posted on June 9, 2015
The 19th Annual Independent Publisher Book Awards was held in New York City a couple of weeks ago and I was honored to be there to accept a Bronze IPPY Award for Strike Four: The Crankshaft Baseball Book. The awards were held at the Pyramid club which is on 57th Street and pretty much a stone’s throw from my syndicate King Features. Jim Barnes and his crew go all out for the event and it’s always a special evening. Authors came in from as far away as New Zealand for the awards and it made for an exciting and enjoyable night. It was very gratifying to have the Crankshaft book selected and to be a part of this great event.
If you want to see what the fuss was all about, the book is available in the book section of this website. Happy reading.
Batom Comics – The Untold History Part 5
posted on May 30, 2015
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.
Batom Comics – The Untold History Chapter 4
posted on April 11, 2015
The results were in and Starbuck Jones, the first comic book published by the fledging Batom Comics and the brainchild of writer Flash Freeman, was an astoundingly modest success – which was more than the publishers Barry and Thomas Martin had dared hope. Breaking even is generally not the goal that a new enterprise is shooting for, but in the summer of 1954, the entire comic book industry was barely breaking even so, all in all, the opening of of a bottle of champaign was not totally inappropriate.
The upstart company had scored with a superhero comic when superheroes were waning, and with science fiction which was never a big genre in comic books. And they did it with a stern faced Starbuck Jones on the cover firing a ray gun at the unseen foes who had shot his faithful right hand robot, Issac, thus defying two of Martin Goodman’s dictums against rockets, ray guns and robots. The rockets would come on the next cover because there would actually be a next cover thanks to the sales success of the first issue. In an interesting side note, the first issue of Starbuck Jones was actually numbered No.7. The Martin brothers feared that their audience of twelve-year-olds might not want to risk their dimes on an untested commodity, so the numbering began with number 7 to make it appear that the book had been around for awhile. However helpful this move may have been at the time, it created havoc with future collectors.
They also did it with a distribution system that was stacked against them. DC National, Dell, Archie and to a lesser extent Atlas and Charlton Comics all ruled the distribution roost. The distributors knew them as familiar commodities and were loath to give an upstart company from the midwest much if any attention at all. The first issues of Starbuck Jones could have been doomed to mold in their Third Street warehouse without a posthumous break from the publisher’s father.
Their father’s publishing business in Cleveland had been a good one, and the lynchpin client was without a doubt the local weekly Cleveland Catholic Diocese paper the Kingdom Come Gazette. It was the firm’s biggest client and it brought with it clout in the community including clout with the manager and devout Catholic who ran the midwest’s largest distributor of periodicals. When the first Batom Comic showed up he was at first inclined to consign it to the lowest circle of distributor hell, but, upon recognizing the publisher’s name, decided to do what he could to honor the memory of a departed friend and former client and helped to position the premier Starbuck Jones issue along side the better known brands like Superman and Archie. The east coast distributors seeing what he had done simply followed suit out of fear of being left out on the next big thing. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Still, Batom Comics were far from out of the woods. Down time on their presses cost them money and they were going to need more than one comic book to stay afloat. Once again, it would be the creative mind of Flash Freeman that would come to the rescue.