Sunday, January 6, 2013

George Edward Brenner (28 Sept. 1908–13 Sept. 1952)

Comic books' first masked hero, the Clock,
from Funny Picture Stories #2
(Dec. 1936, Comics Magazine Co.)
At some point, I became obsessed with unearthing more details about George Brenner. How could it be that the creator of the first masked comic book hero (the Clock), would go so undocumented? The obvious answer is that the man passed away at a very early age—in 1952 at the age of 42, to be precise. This was decades before anybody cared about his work which, if we're honest, was otherwise forgettable.

In interviews with Brenner's contemporaries, Jim Amash elicited lots of anectodal insight about the man during his time at Quality Comics. All of this is documented in the Quality Companion. But after he left (or purportedly was fired from) Quality in 1949, his story goes pretty dark. Only one mention, in a place I couldn't retrace, led me to believe that he moved to Dell/Western after that, and that he suffered an early death. noted the year of his death as 1952.

I'd tried many times to search for possible family members, but his name was too common. I hit paydirt thanks to the ever-expanding amount of public and user-generated data at Here I located data on the entire Brenner clan. (Note: Even though I had an account with Ancestry, I only found Brenner's obituary there after many Google searches, and even then many pages into the results.) Daniel Brenner helped me and had added the following obituary, whose information matched precisely with the existing skeletal details:

GEORGE EDWARD BRENNER, age 43, died on September 13, 1952, at his home in Greenwich, Fairfield County, Connecticut. He was born on September 28, 1908, in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, the son of Walter Brenner, Sr. and Catherine Sheridan. His parents were natives of New York City, NY, and Ireland, respectively. He was a magazine editor and was survived by his wife, Grace Kane Brenner. Burial on September 16, 1952, at Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY. Informant - Mrs. Brenner.
Before this, Dick Arnold (son of Quality's publisher, Busy Arnold) had mentioned that the Brenners lived in Greenwich, and the obituary confirms this man's profession as "magazine editor." But for the first time, I learned the size of his (large extended Catholic) family.

Further data on his line and his father's obituary (a man who also died early) revealed the source of two of Brenner's pen names. The pen name "Wayne Reid" (used on "Bozo") was inspired by his paternal grandmother, Jane Reid, born in Scotland. This obituary also corroborated Walter Brenner's livelihood, in roofing. George's pen name "Scott Sheridan" (used for "Clip Chance") was inspired by his own mother's maiden name. His wife's name doesn't crop up, but perhaps he married after he'd ceased  writing comics himself.

Down a different path, I sought to follow up on a comment made by Gill Fox, who said to Amash (Alter Ego #12, Jan. 2002) that Brenner had played football for Villanova University, near Philadelphia. Great! I thought, a solid lead. But naturally, when I tried to research this, all records at Villanova came up empty for his name. Inquiries to both the alumni and athletics departments returned no hits. This made me question whether he actually graduated; did he even attend?

Brenner was born in 1908, which would have put his college graduation around 1929 (he was 21 at the time of the 1930 census and a member of his parents' household). This was precisely when the stock market crash happened, then the Depression. His father was a roofing contractor, so it's possible that building related business dried up; perhaps his family couldn't afford for him to finish college?

Since he and Grace had no children, the best chance at learning more about George Brenner lies with his brothers' families. If I find anything, you'll be the first to know, but the available data stops short of revealing whether they had children either. Another anomaly is that his family appears solidly in the 1930 census, but can be found nowhere in that of 1940. I have found a reference to his brother's wife—cross your fingers! I'm hoping to find some Holy Grail level information, but the situation is tough...

Geroge Brenner was lead editor at Quality from March 1943–July 1949.

Read my original biography on George Brenner in the Quality Companion!


Brenner's Ghost(s)

Another detail that I'd missed when writing the Quality Companion was an interview by Jim Amash with Fran Matera (Alter Ego #59, June 2006), who talked about Brenner using ghost artists on "The Clock," which is obvious to anyone reading the strip in succession.
These panels are both from Crack #21 (Feb. 1942), but the man on the left looks like a classic Brenner rendering, while that on the right would never have appeared in his work. Also, the humor and roundness in Butch's face are new.

Matera said, "He gave me the feature. Whoever had drawn it may have left, and George gave the assignment to me." Looking at the art, there are subtle changes that appear about when the strip introduced the Clock's sidekick, Butch, Crack Comics #21 (Feb. 1942) . There's a shift from Brenner's static, flat, mimeographed style beginning at this time. Characters' features have more volume and the influence of Eisner's "Spirit" style—special splash pages, a domino mask, and noir-like humor—seeps in.

No comments:

Post a Comment