Thursday, January 7, 2010

THEN CAME ATLAS/SEABOARD! Part 3: Led astray and fighting it every step of the way, Plus who owns the rights to these character's anyway???


So what does Robert McNamara have to do with Atlas comics after the fall? It has to do with a common enough mind-set of  avoiding taking the blame for failure. Since he is the best performer of that parlor trick McNamara won the right to name it, and claim it. In retrospect, it can't be easy to apologize for whatever mistakes were made by anyone, claim you warned against it before you were for it, and knew it would never work all along! Larry Lieber is a great artist/writer, but he's too shiftless in his chair for me when it comes to Atlas related interviews: "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." [Larry Lieber interview, Alter Ego Vol. 3, #2] That's some name dropping, I hate to say it style, blame placing going on right there.

It should be noted Lieber handled the anthology titles along with The Destructor, which were just as hit and miss with color comic experience, but didn't break any sales records either. According to Jon B. Cooke's Comic Book Artist column there is no proof Lieber edited any of the black and white Atlas magazines. In keeping with the 'I knew it all along' revisionism Lieber said "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." [Larry Lieber, CBM interview] Then you have the I did the best I could defense: "But in the end it was just that Martin lost too much money. There was nothing I could do to help out. I wasn't a genius, too much was lost, and so they gave it all up," [Larry Lieber interview, Alter Ego Vol.3, #2]  Lieber was one of the first hires at Atlas presumably the books he edited he would have had to sign off on, he didn't come in mid-stream after the dam burst. Martin Goodman in all I have read around the web also doesn't strike me as a hands off kind of guy. If they though the line up was so poorly from the start why did no one try to change direction before the first issues ever went to press? It comes off to me as if they were surprised the people they hired did what they did on the titles, but shouldn't a publisher and a editor pay more attention to what's headed for the newsstands? You could wonder if the attempts at changing direction was a response to poor sales, but according to Jeff Rovin, Martin Goodman made the decision to 'be more Marvel' before any sales figures came in. If your the owner and you want to go in a particular direction, why wait until it's too late to clue your employees in on what your plans are?


Atlas/Seaboard was here and gone before I was a twinkle in my fathers eye, but I do remember the early, heady days of Image comics. Comic book fans talked about all the great new titles that would come out, better deals for the creators, and speculated Marvel would get it's ass kicked by the new competition. Looking up the history similar sentiments were out in force in anticipation of Atlas's arrival on the scene. From Jim Steranko in Mediascene: "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" and "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".   

The Comic Reader led the cheers, then turned off the lights: "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....", -followed by- "All the Atlas books of the past three months have been delayed from their published release dates by two to three weeks. There's no need to panic, so take heart... if you keep watching the newsstands they'll all come out." -ending with- "What was the major problem with Atlas? Perhaps Neal Adams summed it up best when he said it was an example of 'Too many dollars and too little sense'.. R.I.P. ATLAS COMICS Born: June, 1974 Died: June, 1975".

The haze of hope even made it's way into the main stream in the Philadelphia Daily News, November 8, 1974: "That’s why the forthcoming Atlas line could herald a third Golden Age. Other, smaller comics publishers have tried to challenge the Big Two (notably the Charlton line), but they never had the expertise (and incentive) represented by Atlas. The new company might well be the Marvel of the 1970’s".

It's a damn pity Wizard magazine didn't do a 'remember the would be titian' article way back when, some fan boy hearts might not have been broken. Image could have also learned, without going through the school of hard knocks, it really is better if your books come out on time, and you don't flood the stands. 


When any old characters I think many fans tend to wonder these days, is it in the public domain? I came across this column about who owns/doesn't own the Atlas characters from Beau Smith at the Comics Bulletin:

All the time I was at Eclipse I pushed for us to buy the characters from the Goodmans. In 1994 I pushed Eclipse Publisher Dean Mullaney so much that he finally checked into it and talked to Goodman. He also did some research on copyrights and such on his own with the Eclipse lawyers. It seemed that the copyrights had expired and the Goodmans no longer owned those characters. Now don’t hold me to all this because my memory isn’t all that clear, but this is the round about way it went.

Dean wanted to pay the Goodman’s a price he thought the stuff was worth, but the Goodmans wanted much, much more. Dean declined. He also told them that he found out the stuff was free and clear. Needless to say that subject went back and forth with no real winner of the argument.

So Dean gave me the greenlight to develop the characters and update them where they needed to be updated. I came up with a plan and a history for them along with a storyline for a series. We hired a couple of artists to draw up and update some of the characters. We published a few ash cans with these results.

Then Eclipse Comics went out of business.

Those ash cans were lost some where at Eclipse. There was talk that then big time retailer Moondog’s in the Midwest had a few of them. I had my copies. Or I did. Soon after that my office burn to the ground and I lost everything.

So either it's open season, or time to track down the heirs of the Goodman estate.

Note: Yes, there will be a part 4. One main reason is a lack of want to make this blog post any more epic in size, if not scope. Next time I comment on the legacy of Atlas, and stifled intentions due to swiping.


  1. WOW! That bit at the end from Beau Smith is quite a bombshell to me! Great research on that (and this entire series btw) --- So does that mean these characters and/or their comics are in Public Domain?

  2. Thanks Jim, I appreciate it. If there's one thing I'm good at it's research, but again most of the credit should go to Atlas Archives which rounded up just about everything about the history of Atlas. That was my base, then I took out across the net and the Atlas back issues to fill things out. If/when you get the chance Jim, shoot me a e-mail will you?

  3. Great article, even if you want to say that you ONLY put the pieces together.

    I'd love to see more on the copyright status, because I can't make it work out. Copyright terms lasted 28 years, so renewal for a 1974 book would be in 2002, well after Eclipse could have seen a hole.

    In addition, renewals became automatic in 1992, so there was no chance paperwork was misfiled.

    The copyright statement is valid in each book, too. The only other possibility I can think of is that there was no original registration with the Copyright Office.

  4. I like to give credit where it's due. :)
    Yes, I know about Congressman Bono and the Copy-right extension act, but with my readings of the history of the company it wouldn't surprise me a bit that screw-ups were made at the start with Atlas/Seaboard with it's registration. In any case it's a damn shame Eclipse didn't get the chance to give it a shot.

  5. An excellent piece of research, and invaluable to me for my piece at ForeverGeek ( Thank you very much, and I hope that we will see these characters again. You have a new subscriber here! Oh, and I included a link back to here so I hope you don't find me rude.

  6. Not rude at all, and thanks for the link. :) I hope we see the Atlas-Seaboard characters again too, and always happy to see more people spreading the word about the Atlas-Seaboard characters to those who might not know about them.