When Eastern went out of business in 1932, Goodman joined several other investors, including Silberkleit, and founded Mutual Magazine Distributors as part owner, and was appointed editor of Mutual's sister company, Newsstand Publications Inc. Goodman's first publication for Newsstand was Western Supernovel Magazine, cover dated May 1933. The second issue was re-titled Complete Western Book Magazine, dated just two months later. The new publishing company quickly added further pulp magazines to its lineup, including All Star Adventure Fiction, Mystery Tales, Real Sports, Star Detective, the science fiction magazine Marvel Science Stories and the jungle-adventure Tarzan knock-off Ka-Zar.
|Martin Goodman quickly established his publishing philosophy - look at the newsstands, see what other houses were publishing then launch a copy. Rinse, repeat.|
Goodman's company didn't really have an identity. He'd publish each title under a different company name - Margood Publishing Corp, Marjean Magazine Corp and so on. That way, he could make sure that if one title ran into trouble, its misfortunes couldn't affect the rest of his publishing line. It was a practice he'd continue well into the 1960s.
As the 1930s wore on, sales of the fiction pulps were declining and there was a new fad gaining traction with kids at the newsstands ... comic books. National were having a great success with their costumed characters Superman and Batman, and Goodman, ever willing to jump on a bandwagon, contacted comic strip packager Funnies Inc and had them put together material for a 64 page book, Marvel Comics. The comic's first printing, cover dated Oct 1939 sold out its 80,000 print run in a week. Goodman immediately reprinted Marvel Comics 1 with "Nov" overprinted on the cover and this time sold out the 800,000 print run almost as quickly.
With a major hit on his hands, Goodman then quickly lured Funnies Inc editor Joe Simon away and set up what would come to be called Timely Comics. Daring Mystery Comics 1 (Jan 1940) quickly followed, then the Jack Kirby-drawn one-shot Red Raven Comics 1 (Aug 1940), which flopped and was quickly re-tooled as Human Torch 2 (Fall 1940).
|With Marvel (Mystery) Comics a success, Goodman followed up as quickly as he could, according to his own established publishing philosophy, with Daring Mystery Comics and Red Raven, which morphed into a solo title for The Human Torch with issue 2.|
Through the 1940s, Goodman lavished far more attention on his magazines, or "slicks" as they were referred to, which he saw as far more reputable than the comics. Yet most of those publications are now lost in the mists of history. It's been very difficult to uncover any information on these magazines, beyond their subject matter.
|The first issue of Popular Digest was cover-dated September 1939, just one month ahead of Marvel Comics, and was published by Timely Publications. Coincidence? I think not.|
But Goodman's most successful magazines - Stag and Male - were, ironically, a good deal less respectable than his comics line.
had begun in 1942 in response to the far more successful (and still extant) Esquire magazine. Goodman was always one to follow trends rather than to create them (as documented in umpteen other posts on this blog) and launched his version Stag in direct response. Or rather almost. The first issue of Stag was more of a compilation of cartoons from other magazines, printed on bulky pulp-style paper. But the following month, Goodman transformed the magazine and tried to publish something closer to the formula of Esquire.
|An editor called J. Alvin Kugelmass brought the idea of imitating Esquire magazine on a much lower budget to Goodman, and the publisher - ever vigilant for a bargain - jumped in with both feet.|
|Where Esquire had Vargas pinups, Stag used Peter Driben. Though I'm a fan of Driben's work - later made much more famous on tame 1940s and 1950s girlie mags like Titter and Wink - he's certainly not in the same class as Vargas.|
A few years later, with sales on Goodman's comic line declining, Writers' Digest for August 1948 carried an announcement that Goodman was about to re-launch Stag magazine, with Stan Lee as editor. However, the plans fell through due to "distributor trouble" and the following year, another re-launch was announced, this time with Bruce Jacobs as editor.
Stag's subsequent success would launch a whole raft of what would come to be referred to affectionately as "men's sweat" magazines - a kind of cross between spicy pulps and coy girlie magazines. Completely by accident, Goodman had actually started a trend, and Stag and its other companion magazines would enjoy considerable success until the late 1960s, when market forces would compel Goodman to transform his line of men's mags into soft porn publications.
|Coming very much from a pulp tradition, artists Mort Kunstler and Earl Norem were two of the most prominent artists of the Men's Sweat magazine genre, often including pretty racy, fetish-themed material into their newsstand-displayed covers.|
As an impressionable lad of 11 or 12, I recall seeing issues of Stag and Male at the newsstands I would haunt while looking for Marvel Comics around 1963 and 1964. Despite the siren-call of the lurid cover art, I'd never pluck up the courage to pick one up and look inside, fearful that the proprietor would shoo me away if I were to show too much interest in these forbidden publications. So the contents will forever remain a mystery.
But for all that, it's as well to remember that Marvel's late Sixties and early Seventies foray into comic magazines was likely inspired by these slightly eccentric magazines.
IT'S SPECTACULAR, ALL RIGHT ...Back in 1957, when Goodman had found himself without a distributor, he was forced to go cap-in-hand to DC Publisher Jack Liebowitz and submit to a draconian eight-titles-a-month deal in order to get his comics on the stands. Though Liebowitz's Independent News allowed Goodman to add a few extra titles across the ten-year contract, Marvel was still only publishing 14 titles a month at the end of 1967. By the beginning of 1968, after Kinney National Company bought out DC Comics and Independent News, Marvel was finally freed up to expand its line of comics, and Goodman set about expanding his anthology titles Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish into six titles. A year later, Independent News went out of business and both Marvel and Saturday Evening Post owner Curtis were sold to Perfect Film and Chemical Company, so it made sense for Curtis to distribute Marvel's comics.
|The first sign that something was up was when the three anthology titles were each given over to one of their co-stars, changing their titles so that Astonish, Suspense and Strange Tales all disappeared.|
|The existence of this title has always puzzled me. I've never understood why it was needed, when Stan could have just launched Namor and Iron Man in their own books the same month as Hulk took over Astonish and Cap took over Suspense.|
The first inkling I had about Marvel's aggressive expansion plans was when I stumbled across copies of Iron Man and Sub-Mariner 1 and Iron Man 1 in a small newsagent in Wemyss Bay in Scotland, in the summer of 1968. While I wasn't that mad about IM&SM1, I though the first issue of Iron Man was a very wonderful development, as I was a massive fan of Gene Colan at the time (still am) and the thought of 20 pages of Colan Iron Man at a time was beyond fantastic.
|Incredibly, that tiny newsagent is still there in Wemyss Bay. I haven't been there for fifty years, but I'm very happy that one of my essential childhood haunts is still alive and well.|
|The fully-painted cover and the grey-tone interior artwork were a revelation to me, as I'd never seen a comic like that before. And it was full magazine-size rather than the smaller 10x7 inch comic size.|
A couple of years earlier, someone had given my younger brother an illustrated Walt Disney storybook, but the pictures were full colour paintings of Mickey and Donald on a caravan holiday. I used to love those illustrations. Perhaps they were even by Carl Barks, but it's such a long time ago I can't be sure. The Spectacular Spider-Man cover was even better, because that was an oil painting of a super-hero - something fans may take for granted today, but back in 1968, it was nothing short of revolutionary.
Though it was based on a John Romita drawing, the execution of the cover painting was by Harry Rosenbaum. Little is known about Rosenbaum beyond his work for some of Goodman's men's magazines, and his later cover paintings for a couple of the Skywald mags put out by Sol Brodsky during his temporary split from Marvel Comics in the early 1970s.
The inside of the book was also pretty impressive. The story was mammoth length, at 52 pages, allowing for some spectacular six-page fight sequences by John Romita, and some great character scenes by Stan, featuring the usual supporting cast of Spider-Man. Further, Stan appears to have consciously pitched the story at an older readership, by not using a costumed villain, but rather a corrupt politician who uses a strength-enhanced monster to create chaos for his own nefarious purposes.
The reality was that independent publisher Jim Warren had been in this space for a couple of years already, aiming his own black and white mags, Creepy and Eerie, firmly at an older readership, with a horror anthology format that wasn't a million miles away from the classic EC Comics of the 1950s. But all that was lost on me, as I wouldn't come across these Warren comics until much later in my teens.
|Once again, the house ad for Spectacular Spider-Man 2 (Nov 1968), really didn't do the John Romita cover art justice, though this time the interior story was printed in four-colour comic book style, and ran to a mammoth 58 pages.|
With the expanded space, Stan had encouraged John Romita to make the artwork, well, spectacular. So there were fewer panels on a page, with more full-page splashes dotted throughout the story. The supporting characters were once again in evidence, but I couldn't help feeling that this wasn't the direction Stan had envisaged for his magazine-size Spider-Man comic.
|The Interior of the book - Romita layouts, Jim Mooney pencils and Frank Giacoia inks - wasn't vastly different from what readers could see in the regular Amazing Spider-Man comic, just with more pages and bigger panels on the page.|
I have no idea whether this was Stan's idea or if Goodman had imposed this package and approach on Stan in an effort to get better sales, but I think it was the wrong strategy and led to the magazine's cancellation.
PUSSYCAT - A MARVEL ANOMALYRight around the same time that Marvel were trying out the magazine format, Martin Goodman felt the time was right to experiment with a completely different kind of comic magazine. The Adventures of Pussycat had been running in five-page comic strip instalments in some of his men's magazines, like Stag, Men and Male, and had been written by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart and Larry Lieber and drawn by Wally Wood, Jim Mooney and the legendary Bill Ward. The strip was a low-budget riposte to Playboy's successful 1962-1988 "Little Annie Fanny", by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. Goodman had his magazine staff pull together nine episodes and shove them into a 64-page mag, the identical format to the first Spectacular Spider-Man magazine.
It's doubtful that the trial was a success, as only the one issue ever appeared, though the character would continue in Goodman's men's sweat mags until the early 1970s, so it's not like there wasn't the material available.
MARVEL MAGS OF THE 1970sThe commercial failure of these three magazines at the end of the 1960s made Stan and Marvel shy of trying to compete with Warren's comics for quite some time. Right around the time that this was happening, Goodman was in the process of selling Marvel Comics to Perfect Film and Chemical Company, so it's quite possible that he hadn't considered a line of Marvel Comics magazines as a sustainable venture. He may well have just been piling on some product to make Marvel's portfolio of publications appear more attractive to prospective buyers. Then again, it's likely that negotiations with Perfect Film would have been rattling along from the early part of 1968, and that Goodman's comics mags had nothing to do with that.
By 1971, Goodman was halfway out the door at Marvel, and with the success of Robert E. Howard's Conan character in the Marvel colour books and Stan's ascendency to Publisher, Marvel took another swing at the black-and-white mag market with the introduction of the slightly racy Savage Tales, cover dated May 1971.
Besides the cover-featured Conan the Barbarian, the mag also gave us an equally titillating Ka-Zar story by John Buscema, a post apocalypse macho fantasy Femizons drawn by John Romita, a "blaxploitation" story, Black Brother by Denny O'Neil and Gene Colan and the first appearance of Man Thing by Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow (coincidently on sale the same month as DC's House of Secrets 92, which debuted the character Swamp Thing, creation of Gerry Conway's then-roommate Len Wein). But still Marvel struggled with the format.
The second issue of Savage Tales (Oct 1973) wouldn't come along for another two-and-a-half years, featuring mainly Barry Smith's Conan and a few reprints. And by this time, Marvel had already launched Dracula Lives (Apr 1973), Monsters Unleashed (Jun 1973), Vampire Tales (Jul 1973) and Tales of the Zombie (Aug 1973) in an all-out assault on beachhead Warren ...
Next: The Best Marvel Annual