Did Somebody Say Madam Satan? Pep Comics #16 Heats Up At Auction
While we have written about Madam Satan a few times here on Bleeding Cool over the years, we've never done so twice in one day — until now. Just a few hours before we informed you that Archie Comics had trademarked Madam Satan And Hangman, someone grabbed this Pep Comics #16 CGC 8.5 copy of Madam Satan's first appearance for $11,200.00 at Comic Connect's Jon Berk Collection auction Session 4. Like many of the pre-Archie Pep Comics (the character first appeared in Pep Comics #22), Pep Comics #16 has relatively low census numbers and is tough to get in high grade (that's a phrase that gets used a lot, so let me qualify it by noting four copies in CGC 7.5 or above as of this writing). The census-topping CGC 9.6 copy sold for $40,630.00 at Heritage in November 2016.
The character Madam Satan was created by artist Harry Lucey and writer Abner Sundell. Lucey is well known for going on to become one of the definitive Archie artists. Sundell was a uniquely creative force of nature that someone ought to write a book about some day. He got his start writing and editing for the pulps, where he eventually crossed paths with Louis Silberkleit — the man who put the "L" in MLJ. In addition to Madam Satan, he also co-created Steel Sterling (with artist Charles Biro) for MLJ. Sudnell also worked for Victor Fox, as writer and editor for Fox's comic book and magazine lines.
From Madam Satan to Political Hell
In the 1942, Sundell wrote what must be one of the earliest articles about breaking into comics to have ever appeared, called How to Crash the Comics for The Writer's Year Book.
Sundell continued working largely as a magazine writer and editor throughout the subsequent two decades. By the 1960s, he was an editor for Pageant Magazine, which was launched by comic book publisher (and later magazine and book publisher) Alex Hillman. Notably, a job offer from Pageant to Harvey Kurtzman is part of what prompted William Gaines to turn Mad into a magazine to entice him to stay, Gaines said in later years. At Pageant, Sundell took part in developing a feature article consisting of a list of the five most-effective and five least-effective members of Congress as chosen by (as he would later respond to Congressional inquiries) the responses to a questionnaire sent to 100 Senators and 435 Representatives, and 220 members of the Washington press corps. The poll was published by Pageant Magazine 10 days before the November 3 elections that year, and set off a firestorm of controversy as to the veracity of the poll, followed promptly by a Senate Subcommittee hearing on December 17, 1964.
We have a catch-phrase in the current era for this genre of circumstances that applies pretty well here: Life comes at you fast. One week you're working on a magazine which is basically a combination of glamour models and tabloid headlines — as seen through a Beatnik filter — then a couple weeks later you've got an angry United States Senate breathing down your neck in the wake of Lyndon B. Johnson's re-election. The controversy took its toll on Sundell, and he had resigned from Pageant Magazine by the next summer. He then announced to great fanfare in the press that he intended to become a painter. As described by his family in recent times, Sundell "often drew images from Mexico's past, because he wanted to show that Mexico's history can still be felt in the scenes and life of today."
I'll save further study of the 1964 election controversy for another day, but from Madam Satan to election coverage to paintings of Mexico's past, in total it appears that Sundell was an imaginative creator of wide-ranging abilities and interests.
Mystery Men Mania
Continuing with the general theme of the Jon Berk Collection auction this week, "vintage indies" are stealing the show. An exceptional group of Edgar Church Mystery Men Comics was on offer, setting a number of records, including Mystery Men Comics #1 9.0 (first appearance of Blue Beetle) at $41,000.00, and Mystery Men Comics #3 CGC 9.6 with that classic cover by Lou Fine for $57,000.00.