Sugar, Spike, Everything Nice


When it comes to comic-book pioneers, few have greater credentials than Sheldon Mayer.

He worked as an assistant to New York newspaper cartoonists and an “opaquer” for Fleisher Studios – among numerous other odd jobs as a writer/artist – before breaking into the nascent comic-book industry in 1935.

In fact, Mayer was one of the very first creators to contribute original material to an American comic book. His strips were published by the newly launched National Allied Publications, which would later gain greater renown as DC Comics.

During the mid-1930s, he also worked for Dell Comics and the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, where he discovered – and became a vocal supporter of –  an oft-rejected comic-strip proposal authored by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

As you may have guessed, the comic starred a colorful costumed do-gooder named Superman. Mayer’s strong advocacy of the work convinced M.C. Gaines to pitch the concept to publisher Harry Donenfeld, who needed material for his latest title – Action Comics.

The rest is history, right?

Well, no.

Mayer next accepted a full-time editing job at Gaines’ and Jack Liebowitz’s All-American Comics company and played an important role in the development of such characters as Green Lantern, The Flash and the Justice Society of America.

He also wrote and drew the semi-autobiographical Scribbly strip, which featured a prominent supporting character named Ma Hunkle. She would later gain lasting renown among DC Comics fans as the Golden-Age Red Tornado.

Mayer retired from editing in 1948 to focus on cartooning and created several humor comics for DC, including Leave It To Binky and perhaps his best-loved effort, Sugar And Spike.

Sugar and Spike were essentially the Rugrats decades before that cartoon was even a glimmer in its creators’ eyes. Inspired by home movies of his own children, Mayer hit upon the idea of depicting the world through the eyes of two toddlers who communicate via “baby talk.”

The series started in 1956 and ran until 1971. Mayer expanded his original concept to include Sugar & Spike’s outrageous adventures in the adult world, often throwing in comedic sci-fi elements courtesy of a brilliant baby known as “Bernie The Brain.” Throughout it all, Sugar & Spike never lost their charm.

Failing eyesight forced Mayer to give up the strip in ’71, but he continued to write stories for House of Mystery and other DC horror magazines. He even created a new super-heroine, Black Orchid.

Not wanting to see his beloved Sugar & Spike fall into the hands of others, Mayer secured an agreement with DC stating that only he could produce stories featuring the two toddlers. Happily, he was able to produce new strips after successful cataract surgery for the international market.

This second run ended after Mayer’s death in 1992.

Per the agreement with Mayer, Sugar & Spike have largely remained outside of the DC limelight save for a cameo or two. Fans and creators alike, however, still pine for a collected edition of Mayer’s beloved characters.

If you don’t know what all then hoopla is about, here’s a brief story from Sugar And Spike #15. While the plot and art are as humorous as always (especially if you grew up left-handed), my favorite part of the story is the mayhem both children cause while “discussing” how to best deal with their parents’ apparent insanity.

Enjoy “Mommies Need To Be Managed,” written and drawn by the great Sheldon Mayer.

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3 thoughts on “Sugar, Spike, Everything Nice

  1. As a teenager and younger, I had no interest in comic books with cute characters (kids or funny animals) with the exceptions of Sugar and Spike and of Barks's Scrooge McDuck. The foundation of that exception was primarily in the intelligence of the writing.

  2. Yeah, that's the stuff.I'd dearly love a collection — or at least a chance to see all the overseas work that's never been available here — but I'm afraid if such a project turned out to be lucrative, the current DC would try to do a revival with other hands, the very thing Mayer would have hated most. Perhaps the only thing protecting the integrity of Sugar and Spike is its obscurity, and I'd be downright paranoid about ever tampering with that. Dammit.

  3. When Phil Foglio was writing one of his miniseries for DC – it's been awhile so I forget which but might have been Angel & The Ape – he was casting about for whom to use as the evial mastermind. I suggested Bernie the Brain, which tickled Phil's fancy, but when he checked with DC he was told of the prohibition against using S&S characters. So it was a real agreement and DC was abiding by it back in the early 90s.I would SO buy a Sugar & Spike Archives collection. One problem is that I think a lot of their better stories came along after the first couple dozen issues.

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