Radior and the Mystery of Dell's Key Ring Comics, Up for Auction

Key Ring Comics was a group of five 16-page, two-color comic books that were sold as a group for ten cents by Dell Publications in 1941.  The issues have two holes punched in them near their spines, as if for a binder.  The features involved are titled Sky Hawk, Greg Gilday, Sleepy Samson, Viking Carter, and Radior.  And that's about the sum total of information that you will find on this series from most references.  If it wasn't for Radior, a rather fascinating radiation-powered hero with a nice superhero cover, these strange little items would mostly pass unnoticed by history. And that's a shame, because they're way more interesting than people think.  These things are elusive, but there are four of the five Key Ring Comics up for auction in the 2022 September 18-19 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122238 at Heritage Auctions.

Key Ring Comics Radior (Dell, 1941)
Key Ring Comics Radior (Dell, 1941)

Here's what else we know about Key Ring Comics:  It seems likely they were meant as a Christmas item.  Packaged comics as gifts, both official and (perhaps) unofficial had already gained traction by this time, and there exists evidence suggesting that Key Ring Comics were sold in department stores for Christmas in 1941, and were still being sold for this purpose as late as 1943 (now discounted to five cents for the five comic set from Sears!).

It also seems probable that most and perhaps all of the titles in Key Ring Comics originated as features or potential features from the short-lived Dell Publications title War ComicsKey Ring Comics Sky Hawk is a reprint from that feature's stories in War Comics #1 & 2.  Greg Gilday is likewise a reprint of material from War Comics #2 & 3. Sleepy Samson was a sidekick comic relief character from the War Comics feature Scoop Mason, War Correspondent.  While Viking Carter and Radior cannot be specifically sourced, it seems likely that they were originally meant for War Comics.

The War Comics title is a bit misleading, as the series was not quite a war comic book in the traditional sense.  The title contains a significant amount of science fiction and superhero material with war themes.  For example, Greg Gilday is like a wild cross between War of the Worlds and an atomic-powered Superman.  War Comics #1 contains a bizarrely fascinating feature called Sikandur the Robot Master in which a foreign dictator sends an android to the United States to steal gold from Fort Knox.  The radiation-powered Radior, who joins the U.S. Army, would have been right at home among this content.

War Comics temporarily ended with issue #4 in early Fall 1941, and as Michael Barrier noted in his Dell Comics history Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books, the publisher's early attempt at superheroes was already on the decline by then.  "The superhero fever was ebbing in the Dell comic books as early as the summer of 1941, when Captain Midnight, a radio hero who lacked superpowers, took Phantasmo's place as the featured character on the cover of The Funnies. At the same time, the emphasis in Super Comics shifted back to comic-strip reprints."

When War Comics was continued as War Stories after a six-month hiatus, it was a more traditional war comic without superpowered heroes or science fiction elements.  Further, the first two War Stories issues simply contain Dell's address, the copyright year, and issue number in a style similar to the Key Ring Comics issues, rather than a traditional periodical comic book indicia. While it seems probable that Key Ring Comics was composed of features from War Comics which no longer had a place in the Dell Publishing comic book lineup, those hole punches and the name Key Ring Comics are still a bit of a mystery.  No surviving packaging for Key Ring Comics is known to exist. Dell Publishing partner Western Printing & Lithographic Co.'s Whitman subsidiary manufactured two-ring binders for the coin collecting hobby and many similar items, so many things could be in play there.

This is all still a fascinating mystery, and you can get four of the five elusive Key Ring Comics up for auction in the 2022 September 18-19 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122238 at Heritage Auctions. If you've never bid at Heritage Auctions before, you can get further information, you can check out their FAQ on the bidding process and related matters.

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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