Growing up in Rhode Island — where his habit of talking in class earned him the admonishment "busybody" from teachers, and the subsequent nickname "Busy" from classmates — Everett M. Arnold graduated from Brown University with an economics degree in 1921, years later receiving the Brown Alumni Association's Brown Bear Award for service to his alma mater. He found work with the printing press manufacturer R. Hoe and Company, and later spent 12 years as the Eastern sales representative for New York City's Goss Printing Company. There he sold presses to Waterbury, Connecticut's Eastern Color Printing (future publisher of the first American comic book, Famous Funnies #1, May 1934), and to the McClure Syndicate in Baltimore, Maryland.
Circa 1930, either Arnold persuaded Buffalo, New York printer Walter Koessler to invest in a color plant in order to print comics, or vice versa, depending on the reference source. In either event, Arnold became vice president of Koessler's Greater Buffalo Press and learned publishing as the company began printing a large number of color-comic newspaper sections. In 1936, Arnold gave either financial or other, unspecified help to the New York City-based Comics Magazine Company, founded by John Mahon and Bill Cook, former employees of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's National Allied Publications, the primary forerunner of DC Comics. The duo published the premiere issue of The Comics Magazine (May 1936), using inventory content from National Allied's submissions. The original features (as opposed to color comic-strip reprints, as Famous Funnies published) included the Doctor Occult spin-off Dr. Mystic the Occult Detective (not to be confused with "The Spirit Section"'s Mr. Mystic), by future Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The Comics Magazine and other titles from the company — which would evolve into Centaur Publications — would not, however, become the hits that Famous Funnies had proved to be.
The enterprising Arnold, deducing that Depression-era audiences wanted established quality and familiar comic strips for their hard-earned dimes, formed the suitably titled Comic Favorites, Inc. in collaboration with three newspaper syndicates: the McNaught Syndicate, the Frank J. Markey Syndicate, and Iowa's Register and Tribune Syndicate. Hiring famed cartoonist Rube Goldberg and Goldberg's assistant, Johnny Devlin, Arnold in mid-1937 began publishing Feature Funnies, which cannily mixed color reprints of hit strips (including Joe Palooka, Mickey Finn and Dixie Dugan) with a smattering of new features. His first office as at 389 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.
The new material came from comics "packagers", small studios that sprang up to produce comics on demand for publishers looking to enter the emerging comic-book field. Arnold initially bought from the quirkily named Harry "A" Chesler shop, but later relied solely on Eisner & Iger, headed by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger. "I believe the first feature I purchased from Eisner & Iger was 'Espionage' in 1938 for Feature Comics (then Feature Funnies)," Arnold recalled in the early 1970s.So as not to rely on outsourcing exclusively, Arnold also began developing an in-house staff, with George Brenner, writer-artist of comic books' first masked adventurer — the Comics Magazine Company's The Clock — among his first employees. In 1939, Arnold and the owners of the Register & Tribune Syndicate's parent company, brothers John Cowles, Sr. and Gardner Cowles, Jr., bought out the McNaught and Markey interests. Arnold became 50% owner of the newly formed Comic Magazines, Inc., the corporate entity that would publish the Quality Comics line. That year Quality released Smash Comics #1 (Aug. 1939), the company's first comic book with exclusively new material.
In February 1940, Arnold moved his offices from New York City to the Gurley Building in Stamford, Connecticut, with staffers by now including editor Ed Cronin, Gill Fox, Plastic Man creator Jack Cole, Tony DiPreta, and Zoltan Szenics. "Since it was a long round trip for [acclaimed artist] Lou Fine (who was partially crippled) to make each day", Arnold recalled, "I rented a studio for Lou in the Woodstock Tower in Tudor City, a large Manhattan high-rise complex". Quality Comics quickly grew to encompass such hit titles and characters as Hit Comics, Military Comics, National Comics, Police Comics, and Crack Comics ("crack" as in "being at the top of one's form", like a crack sharpshooter), featuring the popular characters Blackhawk, Doll Man, Plastic Man, Kid Eternity, and Uncle Sam, among others.
The name Quality Comics, the Connecticut Historical Society notes, debuted on the cover of Crack Comics #5 (Sept. 1940; see at left). "Seemingly never an official publishing title, the Quality Comics Group is a trademarked name (presumably taking its name from Stamford’s nickname of "the Quality City") encompassing Comic Favorites Inc., E.M. Arnold Publications, Smash Comics, and any other imprints owned by Arnold". A 1954 federal document noted that the Quality Romance Group, owned by Everett M. and Claire C. Arnold, with an office at 347 Madison Avenue, in New York City, published two titles as Arnold Publications, Inc., two titles as Comic Favorites, Inc., and 14 titles as Comic Magazines, Inc.
In late 1939, Arnold orchestrated two roughly concurrent events. First, he made Will Eisner an offer to join Quality Comics' art staff. Eisner agreed to a complicated arrangement in which, Eisner recalled, "I regarded him as a partner and he thought of me as an employee". Whatever the specific business details, "The Eisner-Iger amalgam was dissolved, Iger buying out his partner's share of the organization", wrote historian Jim Steranko, who interviewed both Eisner and Arnold in the early 1970s. "In the bargain, Eisner took the shop's key men with him: Viscardi [also known as Nick Cardy], Fine, Bob Powell, Chuck Cuidera, and others".
Second, Arnold explored an expansion into newspapers, with the idea of a Sunday-supplement comic-book section. Compiling a presentation piece with existing Quality Comics features, he contacted editors he knew from when he was vice president of Greater Buffalo Press. An editor of The Washington Star liked George Brenner's "The Clock", but not Brenner's art, and was favorably disposed toward a Lou Fine strip. Arnold, concerned over the meticulous Fine's slowness and his ability to meet deadlines, claimed it was Eisner's work. Arnold and Eisner had already been discussing a new feature, which would evolve into The Spirit.
In "late '39, just before Christmas time, 'Busy' came to me and said that the Sunday newspapers were looking for a way of getting into this comic book boom", Eisner recalled in 1979. In a 2004 interview, he elaborated on that meeting:
"Busy" invited me up for lunch one day and introduced me to Henry Martin[, sales manager of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Syndicate, who said, "The newspapers in this country, particularly the Sunday papers, are looking to compete with comics books, and they would like to get a comic-book insert into the newspapers". ... Martin asked if I could do it. ... It meant that I'd have to leave Eisner & Iger [which] was making money; we were very profitable at that time and things were going very well. A hard decision. Anyway, I agreed to do the Sunday comic book and we started discussing the deal[, which] was that we'd be partners in the 'Comic Book Section', as they called it at that time. And also, I would produce two other magazines in partnership with Arnold.
Eisner negotiated an agreement with the syndicate in which Arnold would copyright The Spirit, but, "Written down in the contract I had with 'Busy' Arnold — and this contract exists today as the basis for my copyright ownership — Arnold agreed that it was my property. They agreed that if we hade a split-up in any way, the property would revert to me on that day that happened. My attorney went to 'Busy' Arnold and his family, and they all signed a release agreeing that would not pursue the question of ownership". This would include the eventual backup features, "Mr. Mystic" and "Lady Luck".
Martin of the Register and Tribune Syndicate signed a contract for a 16-page weekly section. After Arnold sold it to The Washington Star, The Baltimore Sun and The Philadelphia Record, the syndicate then acted as sales agent. "The Spirit Section", as it came to be colloquially called, eventually appeared in 20 major newspapers, premiering June 2 1940, and continuing through 1952.
Later in the 1950s, Quality Comics followed the prevailing comics trends away from superheroes to a wide range of genres. This included a single horror entry, Web of Evil, that nonetheless made Arnold's otherwise wholesome company a target, like many other comics publishers, as a supposed factor in juvenile delinquency, as charged by Dr. Fredric Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent and Congressional hearings led by Senator Estes Kefauver. Together with his acclaimed staff's individual departures as time went on, Arnold in 1956 closed his company, selling most of its properties to DC Comics. The final Quality titles, including Heart Throbs #46, Robin Hood Tales #6, and Yanks in Battle #4, were cover-dated December 1956.
He started Arnold Magazines, Inc., edited by Alfred Grenet, with editorial offices at 303 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Mostly 35-cent digests, his publications included Homicide Detective Story Magazine, which ran stories by John D. MacDonald and William Campbell Gault. It later became Killers Mystery Story Magazine. Among its sister publications were Crime and Justice Detective Story Magazine (which included writers G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Robert Sidney Bowen, Harlan Ellison and Edward D. Hoch) and Terror Detective Story Magazine, each of which ran four issues from 1956 through March 1957. Blazing Guns, a Western digest, ran at least three issues during that time, as did Classic Photography, an innocuous (by modern standards) magazine of photo techniques plus shots of nude and semi-nude women; issue #3 (Spring 1957) featured Bunny Yeager on the cover.
The Autumn and Fall 1956 issues were deemed "obscene" by the Post Office, and not applicable for second-class (standard magazine) mailing rates Biographical detail for Arnold is sketchy after this; Steranko's History of Comics in 1972 referred to Arnold, by then in his late 60s, as taking "a long Florida vacation".