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Gift of a Jew

It’s 1933, the lowest point in America’s Great Depression, when Max Gaines loses his job as a novelties salesman and is forced to crowd into his mother’s house with his wife, Jessie, and their two small children. Adolph Hitler has just been named chancellor of Germany. It’s a dreary, overcast day.

The only cheer Max can find is in some old, Sunday funny papers that he finds stored in his mother's attic. Smiling as he reads the panels, it occurs to him that maybe other people might smile, too. Max persuades Eastern Color Printing to take a chance on his idea and the first American comic book is born. Thirty-five thousand copies are shipped to department stores and quickly disappear from the shelves. Less than a year later, comic books are being sold on newsstands from coast to coast. Eastern Color Printing rewards Max 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 would 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 “Superman” in red-and-blue tights who can lift an automobile over his head. The strip has already been rejected by every New York newspaper as being too unbelievable, but Max Gaines knows the hearts of the people.

In 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, making the comic-book industry 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 Gaines. The exploits of Abraham, Moses, Elijah and David have sustained his people for centuries. It’s time to create a David for America.

Cartoonists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America in 1941 to take on the Nazi agent Red Skull. “Two Jews created this weak little guy named Steve Rogers who gets 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.”

The comic book industry was born on a gray afternoon in the dusty attic of Max Gaines’ mother when he caught himself smiling at some old funny papers during the depths of the Great Depression. But the comic book wasn’t the most precious gift Max would ever give. On August 20, 1947, 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 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 threw the boy into the back of the boat and absorbed the full impact of the crash.

The boy was unhurt.

Max Gaines died instantly.

~ Roy H. Williams

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Invisible Heroes is a collection of more than 100 biographical stories written by Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads. You can read a few of these stories in the archives of this web page, but most of them are inaccessible because they're soon to be published in a book.

We create our heroes from our hopes and dreams. And then they create us in their own image. Heroes raise the bar we jump and hold high the standards we live by. They're the embodiment of all we're striving to be.

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