By Don Christiansen & Dan Spiegle (Whitman)
No ISBN ASIN: B000H7WMWA
Big Little Books were first produced by the Whitman Publishing Company in 1932: compact square-bound tiny tomes, typically 3⅝″ wide and 4½″ tall by 1½″ thick (hand-sized for kids, right?) anything from 212 to 432 pages long, retailing for the magical 10 cents (eventually hiking up to 15 cents) that even the poorest kids could find. Designed as blocks of text on one side accompanied by a full page illustration across the gutter they simply screamed “great value” to the budget-conscious kid who could find the adventures of his/her favourite radio, movie, literary, carton, newspaper strip and eventually toy or comicbook star within those stiffened pages. The very first was The Adventures of Dick Tracy, released in December 1932.
Quickly followed by other publishers such as Saalfield, Goldsmith, World Syndicate and others, the diminutive hardbacks were soon filling the shelves of retail chain shops such as Woolworths with the gaudy dramas of such luminaries as The Shadow, The Gumps, John Carter of Mars, Lone Ranger, Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Popeye and hundreds more. The format proved popular until the 1960s by which time Whitman was the lone survivor, producing TV (including comicbook properties that had made the jump to the small screen such as Aquaman, Fantastic Four and Batman) and toy tie-ins such as the Monkees, Bonanza and Major Matt Mason.
Whitman, based in Racine, Wisconsin had been part of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915, and could draw on the commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts and even a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York. Another connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949).
From 1938 Western’s comic book output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the imprint Dell Comics -and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little and Little Golden/Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western reinvented its comics division as Gold Key, but as always, its strong licenses allowed it to explore other book formats (see our review of Superman Smashes the Mad Director).
From 1968 comes this spiffy little adventure of based on a popular cartoon adventure show in which siblings Chuck and Nancy find two magic rings in a cave. Each has half a coin on it and when the rings are brought together they spell the name Shazzan – mightiest of all Genies!
Transported back to fabled Arabia the kids have been told by the genie that they must return the rings to the true owner before they can go home again, leading to many splendid adventures in the world of the 1,001 Nights…
In this remarkably entertaining and engrossing tale the kids, aided by their flying camel Kaboobie, get one step closer to their final destination when they battle barbarous sky-pirates, winged monsters and the villainous Shalagar, whose spells have enslaved a nation, turned the beautiful Princess Nada Tia into a crystal statue and whose Diamond Sword is the only weapon that can kill a Genie!
Fast-paced, fanciful and exceedingly well-written, Don Christiansen’s story is perfectly complimented by 123 colour plates from the astoundingly talented Gold Key mainstay Dan Spiegle, working in his patented Alex Toth TV cartoon style.
These little gems are long overdue for some sort of collective retrospective, but at least this fine tale can still be found at relatively low prices from various internet retailers, so if you’re intrigued, enthused or simple starved for nostalgia, you know what to do…
© 1968 Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.