|Edited by Jon B. Cooke||Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.|
Les Daniels received this picture of Martin Goodman (For L.D.'s book, Marvel, Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics) from the publisher's son, Charles "Chip" Goodman, who himself went on to the lofty profession as publisher of Seaboard Periodicals. This rare pic is from the earliest days of Marvel-then Timely-Comics.
A history of the short-lived comics publisher, Atlas/Seaboard
by Jon B. Cooke
Martin Goodman was pissed. The founder of Marvel Comics, recently retired from magazine publishing and fat with cash from the 1970 sale of the "House of Ideas" to Cadence Industries for millions of dollars, wanted to exact revenge from the new owners for their reneging on a promise to keep Martin's ne'er-do-well son, Charles "Chip" Goodman, installed as Marvel's editorial director. The comic book mogul's solution? Go head-to-head with the publisher of Spider-Man, et al., and initiate all-out war in the comic book marketplace-raiding the Big Two's talent pool; luring creators with promises of higher page rates, return of original artwork, and (gasp!) sharing character ownership; and even appropriating the "look and feel" of Stan Lee's line of top-selling super-hero books (going as far as reviving the pre-Marvel name of Martin's former imprint, Atlas Comics)-and the spoils of battle in the comic world would go to the victor, assuredly one, he doubtlessly hoped, with the surname Goodman.
In the late Summer of 1974, the comics press eagerly anticipated the arrival of the upstart Atlas/Seaboard (a moniker settled on by comic book historians to distinguish it from the 1950s line of Martin Goodman, though officially it was Seaboard Periodicals, parent company of the new Atlas Comics). Inside Comics #3 (Fall 1974) speculated, "Seaboard seems to be off on the right foot and, if their plans succeed, we may be in store for a real treat." Jim Steranko's Mediascene #11 (Jan.-Feb. 1975) crowed, "Seaboard Periodicals has unleashed a tidal wave of events on the stunned comics industry. Quicker than you can say, 'Jack the giant killer,' the new publishing company... is establishing itself as a leading contender in the race for comics supremacy." The Comic Reader #109 (Aug. 1974) gushed, "[Martin] Goodman will undoubtedly use his contacts with distributors to Seaboard's advantage, so this looks like a comics group that will make it, and big... We know that the line-up will be exciting as well as surprising...." Such was the hyperbole generated throughout the industry concerning the arrival of Seaboard Periodicals in 1974.
Even the mainstream press caught the fever. "The forthcoming Atlas line," wrote Philadelphia Daily News correspondent Jim Curtin (in the November 8, 1974 "Friday" section), "could herald a third Golden Age [the "Marvel Age" representing the second Golden Age according to Curtin's thesis]. Other, smaller comics publishers have tried to challenge the Big Two (notably the Charlton line), but they have never had the expertise (and incentive) represented by Atlas. The new company might well be the Marvel of the 1970s."
Yet by mid-1975, after only ten months, 65 color comics, six b-&-w comic mags and five text periodicals, Atlas/Seaboard would be no more. The efforts of such comic luminaries as Neal Adams, Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, John Severin, Russ Heath, Wally Wood, and Mike Sekowsky (among many others) would be for naught. Only the recently-acquired Swank, a third-rate Playboy wannabe skin mag, would remain of the once-ambitious empire of Martin Goodman. What happened? How could one of the most successful comic book publishers in history, one who infused his new outfit with hundreds of thousands of dollars, attracting some of the best talent in the field with progressive, even revolutionary incentives, and-yes-with pristine contacts in the biz, fail so miserably?
The state of the comics world before the arrival of Atlas/ Seaboard was tumultuous, to say the least. A dynasty was thrashed, revolt was in the air, and even the business' moral watchdog was under attack. In response to a rapidly declining readership (a steady loss that had begun 25 years before-and would continue 25 years hence), publishers desperately sought new formats for their comics-digests, treasury editions, 100-page "super spectaculars," black-&-white magazines, king-size, giant-size, "bigger and better," you name it!-to ferment excitement with the bored kids. But the writing was on the wall, and usurpation was in the air.
One of Martin's outrageously successful business moves during the last years of his tenure at Marvel was to trick the industry's top company, DC Comics (then called National Periodical Publications), into committing an ultimately disastrous page-count and pricing change for the publisher of Superman, resulting in what then DC editorial director (soon to be publisher) Carmine Infantino characterized as a "slaughter" committed by Marvel upon his company. In an audaciously daring move, the House of Ideas raised the page count of its regular titles 75% from 32 to 48 pages, accompanied by a 75% price hike from 15¢ to 25¢ on its October and November 1971 cover-dated books. Immediately DC followed suit, though significantly increasing their page count 100%, from 32 to 64 pages. But within a month, in a move that sent shockwaves through the industry, Goodman immediately dropped page count back to 32 pages yet only reducing the price per book to 20¢, still a 25% price increase from two months prior.
The results of Martin's gambit? Marvel was able to give wholesalers a 50% discount off the cover price of their line, as compared to DC's mere 40% price break. And whose titles would the retailers be more likely to push, do you think? Plus, what kid could resist getting five snappy, all-new Marvels for a buck, compared to four DCs, padded with moldy, old reprints? Also, as DC had to lock into ordering huge quantities of paper-a full year's supply-the publisher was trapped at the 25¢, 64-page format for an entire year. (Historian Carl Gafford has surmised that the Wage and Price Controls of President Richard Nixon's Administration may have also played a factor in the DC debacle, a proposition CBA intends to examine with Gaff in the future.) Those 12 months were all the time DC's competitor needed to come out on top and, for the first time in their decades-old rivalry, Marvel surpassed DC in sales, only rarely looking back in the quarter-century passed since that fateful year. The DC supremacy on the comics racks ended in 1972 after an astonishing 35-year reign, a dynasty suddenly in disarray, scrambling to get back on top, while Martin Goodman sat very prettily indeed, ensconced in his new role as the King of Comics in this New Marvel Age.
House ad drawn by Ernie Colón featuring the new heroes (and villains) of Atlas Comics. © 1975 Seaboard Periodicals, Inc.
But his role as Mogul Supreme would prove somewhat shortlived, as Martin took the money and walked (after serving as a consultant during an extended transitional period, leaving in early 1974), selling Marvel Comics-and the highly profitable sister company, Magazine Management, as well-though, on his departure, he elicited a promise from new owner Cadence to retain Martin's son Chip as editorial director of the comics line. But in an apparent power move by Martin's nephew-by-marriage, the legendary Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee, Chip had his executive washroom key confiscated and the boss' son was unceremoniously booted from the company, onto the pavement of Madison Avenue and out of a job. Perhaps Martin felt betrayed and began to plot the destruction of his former company and a return to greatness for the Goodmans. Mediascene reported, "Obviously angered by the bizarre treatment accorded his son, Martin Goodman re-entered the comics field with an operation that has come to be referred to as 'Vengeance, Inc.' With his previous contacts, a sound financial status, an infallible business sense sharpened by a lifetime in publishing, and a reputation for fair play, Goodman's position looks implacable."
Rancor and turbulence also prevailed among the creative rank and file of the comics business in those days. While the Academy of Comic Book Arts (ACBA) was established to be a kind of funnybook Motion Picture Academy-a self-congratulatory organization focused on banquets and awards-it quickly served as a soapbox for the Angry Young Men in the industry, primarily Neal Adams, Archie Goodwin, and their ilk of educated, informed and gutsy artists and writers, self-confident and filled with a strong sense of self-worth, attitudes sadly absent from the field for decades. If the shameless ill treatment of such as the poverty-stricken team of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman (the character that turned the industry into an undeniable success) by the very publisher they put on top would inform the '70s workers, it was, "We'd better look out for what's ours." It was time to demand equity and respect from the publishers. (Jeff Rovin recalled, "I can't tell you how many times Martin would listen to some of the things Neal Adams was saying and mutter, 'Who the hell does he think he is?'")
Topping the creators' agenda was a demand for publishers to return original artwork to artists as only reproduction rights of the pages had been sold to the companies (since the latter paid no sales tax on the material). Also, griping increased about the lack of health benefits and pensions, absence of any royalty or creator-ownership policies (as had been typical in book publishing for decades), and-the perennial complaint-low page rates. Though the phrase "work-for-hire" had yet to become commonplace, that condition permeated the entire industry. The only exceptions to these unsavory working conditions were in the penny-ante world of underground comix and with such unprofitable hybrids as witzend, Wally Wood's creator-owned magazine. In the age of unprecedented political activism in the United States, the rights of the actual producers of comic book fantasies had finally come to the attention of the business.
The erosion of the dreaded Comic Code Authority's influence on the business was welcomed by many creators who hoped to open up the venue of mainstream comics to more adult approaches. The popularity of Zap Comix and other undergrounds, as well as the prevalence of the medium in places such as National Lampoon, proved that young adults could-and would-buy comics so long as the books spoke to them. Jim Warren's circumvention of the Code-by producing a line of black-&-whites (called "magazines," as distinguished from the four-color periodicals deemed "comic books") chipped away at the moral watchdog's power, and the revisions initiated by Stan Lee's infusion of drug themes into Amazing Spider-Man (sans the ubiquitous Code cover stamp) proved it was the publishers who were starting to call the shots, not the once-omnipotent censors. The conservatism of the Wertham-Eisenhower era was over; a new, decadent, permissive sensibility had taken hold. Death, decay, and despair permeated the content of comics; gone were the happy-go-lucky days of Batmania and the high-camp heroes. Now super-heroes gained relevance by embracing trendy causes and their sidekicks became self-indulged drug addicts. The Code, once a force feared and obeyed, had become simply irrelevant by the 1970s.
It was into this strange, alien environment that the fledgling Atlas/Seaboard was born: An industry in flux, a society in transition, and the status quo in disarray. Jeff Rovin, editor of the majority of comic titles in the beginning, wrote in The Comics Journal #114 (Feb. 1987), "Seaboard opened its doors on June 24, 1974, undertaking an ambitious publishing program that included not only a dozen color comics, but a line of black-&-white horror comics, confession magazines, a monster magazine, puzzle magazines, a game-show book, and an innovative Gothic story title [Gothic Romances]." As the comic line's editors, Martin hired Rovin, a former DC and Warren staffer (who got the job through an ad in The New York Times), and Marvel writer/artist Larry Lieber, a man Rovin said, "Martin Goodman had long-wanted to transplant from out of the shadow of Larry's brother, Stan Lee." Initial reports stated that the company was set to produce eight color comic titles, and, according to The Comic Reader, "a number of the books are established characters-in fact, one book is planned as a 100-page 60¢er with reprints from a former comics group." (Apparently this was a reference to Tower Comics' 1960s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents which Rovin sought-unsuccessfully-to license.) The number of books would eventually grow to 23 color titles, all told.
The Atlas Comics line was populated with artists and writers attracted by the innovative approach the publisher was taking. "Goodman's David and Goliath strategy is insidiously simple and outrageous-possibly even considered dirty tactics by the competition-such as higher page rates, artwork returned to the artist, rights to the creation of an original character, and a certain amount of professional courtesy," noted Mediascene. Some creators were offered the highest pages rates in the history of the business.
Such "dirty tactics" would motivate policy changes with at least one publisher. Carmine Infantino issued a memo on August 13, 1974 (a mere two months after the opening of the Atlas/Seaboard office) in an obvious attempt to counter the appeal of Goodman's largess and stem the flow of defections. After mentioning a new program of bonus checks, rate increases, return of artwork, and reprint fees, the memo stipulates that the added benefits apply "only to artists, colorists, and writers who are currently working for us and who submit their work exclusively to us... effective with issues scheduled to go on sale during October, 1974," the month before readers would see the release of the first wave of Atlas Comics. Soon, Marvel would also return original artwork, indicating a shift in the status quo due to the Atlas influence.
The only photograph of Charles "Chip" Goodman was this 1975 candid shot taken by Alan Kupperberg. Courtesy of Alan Kupperberg.
The threat of talent raids against the Big Two was also real enough. Some contributors recall Howard Chaykin standing in front of Marvel's 625 Madison Avenue digs, directing artists to literally go around the corner to the 717 Fifth Avenue home of Atlas Comics. Mediascene reported, "Despite denials by both Marvel and [DC], Seaboard's entrance into the comic arena is having a staggering effect on the business. Audacious 'raids' in the competition's bullpens have resulted in Seaboard's rapidly assembling a staff of more defectors joining their ranks on almost a daily basis."
As for the Atlas line's content, Rovin initially sought recognizable, licensed characters (such as the aforementioned Tower super-hero group) and the editor pursued pulp characters The Avenger and The Spider; movie creature Godzilla and his Toho monster brethren; TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker; and the Charlton Heston film, The Omega Man. Martin Goodman deemed all the licenses to be too expensive and suggested a Timely-worn tradition to swipe. The Spider became The Scorpion, Kolchak became The Cougar, and The Omega Man became Planet of Vampires. Why pay when you can steal?
Larry Lieber told Roy Thomas in Alter Ego Vol. 3, #2, "When I went there, Martin put out two kinds of books... color comics and... black-&-white comics like Warren and Marvel. Now, I knew nothing about black-&-white comics, right? My only experience was in the color comics. And Jeff Rovin came from Warren, and he knew nothing about color comics. And Martin unfortunately put Jeff in charge of all the color comics, and put me in charge of the black-&-white books.... It was an unfortunate thing, and basically what happened was that Jeff's books didn't turn out so well." Sadly, nor did Larry's books or any Atlas/Seaboard title.
Whatever their fate, Rovin was looking to produce unconventional books and stretch the limits of the Comics Code. He wrote, "My own ambition from the start was to do characters that were a bit outré and experimental... somewhat more hardbitten and schizophrenic than the average super-hero." To that end, controversial writer Michael Fleisher, who had gained notoriety for his ultra-violent "Spectre" series in Adventure Comics, was brought on board by Rovin to create and script a number of books, many permeated with death and despair with the "heroes" acting very villainously. The Brute (a Hulk knock-off dictated by Martin) kills a teenage boy; Morlock 2001 consumes a little blind girl; The Tarantula becomes a human-spider who eats people; The Grim Ghost labors for Satan himself, sending victims to Hell; and Ironjaw hacks at foes and disabuses women on an Earth of the far-flung future. Not that such dark storytelling was the exclusive purview of Atlas or Fleisher, as weird wars, weird mysteries, weird worlds, weird Westerns, and even weird humor comics were selling like hotcakes over at the competition. But the "universe" of Michael Fleisher was an especially black one, and one that consistently caused problems between Atlas and the Comics Code Authority.
"...The Code and I fought over literally every magazine Atlas published, starting with the very first, Ironjaw #1... and I didn't win a single dispute with the Code." In fact, Code Administrator Len Darvin complained to Martin that (according to Rovin's notes of July 1974), "'[If] this bastard [Rovin] tries tactics like this, I'll bury him.' If not, he'll talk to MG and have me kicked out."
Other Rovin titles had less ominous tones and some were downright fun. The best include Howard Chaykin's The Scorpion, Larry Hama's Wulf the Barbarian, and Rovin and Sal Amendola's Phoenix (and even Hama and Pat Broderick's Planet of Vampires, bloody as it was, held an exciting premise). Targitt, Tiger-Man and The Cougar rounded out Rovin's even dozen color books (in addition to four b-&-w titles).
Announced but never appearing, Steve Ditko was scheduled to write and draw a super-hero strip called "Wrecage." Below is Ditko's rendition featured in Mediascene #11. © 1974 Seaboard Periodicals, Inc.
For his part, Larry Lieber focused on the color comics anthology titles-Westerns, crime, war, horror, humor, with a single super-hero title being an exception. The Destructor, arguably the most handsome title of the entire bunch, was a book with impeccable credentials, sporting an Archie Goodwin script, Steve Ditko pencils, and Wally Wood inks. During the shared tenure with Rovin, Lieber would edit seven titles.
The black-&-white mags helmed by Rovin were a mixed bag of the excellent and the banal, with the notable Thrilling Adventure Stories #2 topping the heap, featuring an extraordinary berth of tales with art by Toth, Severin, Heath, Walter Simonson, and Jack Sparling. (No evidence exists, despite Larry's statement above, that he worked on the black-&-white titles as all are credited to fellow editor Rovin.)
Despite this innovative start, Atlas/Seaboard was soon besieged from within. Martin increasingly insisted that the comics line resemble Marvel's in content and design, and some of Rovin's contributors were, according to the editor, shot down by the publisher, among them complaints that two of the line's artistic stand-outs, Chaykin and Ernie Colón, were ill-suited for their respective books. Martin would especially interfere with cover designs and executions. "As it turned out," Rovin wrote, "Covers proved to be the bloodiest battleground at Atlas."
The bell tolled for Rovin when, the editor later wrote, "Martin became more and more disgruntled as he read more and more of my comics. And what he decided, without having received a single sales report, was that they didn't look and read enough like Marvel Comics.
"'That's right,' I remember telling him with a mixture of disbelief and disappointment. 'Why should they look like Marvels?'
"'Because Marvels sell.'
"'Sure,' I replied, 'but that's because the characters have had 10 years to establish themselves, not to mention the newsstand clout Marvel has developed-'
"'Look,' he snapped, 'I don't want to argue about this. Just do it.' To which Martin established a hefty warchest and told Larry and me to go out and hire away as many Marvel people as we could. Larry seemed disappointed, but I was frankly appalled...."
Whatever promise Atlas held for the industry quickly evaporated before a rash of internal second-guessing and executive caveats that may have doomed the still-infant company. But what may have sealed the fate of the fledgling outfit was the presence of one man, Charles "Chip" Goodman, the son of Martin.
When Chip served as an executive at Marvel, editor/ writer and Stan Lee's right-hand man, Roy Thomas, became acquainted with him. "I don't think that he knew a lot about comics, but he tried hard," Roy said in Comic Book Artist #2 (Summer 1998). "One of the problems was just being Martin Goodman's son. I don't think that Martin respected Chip very much-he put Chip in charge but would treat him with less than benign contempt in front of other people. Martin was a little cruel sometimes."
In fact, the complex relationship between father and son was explored in a very public forum, Playboy magazine, albeit in the form of fiction. Atlas contributor Gary Friedrich also worked for the "Men's Sweat Division" of Magazine Management, a division of Goodman's first publishing concern which boasted such luminous staffers as Godfather author Mario Puzo and humorist Bruce Jay Friedman. Gary told CBA #13 (May 2001), "Ivan Prashker wrote [a story called]... 'The Boss's Son' and it was about Martin and Chip. He sold it to Playboy." A reliable source indeed confirmed that Prashker (who reportedly wrote the story because he was annoyed at Chip, an incompetent executive in the source's opinion) was indeed writing about the Goodmans.
The story appeared in the February 1970 edition of Playboy, and Thomas remembers it as "a thinly disguised version of Magazine Management. There was a Martin Goodman character who had two sons (which was apparently a true situation), one who dutifully stayed there and tried to help run the company but was abused constantly and called an idiot; the other just turned his back on the father and that was the son that the father worshiped and tried to get back."
An excerpt from "The Boss's Son":
"'You want to play and get away with it, you pay, you pay,' Louis said. 'What the hell makes you think you're so different you don't have to pay?'
"What made him think he was different? A good question.
"Looking for it, Dave spotted the photograph of his brother, Leo, on his father's desk. Leo was a physicist who lived on the West Coast, or as far away as he could get from Louis, yet the old man loved and respected Leo more than anyone else in the world.
"'All right, so I can't figure out everything in advance,' Dave said after a while. 'All right, so I don't have a big brain like Leo.'
"'Leo? Leo?' Louis repeated. And it was obvious that he resented Dave's even daring to compare himself with his older brother.
"Stung by his father's tone, Dave couldn't contain himself. 'What the hell does Leo ever do for you? Does he write you? Call you? Does he know you're living, for God's sake?'
"'And what do you do for me?' Louis asked with a sigh.
"'I at least try to please you; only, the harder I try, the more you seem to resent me.'
"The old man winced, and Dave felt good knowing he'd struck a sore spot."
The short story writer worked for Magazine Management when the story was sold to Playboy. Prashker was away on vacation in Europe when the issue hit the stands and he dreaded the reception by Martin Goodman upon his return to New York, as word prevailed in the office that the tale was indeed about the Goodmans. What was the publisher's actual reaction to Prashker? The author was rewarded with his own editorship of a magazine as Martin was apparently more impressed that one of his staffers was published in the premier men's magazine than with any insult made to his son.
Atlas/Seaboard staffers almost universally complain that Chip was an incompetent publisher, out of his league as the official head of Seaboard Periodicals. Even back in his Marvel days, people would wonder at his acumen. "The most idiosyncratic situation we ran into in the early '70s was... when [Chip] was briefly in charge of the company," Roy Thomas told CBA. "It was a Western cover and Chip sent back word that he wanted all the bad guys in the story inside and on the cover to be wearing animal masks. We asked why and he said, 'I don't know. Maybe it'll sell better.'"
Unused Ironjaw #1 cover by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Jack Abel (inks). Courtesy of Rich Limacher. Ironjaw © 1975 Seaboard Periodicals, Inc.
"Increasingly, [Martin] would throw it on the desk with greater disgust than the last time, and finally, Chip would get involved," Jeff Rovin said, "and however gruff Martin was, at least he had the background, he'd earned the right to be gruff. Chip was a real lightweight in that sense, and I just couldn't take it from him. He would be dismissive of work, but have no suggestions on what to do better. It was so frustrating that at one point, Ric [Meyers], my assistant, went into the bathroom and cut off all his hair, he was just so frustrated. I felt that was really a defining moment, because my God, look what's happening to us!"
In short order, because of Martin's demand to "Marvelize" the entire color comics line and the increasingly nonsensical interference of Chip, Jeff Rovin resigned his position as Atlas/Seaboard editor-in-chief in January 1975, after Martin demanded that the editorial department hire only Marvel writers and artists. Rovin effectively dropped the entire 20+ titles onto Larry Lieber's desk. Larry told Comic Book Marketplace #73 (Nov. 1999), "When Jeff left, they gave me the color comics, but it was too late and Martin lost too much money... Rovin got the best artists he could who were available who weren't working for Marvel or DC, so the comics all had a different look, and he paid [the artists] all very big salaries... then when he left, I had to reduce the rates, which wasn't an easy task..."
In following Martin's orders to "Marvelize" the line, Larry relied on an old Marvel staffer to help out, writer Gary Friedrich, who told CBA, "Larry called me up and said, 'Help.' Well, I flew up to New York and Chip and Martin took me out and wined me and dined me and offered me a bunch of money to save the comics enterprise. I didn't succeed at it but I made a hell of a lot of money at it for a year or so. I just freelanced. I wrote all their titles. I just said, 'Larry, until you find some other writers, I'll write them all,' and I did. We weren't real rich in excellent artists, which probably caused the failure as much as anything, though we kind of got it turned around and put out a line of books that wasn't too bad. Martin just saw the numbers. After a year or so of losing money, Martin was not the type of guy to continue to throw good money after bad. For all intents, by the time I got there, it was too late. I think the damage had already been done, that these kids had already bought these titles and seen how awful they were and they weren't going to buy any more." The Seaboard ship began sinking fast and panic set in.
Radical midstream changes took place not only with the Atlas/Seaboard staff, but also in the books themselves: Morlock 2001 was renamed Morlock and the Midnight Men, Phoenix became almost a generic Marvel hero named The Protector, The Scorpion was ripped from the 1930s milieu and made a skin-tight costumed contemporary hero (drawn in faux Kirby style), jettisoning any of Chaykin's charming approach. Readers were baffled at the changes and left in droves as they quickly grew disinterested due to an increasingly erratic publication schedule. Former Atlas/Seaboard assistant editor David Anthony Kraft told the fanzine Deadspawn #1 (July 1975) that the books were "reputedly selling as low as 13%... which is of course far below the 25-30% necessary for bare survival in 's comics market."
Even the editor questioned the quality of the titles. Lieber told CBM, "I don't know that I ever felt the product was that good. They were different in a sense, but they weren't around that long."
The end appeared inevitable to editor Larry Lieber, only he didn't know exactly when the publisher would close its doors. "Near the end," Larry told Alter Ego, "Atlas was maybe going to go out of business, and I got called on jury duty. At that time, I used to sometimes get anxiety attacks, and I used to take Valium to prevent the attack. So when I had to go down to the jury, I called up the company and I said, 'Are we still in business?' And the secretary said, 'I don't know; Chip hasn't made up his mind yet,' or 'Mr. Goodman hasn't made up his mind yet; just keep in touch with us and you'll find out.'
"So here I'm going-it's like a Woody Allen thing-I'm going on jury duty, I'm nervous to begin with, and I'm trying to keep calm, and during a break on the jury I call up and the secretary says, 'Tomorrow morning, before you go on jury duty, or after, will you stop up and see Chip?' Now, I get off the phone; she hasn't told me what it's about, but I figure, 'I bet this means they're going out of business.' So I start getting very nervous, and I go back in the jury box, and a policeman is testifying, and as he starts talking, I'm so panicky about going out of business that I think I'm going to scream. I just remember being there, thinking, 'I don't want to scream and cause a mistrial.' And sure enough, I was right. When I went back there to see Chip, he said Atlas was going out of business."
Larry was treated well in the end. "They gave me very nice severance pay," he told CBM, but some others were not so fortunate, as sadly, a rash of art thefts added insult to injury. Superlative comic stories by Walter Simonson, Terry Austin and Russ Heath, as well as covers by Neal Adams were only a few of the reported missing works. Artist Terry Austin said, "Walt and I walked to the Atlas/Seaboard offices and asked for our artwork back. My recollection is that the receptionist denied that the company had ever published comics."
What went wrong? In his final analysis, Jeff Rovin wrote, "Whatever aesthetic contributions may have died aborning, Atlas did manage to accomplish one thing above all. It has come to stand as the text-book example of how not to run a comics company." But not everyone subscribes to the "revenge against Marvel" theory. Gary Friedrich told CBA, "I never really felt that [Martin] did it for that reason. I think he did it to make money and that he thought with Larry in charge and paying good rates that he could do it. Now, he probably wouldn't have minded if it would have taken a bite out of Marvel's profits, but I don't think it was done out of revenge. I think Martin was too smart for that."
However brief its existence, Atlas/Seaboard did have a lasting impact on the industry. "Miraculously, Martin and I did manage to come together on two matters of some significance," Jeff Rovin wrote. "One was an ownership/profit sharing contract for artists and writers on any character(s) they created, and the other was the return of all artwork. Neither of these were being practiced at the time (though Warren did return some artwork to freelancers), and Martin grudgingly agreed to do so when he realized that that kind of arrangement, coupled with high page rates (we were then paying record sums to most contributors) was a means of getting talent to work for us. Today, a whole bunch of comics companies claim to have been the first to initiate concessions of this kind, but the fact of the matter is that Atlas got the ball rolling long before.... We may have screwed up when it came to implementing parts of the program (for example, a lot of artwork was stolen before we could return it, and none of the characters remained in print long enough for anyone to benefit), but at least we pointed the way in terms of creators' rights...."
Though by no means an man adored by his employees, not everyone has a harsh opinion of Martin Goodman. Some who worked for him back in the Magazine Management days called him grouchy but fair-and sometimes quite kind. "Martin Goodman treated me better than anyone I ever worked for," Gary Friedrich explained. "He was generous, he was liberal, he wasn't tight about your hours as long as you got your work done, gave fabulous bonuses for the two years... I worked [at Magazine Management on staff]. The third year, Perfect Film and Chemical bought him out and that was the end of the bonuses, but he was very good to his employees."
In the following pages you will dwell deeper into the strange and sad story of Atlas/ Seaboard, a company that desperately failed to live up to its promise, but one not without its share of bright spots. CBA has spoken with many of the players but Larry Lieber and Gary Friedrich are represented only in this article (hence the extensive quoting), and we certainly did miss other important contributors (such a Russ Jones, Gerry Conway, Frank Thorne, Neal Adams, and-of course-Steve Ditko, among others) due to space constraints.
But the two most important people in the short history of the company are sadly gone, their stories untold. Martin Goodman retired to Florida after this last publishing foray, reportedly passing away in the late 1980s. Chip Goodman continued as publisher of Swank magazine for some years, working in the publishing field until his untimely death approximately seven years ago. He was reportedly only "about" 55.
For all the hope given to Atlas/Seaboard upon its birth, the company was very quickly forgotten after its demise. Without exception, none of the characters have ever been revived, a sad legacy indeed. But some of us remember....
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