10 Mar 2011

Four-Colour Yesteryears: Atlas Shrugged (Briefly…), Part I

In Four-Colour Yesteryears we delve back into the past to look at the periods, events and creators that helped shape the medium.

By Rob N

In late 1974/early 1975, young British comic fans were confronted by a sudden explosion of new titles when they made their weekend pilgrimage to the local newsagents in search of imported American titles. Their sticky fingers, stained with cheap choc-ices, flicked through a larger than usual crop of comics that included lots of unfamiliar issue #1s. This was not an altogether unusual phenomenon for during the last three years both Marvel and DC had been firing off short-lived new titles at an alarming rate, desperately trying to stake out new ground and recreate some of the excitement of the early Marvel boom of the mid-‘60s. But this time around the masthead on these new titles was wholly unfamiliar. Not Marvel, not DC, not even Charlton (a third rate publisher of frankly substandard comics that no serious Marvel or DC fan was going to waste his money on, thank you very much!) but a new company called Atlas.

What’s this, asked the superhero-obsessed 11 year-olds as they regarded the titles with a mixture of interest and suspicion? Lots of #1s in a format exactly like Marvel or DC? Could this be the start of something really big and for once we’re in at the beginning? Could these new books one day be worth as much as Fantastic Four #1 if we don’t crease the spines too much?

The brainchild of ex-Marvel publisher, Martin Goodman (who had been in charge of the company throughout the 1960s – essentially Stan Lee’s boss) and Larry (brother of Stan Lee) Lieber, plus some bloke from Warren Publishing (who has nothing to do with Stan Lee, so history glosses over him, but his name is Jeff Rovin if you really must know), Seaboard Periodicals was set up as the first direct competition to Marvel since it in turn had taken on the mighty DC and wrestled it to the ground. Legend has it that Atlas was intended as retribution against Marvel, for when Martin Goodman had sold the company, pocketing a vast cheque in the process, he had stipulated that his son, Chip, should be retained as Editor-in-Chief. The promise can’t have been much more than a gentleman’s handshake between consenting weasels, as shortly after Goodman Sr exited the building, his hapless son, Chip Goodman, was replaced by a newly promoted Stan Lee who seized the coveted number one spot with Borgia-like supremacy and skill.

Atlas of course was the name that Marvel used to publish under in the 1950s, and that alone was an immediate broadside and challenge to the House of Ideas that looked on with wry amusement as a new company sought to establish itself overnight during a period that had not exactly been kind to experimental new titles. For Atlas had no intention of dipping a careful toe in the water – it would launch with a slew of monthly comic books designed to cover all genres simultaneously, and damn the torpedoes.

Early indications of success seemed promising. Jim Steranko’s comics magazine of the time, Mediascene,
was quoted as saying: "Obviously angered by the bizarre treatment accorded his son, Martin Goodman re-entered the comics field with an operation that has come to be referred to as 'Vengeance, Inc.' With his previous contacts, a sound financial status, an infallible business sense sharpened by a lifetime in publishing, and a reputation for fair play, Goodman's position looks implacable."

It goes to show in hindsight how little Mediascene knew about launching a new comic company, for within a few short months Atlas was destined to disappear without trace.

Next in Part II: Ditko, Vampires & Chaykin.


Ian said...

Great article Rob. I'd heard the name Atlas but can't say I knew a lot about them. I'm looking forward to Part 2.

Juss said...

Your breathless, words-tumbling, gossipy tone leaves much to be desired. I think this is an interesting subject, but I'd rather not read about it in the way you're choosing to write. Could the next article be a little more formal, sober, or just plain straightforward?

Rob Nott said...

Hi Joseph. Sadly there's unlikely to be much of a change in style as the next 3 part article (the first 20 issues of Savage Sword of Conan) is already written and with Matt, queued up to follow the Atlas one!

Alas, your humble narrator is but a rambling droog who never was very good at writing in a formal style. He is prone to gazing wistfully out of the window while typing irrelevant asides concerning the nature of children's toys in the early '70s that really has no bearing on the subject of comic book history. One day perhaps he will grow up and take things a little more seriously. Still, at least he doesn't clutter up the pages of Wizard each month! ;)

- Rob N

Matt Clark said...

I think this is an interesting subject, but I'd rather not read about it in the way you're choosing to write. Could the next article be a little more formal, sober, or just plain straightforward?

What a ludicrous comment! Essentially your asking Rob to change his style of writing specifically to suit your needs as a reader. It's clearly not a 'textbook' type article and if that's what you're after you'd probably be better served elsewhere.