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Batom Comics – The Untold History Chapter 1

posted on May 31, 2014

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Prologue

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Batom Comics – The Untold History Chapter 2

posted on July 18, 2014

Seduction Of the Innocent

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 3

posted on October 18, 2014

Starbuck Trade Dress

It was July of 1954. Elvis Presley had just made his radio debut in Memphis with “That’s All Right [Mama]”, DC Comics launched a new Superman-family book with Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and Batom Comics published its first comic book with what can only be described as a nervous pride. Their comic was born at the nadir of a shattered comic book industry, and featured a genre that would have been a tough sell even in the comics heyday. The book was Starbuck Jones featuring the exploits of the star spanning space opera hero. The character was the brainchild of Batom Comic’s first official writer Flash Freeman. It was a witness to Freeman’s belief that science fiction deserved a home in the comics.

Answering an ad in the Cleveland Press, Freeman showed up on Batom Comics doorstep to find the brothers Barry and Thomas Martin high on enthusiasm to begin publishing comic books, short on experience in how to produce them, and desperately in need of stories to fill them. Freeman had been a stringer for the Press as well as a freelance writer for various publications around town, but his dream was to be a writer of short stories and novels. And not just any short stories and novels. Freeman was fan of science fiction, a field still in its youth and brimming with a nascent energy and excitement. Heinlein, Asimov, Clark – these were the stars that Flash Freeman saw when he looked up to the heavens. For some reason, however, SF had never fully transitioned into the comic books and sales of the genre remained low. Martin Goodman the publisher of Marvel Comics had once famously proclaimed that he never wanted to see a comic book that had rockets, ray guns or robots on the cover. Still, Flash Freeman’s enthusiasm for stories set in the cosmos convinced the Martin brothers to make Freeman’s stellar hero, Starbuck Jones, the star of their first published comic book. Freeman’s belief in his character was contagious. In Freeman, Thomas and Barry had found the writer who knew how to make a successful science fiction comic book.

They were going to need someone to illustrate the stories and once again luck was with them. Freeman had reached out to Phil Holt an artist he had worked with from time to time on his various freelance jobs. Part illustrator, part cartoonist, Phil was the perfect artist for the job. His clean exciting style set the tone for the series right out of the gate. He worked up a character sheet for Starbuck Jones and as soon as the Martin brothers saw it they were sold.

The first issue laid out Starbuck’s origin. He had once been a member of a group called the Lunar Cadets, but his issues with regimentation and his tendency to freelance on missions led to his becoming a freebooter of sorts. A Lone Ranger of Space as Flash Freeman referred to him. A mercenary for hire for the right cause. Flash poured all of his pent-up pulpish energy into that first issue, and Phil Holt ably brought the characters to life and breathed life into the characters. That first issue also introduced the Xaxians the alien race destined to become Starbuck’s arch enemies. But all of it would be nothing but space dust if that inaugural issue wasn’t a success.

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