Gift of a Jew
1933: America is drowning in the depths of the Great Depression when Max Gaines loses his job as a novelties salesman and is forced to move into his mother's house with his wife and two small children. As he lays his battered suitcase on his boyhood bed, the radio informs Max that Adolph Hitler has just been named chancellor of Germany. It is a gray and dreary day. The only cheer Max can find is in some old Sunday funny papers he discovers stored in his mother's attic.
Smiling as he reads the panels, it occurs to him that maybe other people might smile a moment, too, so Max persuades Eastern Color Printing to take a chance on his idea and the “comic book” is born. An initial printing of thirty-five thousand copies quickly disappears from department store shelves. Within a year, comic books are being sold on newsstands all over America. Eastern Color Printing rewards Max Gaines by saying, “Thanks for the idea, Pal. Now get lost.”
Hearing that the McClure Newspaper Syndicate has a pair of idle color presses, Gaines convinces them to let him print a new comic book in return for half the proceeds. McClure agrees and Popular Comics is born. Knowing that the success of recycled newspaper funnies will be short-lived, Max keeps his eyes open for something new. In 1937, McClure Newspaper employee Sheldon Mayer tells Max about a caped and muscled “super man” in red-and-blue tights who can lift an automobile over his head. Every newspaper in New York had rejected the strip, saying, “It's too unbelievable.” But Max Gaines, feeling that he knows the hearts of the people, contacts the strip's creator.
Within 4 short years, 30 comic-book publishers are producing 150 different titles monthly. With combined sales of 15 million copies and a readership of 60 million people, the comic-book industry becomes a rare bright spot in America's Great Depression. Max Gaines has given the nation a beautiful gift. But now, staring into the cold eyes of Goliath – wartime Germany – America needs a patriot hero. And no one understands heroes better than Max. The exploits of Abraham, Moses, Elijah and David have sustained his people for centuries. It is time to create a David for America.
Under the direction of Max Gaines, cartoonists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby createCaptain America to take on the Nazi agent Red Skull. “Two Jews created this weak little guy named Steve Rogers who gets a shot in the arm by scientist Dr. Reinstein, (a reference to Albert Einstein) and by way of a 'secret serum,' he becomes this super-strong hero who starts destroying Nazis,” explains political cartoonist Peter Kuper. “What a distinctly empowering image.”
On a gray afternoon in the dusty attic of his mother, Max Gaines caught himself smiling at some old funny papers and the American comic book industry was born. But the comic book wasn't the most precious gift that he would give. On a sunny afternoon, Gaines was boating on Lake Placid with his friend Sam Irwin when a speedboat was suddenly upon them. In that singular, reflexive moment when time stands still and men's hearts are revealed, Max could either jump out of the way or toss Sam's young child to safety; there wasn't time to do both. Gaines throws the boy into the back of the boat and absorbs the full impact of the crash.
The boy was unhurt.
Max Gaines died instantly.
Roy H. Williams
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