Harry Blackstone Sr. (1885-1965) was one of the most famous and successful magicians of his or any era. His career spanned more than four decades, during which he toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe. Blackstone was known for his grandiose stage shows, which often featured elaborate illusions and large-scale productions. He helped to popularize magic as an entertainment form in the twentieth century, and he was very effective at marketing himself with the help of Shadow creator William Gibson among others. A magician himself, Gibson wrote extensively about magic, including ghost-writing articles for Harry Houdini and Blackstone, and writing comics and a radio show based on the fictional adventures of Blackstone. There are several issues of the various incarnations of the Blackstone series up for auction in the 2022 June 5-6 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122223 from Heritage Auctions.
Blackstone debuted in comic books in 1941 as the headliner of Street & Smith’s Super-Magician Comics. This lasted until the March 1946 cover-dated issue, when a magician called Nigel Elliman was abruptly created to replace Blackstone in the series. The very next month, Blackstone, Master Magician Comics debuted from publisher Vital Publications. The series lasted only three issues, and was written by Gibson with artwork Elmer C. Stoner. Vital Publications was run by Julien J. Proskauer, who was a magician himself and also the president of printing and publishing giant William C. Popper & Co. Like Gibson, Proskauer seems to have had multiple ties to Blackstone, as there exists a signed contract between the three men for a proposed Blackstone’s Magic book, and it appears that William C. Popper & Co. also published a 1946 how-to guide called Blackstone Worlds Master Magician and a souvenir program for the magician’s 1948 tour, both of these with covers drawn by Stoner. Details of that contract also suggest that Proskauer may have been the publisher of the Gibson-edited Conjurors’ Magazine of this period, and it’s possible that he tempted the Gibson/Blackstone comic concept away from Street & Smith by offering both men a more ambitious magic-focused publishing platform.
But the comic book part of that, at least, didn’t last very long. Blackstone comic books next turn up with Blackstone, the Magician Detective #1 from EC Comics. This series lasted only one issue under EC, with the series numbering continuing with a Marvel/Timely series for three additional issues. It has been suggested that the EC Comics series was cut short by the death of founder Max Gaines that year. This seems possible and perhaps likely, because of course, that wouldn’t have been the only course change made at EC Comics during this period. Notably, Proskauer also had somewhat unusual business ties with both Street & Smith and Timely, which might possibly suggest that he had some hand in the fate of the comic title throughout the period. Furthermore, Beyond the 1946 Vital Publications comic series and the William C. Popper & Co.-published items, Vital Publications published at least two Blackstone comic book giveaways, in 1948 and 1949, one of which also includes Timely-published material. Proskauer was in the Blackstone publishing business throughout this entire period.
Overall, Blackstone’s history in comics takes some fascinating twists and turns, and includes contributions from important creators in Gibson and Stoner, among others. An overlooked part of the comics of the Golden Age, there are several issues of the various incarnations of the Blackstone series up for auction in the 2022 June 5-6 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122223 from Heritage Auctions.
Blackstone, Master Magician Comics #3 (Vital Publications, 1946) Condition: FN/VF. E. C. Stoner covers and art. Last issue of the title. Overstreet 2021 FN 6.0 value = $72; VF 8.0 value = $142.
Blackstone, the Magician Detective #1 (EC, 1947) Condition: VG/FN. First appearance of the Happy Houlihans. Don Cameron art. Small piece missing on spine. Overstreet 2021 VG 4.0 value = $130; FN 6.0 value = $195.
Blackstone, the Magician #3 (Timely, 1948) Condition: VG-. Features the Blonde Phantom by Mike Sekowsky. Small tape seal on inside front cover and moisture stains. Overstreet 2021 VG 4.0 value = $114.
Blackstone, the Magician #4 (Timely, 1948) Condition: VG. Blonde Phantom backup feature. Overstreet 2021 VG 4.0 value = $114.