Batom Comics – The Untold History Chapter 2
posted on July 18, 2014
The fifties were a really star crossed time to start a comic book company, and 1954 in particular was the hands down worst year in the decade. The industry was reeling from attacks by parents groups, state and local legislatures, and, in April of that year, from a Senate subcommittee. Chief architect of this war on comics was Dr. Frederich Wertham who had made it his personal crusade to banish comic books from the face of the Earth. No single individual was more responsible the downfall of a number of comic book companies, the destruction of the careers of many fine artists, and the stigmatization of an entire art form. His articles in popular magazines such as the Ladies Home Journal lit the fuse with the American public, but it was his book Seduction of the Innocent that was the biggest bombshell.
In his book, Wertham tried to tie the rise in juvenile delinquency in the country to the influence of comic books. It led to the aforementioned public outrage, a Senate investigation, and eventually to a self imposed censoring by the publishers themselves. The establishment of The Comics Code Authority effectively handcuffed the efforts of the industry’s artists and writers.
It was into this world that batom Comics was born, the brainchild of brothers Barry and Thomas Martin. Their father ran a small printing firm in Cleveland. Chief among the varied clients of the company was the Catholic Diocese newspaper. When he passed away, along with the printing company, part of the legacy he left to his sons was a newsprint allotment contract. The brothers had no interest in running a printing company, but what they did see was an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream, that of running a comic book company.
So in spite of the toxic atmosphere surrounding the comic book industry, they rented some space for editorial offices in an abandoned warehouse on West Third Street in Cleveland. The first thing their company needed was a name, and, by combining parts of both of their names, they came up with Batom Comics. The next thing they would need would be characters, artists and writers. An ad was placed in the Cleveland Press and in short order the man who would create their star character walked through the door. And so in the city where two young men had made comics history, history was about to be made again by a new pair of young men whose love for comics blinded them to the mine field that lay in their path. A true seduction of the innocent.
Batom Comics – The Untold History Chapter 1
posted on May 31, 2014
In the spring of 1972, federal agents entered the converted warehouse on West Third Street in Cleveland that housed the editorial offices of Batom Comics. They were looking for Barry Martin, Batom’s publisher and they found him busy at work in a small corner office just off a large open room with creaking wooden floors and tall mullioned windows. Hung high on the opposite wall and running the length of the room were giant panels featuring the comic book heroes from Batom Comics glory days.
They were all there: The Lunar Cadets, Charlie & Chuck, The Black Ghost, The Arizona Ranger, Tank Thompson, The Amazing Mr. Sponge and Absorbing Junior, The Cockroach, the majestic Blue Astra and of course Batom’s stellar hero Starbuck Jones. It was The Cockroach the company’s last creation who had proved Batom’s undoing. Its long legal battle with its aptly named rival Mega Comics had finally ended in the Fall of the previous year with a Federal Court upholding a lower court ruling that The Cockroach substantially violated Mega Comics copyright on Arachnid-Man. To fulfill the damages awarded by the court, Batom Comics, which had always run on a paper thin profit margin as it hung on against the industry giants, now essentially belonged to Mega-Comics.
The star crossed history of Batom Comics had finally come to an end although its comics would continued to be fondly remembered and collected by the comic book cognoscente. Though Batom had always been a hole in the wall company operating in the Mid-West far from the New York City spotlight, to a certain faithful and fanatic following, it loomed as large as any of the other comic book publishing giants. It was the little comic book company that could and this is its story.
Stay tuned for more of the history of Batom Comics on upcoming Starbuck Saturdays.
Toledo Mud Hens
posted on May 21, 2014
I was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Toledo Mud Hens game last week. No, wait… let me correct that, a ceremonial pitch. No team in their right mind wants me to throw out the first pitch unless they want to be one run behind before the echoes of the National Anthem have even faded. That being said, my toss was a little high and nicely over the plate and the kick-off to a very enjoyable evening.
I’ve written so much over the years about Ed Crankshaft’s time with the Mud Hens and how on a sultry summer night he faced down three of the greatest hitters of the era and showed what might have been had the fates only been a little kinder, that it’s a little like returning to the scene of the crime for me. Although the Mud Hens beautiful new stadium is a far cry from the one that Ed played in, it’s still the Mud Hens and so I try to soak up as much of it as I can.
I didn’t get to see a lot of the game because I was busy signing the new Crankshaft book by the Hens Nest sports shop, but I did get to meet a lot of nice folks and folks who were Crankshaft fans. Crankshaft has been in the Toledo Blade from its inception and with the changing media landscape, we seem to have entered the fin de siecle of the American newspaper comics page. But, much like Ed Crankshaft’s golden summer, it was nice to spend a summer evening in the Mud Hens stadium among friends and fans of the strip.
I’d like to thank everyone involved with the Mud Hens for all of the courtesies shown to my wife Cathy and me while we were there and of making it such a memorable experience. For those interested in the new Crankshaft baseball book ‘Strike Four’ you can find it by going to the Books section on this site. For now, that’s about the size of it.