduated from NYU in 1937 with a degree in geology.
After graduation, Shorten played professional football for a couple of years. He also wrote a book (with football coach Mal Stevens), called How to Watch a Football Game (Leisure League of America, 1937).
Shorten began his career as a writer with the pulp magazine publisher Columbia Publications (co-owned by Silberkleit) before moving on to MLJ Comics (later known as Archie Comic Publications). As a writer, Shorten co-created a number of superheroes for MLJ's imprint Dark Circle Comics. In January 1940, with artist Irv Novick, Shorten created the Shield, the first USA patriotic comic book hero. That same year, Shorten also co-created with artist Bob Wood The Firefly. The Black Hood, another 1940 Shorten creation, became a popular character and in 1943 was given his own title, Black Hood Comics. Shorten occasionally used the MLJ house pen name "Cliff Campbell" for his comics writing, but didn't do much writing for MLJ after 1941 because of his editorial duties.
In 1940, Shorten was named managing editor at MLJ. Titles Shorten edited at MLJ included Shield-Wizard Comics, Pep Comics, Top-Notch Comics, Black Hood Comics, Hangman Comics, Jackpot Comics, and Zip Comics. He stayed at MLJ until 1957.
There Oughta Be a Law!
In 1944, while still at MLJ, Shorten made his fortune by creating a gag cartoon called There Oughta Be a Law!, with illustrator Al Fagaly. The panel was modeled after Jimmy Hatlo's They'll Do It Every Time), and eventually incorporated reader ideas (including elected politicians who wrote in with suggestions), and was syndicated by McClure Newspaper Syndicate. Shorten provided the scripts, Fagaly the art. There Oughta Be a Law! ran from 1944–1984; Fagaly died in 1963, and the strip was later produced by Frank Booth, Warren Whipple, and Mort Gerberg. Shorten provided scripts until 1970.
From 1957–1962, Shorten was publisher of Midwood Books. Looking for an investment in the financial results of his comics, Shorten decided to become editor of pulp paperbacks. He wanted to follow the example of publishers like Beacon Books and Universal Distributing, which specialized in publishing cheap, lightweight books telling dramatic or erotic romances, with suggestive covers, for a male audience. Midwood Books was named after Shorten's neighborhood of Midwood, Brooklyn; the publishing house itself was headquartered at 505 Eighth Avenue in Manhattan (along with fellow pulp publisher Lancer Books).
Midwood's first release were paperback collections of Shorten's There Oughta be a Law comic strips, and an unnumbered book series in the same style as Beacon. Contributors included Loren Beaucham (a.k.a. Robert Silverberg), Sheldon Lord (a.k.a. Lawrence Block), Alan Marshall (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake), and Clyde Allison. Cover artists included Rudy Nappi and Paul Rader.
Unlike other New York publishers like Bennett Cerf and Random House, Shorten did not know much about literature or good books, but he knew what would entice the average American reader. His books were bright, colorful, and eye-catching. The covers sold the books: many pages contained sex scenes full of insinuations and veiled references. Although romances and melodramas were of more interest to women, the target audience of Midwood was men. This was apparent from their covers, and artists such as Nappi, Rader, and Robert Maguire were significant to Midwood's success.
From 1965–1969, Shorten was managing editor of Tower Comics, a division of the paperback publisher Tower Books (the parent company of which, Tower Publications, had earlier acquired Midwood Books). Shorten "cut a dream deal with comic book artist Wally Wood" in which Shorten would be the managing editor and "Wood would be granted a wide latitude of creative and business freedom devoid of a 9-to-5 office job or hefty administrative duties, and be allowed to concentrate on creating characters and concepts for an expanding line of superhero comics." When it became obvious Wood could not handle the volume of material Shorten wanted to publish, Shorten hired Samm Schwartz, who had worked for many years as an Archie Comics artist. Schwartz handled the scheduling of all the material and assignments of scripts and art other than Wood's own.
Tower was most notable for Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents; notable creators associated with Tower included Wood, Schwartz, Dan Adkins, Gil Kane, Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko, Richard Bassford, Len Brown, Steve Skeates, Larry Ivie, Bill Pearson, Russ Jones, Roger Brand, and Tim Battersby-Brent. The company went defunct in 1969.
Retirement and death
Shorten retired in 1982, moving from Rockville Center, Long Island, to Pompano Beach, Florida. He and his wife Rose had two daughters. Shorten died from the effects of a stroke on January 14, 1991; he was 76 years old.
- How to Watch a Football Game, with Mal Stevens (Leisure League of America, 1937)
- There Oughta Be a Law!, with Al Fagaly (Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.: Graphic Publications, 1952) — introduction by Danny Kaye; reprinted in 1966 by Tower Publications
- There Oughta Be a Law no. 4, with Al Fagaly (Midwood, 1958)
- There Oughta Be a Law (New York: Roband Productions, 19??)
- There Oughta Be a Law (New York: Belmont Books, 1969)
- There Oughta Be a Law (New York: Modern Promotions [A Unisystems Company], 1970, 1971) — a "unibook"
- There Oughta be a Law (Belmont Books, 1969, 1971)
- Harry Shorten's There Oughta be a Law (Belmont Tower, 1974)
- There Oughta be a Law (New York: Belmont Tower, 1976)
- "Harry Shorten, Creator Of Cartoon, Dies at 76," New York Times (Jan. 17, 1991).
- Shorten entry, Who's Who of American Comic Books, 1928-1999. Accessed Feb. 25, 2017.
- Fernandex, Maria Elena. "Obituaries: Harry Shorten, 'Archie' Cartoonist," Sun-Sentinel (January 22, 1991).
- "The Shield". An International Catalogue of Superheroes. internationalhero.co.uk. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
- Black Hood Comics, MLJ imprint, 1941 Series at the Grand Comics Database.
- Hangman Comics, MLJ imprint, 1941 Series at the Grand Comics Database
- Zip Comics, MLJ imprint, 1941 Series at the Grand Comics Database.
- Montgomery, Paul L. "Pulp Sex Novels Thrive as Trade Comes Into Open," New York Times (September 5, 1965).
- Klein, Robert and Michael Uslan. "Introduction," T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives Volume 1 (DC Comics, 2002).
- Harry Shorten at the Comic Book DB