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Batom Comics – The Untold History Part 5

posted on May 30, 2015

Amazing Mr. Sponge

With Starbuck Jones successfully launched, the Martin brothers immediately began thinking about a follow-up title. Starbuck Jones alone wasn’t enough on its own to keep their presses running full time and press time was money. They took their head (and only) writer Flash Freeman and artist Phil Holt to lunch at the Silver Grill in the Higbee building on Public Square where they broached the idea of creating a new superhero book. Ideas were tossed around and discarded until at one point Phil, waving his arms around to describe something, accidentally knocked a glass of water onto the hard terrazzo floor. As a waiter brought a sponge and a bucket to mop things up, Flash Freeman (as legend has it) suddenly had his eureka moment exclaiming, “That’s it! Our new super hero is the Amazing Mr. Sponge!”

At that, lunch was over as Flash and Phil rushed the three blocks back to the Batom offices in the Eaton Building to begin fleshing out their idea. When they showed the completed sketches to the Martin brothers, his first comment was, “Shouldn’t The Amazing Mr. Sponge have a kid sidekick?’’ Again, Flash and Phil went back to the drawing board and returned a short time later with a sketch of Absorbing Junior. After giving the new superhero duo his imprimatur, Barry sent them off with instructions to get a book together as fast as they could and reminded them that the next issue of Starbuck was due shortly as well. As the creative pair suddenly realized what a gigantic hole they’d just dug for themselves, they began casting about for ways to pull it off.

The long July Fourth weekend was coming up so Phil drafted some of his buddies from the Cleveland Art Institute to set up camp in his apartment to knock out the first issue of The Amazing Mr. Sponge. Lured with pizza and beer, Phil and four friends and Flash and his typewriter got to work on Friday night for a comic book creating marathon. As soon as Flash would finish a page it would be passed to Phil to lay it out. Phil would pencil and ink the heads and then do a rough layout of the rest of the page. It would then be passed to the nearest free penciler to tighten the figures, and to someone else to finish the backgrounds. Between the smoking, loss of sleep, the heat and lack of air conditioning, and the cramped quarters for the six young men, the apartment soon began to mimic conditions of life on a German U-boat. But youthful energy and exuberance and carried the day and, as the fireworks were going off over Public Square on the Fourth of July, they were nearing the finish line on the inaugural issue of The Amazing Mr. Sponge. They continued through the night and the next morning, bleary and unkempt, Flash and Phil took the finished pages to the Batom Comics offices. What greeted them there was a surprise.

Realizing that he was going to need someone to ride herd on Batom’s now growing line of books, Barry Martin had hired Brady Wentworth to be the managing editor. His introduction to the company’s two-man bullpen was not the most propitious. Before him stood two unkempt, unshaven and sleep deprived young men. As first impressions go, it wasn’t exactly starting off on the right foot. But, as Brady puffed on his first cigar of the day and examined the finished pages, he got quite a different impression. As he turned back to the two weary artists he said, “You two stink… but your work is terrific!” And, with that, Batom Comics began writing its page in comics history.