Atlas Seaboard Comics

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The Scorpion #1 (Feb. 1975). Cover art by Howard Chaykin.
The Scorpion #1 (Feb. 1975). Cover art by Howard Chaykin.

Atlas/Seaboard is the term comic-book historians and collectors use to refer to the 1970s line of comics published as Atlas Comics by the American company Seaboard Periodicals, to differentiate from the 1950s' Atlas Comics, a predecessor of Marvel Comics.

The company was located at 717 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City.

Contents

History

Company creation

Marvel Comics founder and Magazine Management publisher Martin Goodman left from Marvel in 1972, having sold the company in 1968. He created Seaboard Periodicals in June 1974 to compete in a field then dominated by Marvel and DC Comics. Goodman hired Warren Publishing veteran Jeff Rovin to edit the color comic-book line, and writer-artist Larry Lieber, brother of Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee, as editor of Atlas' black-and-white comics magazines. Lieber later became editor of the color comics following Rovin's departure. Steve Mitchell was the comics' production manager, and John Chilly the black-and-white magazines' art director.

As Lieber recalled in a 1999 interview: "When I went there, Martin put out two kinds of books. He was putting out color comics, and he was also going to put out black-and-white comics like Warren and Marvel. Now, I knew nothing about black-and-white comics, right? My only experience was in the color comics. Jeff Rovin came from Warren, and he knew nothing about color comics. Martin unfortunately put Jeff in charge of all the color comics and put me in charge of the black-and-white books. It was an unfortunate thing, and basically what happened was that Jeff's books didn't turn out so well... Martin had to pay high freelance rates, because otherwise nobody would work for a new and unproven company... It didn't work out too well, and Jeff finally left angrily or something, and I had to take over all his books. At this point, business was bad, and I tried to do what I could. One of the things I had to do was to cut rates and tell people they were going to make less money, which was not an enviable position.*Larry Lieber interview, Alter Ego vol. 3, #2 (Fall 1999)"

Creators'-rights pioneer

The Brute #3 (July 1975). Cover art by Pablo Marcos.
The Brute #3 (July 1975). Cover art by Pablo Marcos.

Atlas/Seaboard offered some of the highest rates in the industry, plus return of artwork. These relatively luxurious conditions attracted such top names as Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Russ Heath, John Severin, Alex Toth and Wally Wood, as well as such highly regarded up-and-coming talents as Howard Chaykin and Rich Buckler. More importantly, these benefits helped initiate eventual change in the virtually completely work-for-hire industry, in which artists and writers had no royalties, rights to characters, rights to their artwork and other rights routinely held in similar creative fields, such as book publishing and the music industry.

But when many of the titles emerged toward the end of 1974, most proved derivative and uninspired, according to critics at the time. Wholesale creative changes were implemented, with one observer coining the term "The Third Issue Switch." Chaykin's character the Scorpion, for example, started as a 1930s-style pulp adventurer, then in issue three was changed by a different creative team to a contemporary superhero with no relation to Chaykin's work. In issue four of The Phoenix, the protagonist tries to kill himself, only to be stopped by aliens who grant him a new costume and powers to become The Protector.

A total of 23 comics titles and five comics magazines were published before the company folded in late 1975. No title lasted more than four issues. Of the characters, Chaykin's Scorpion would inspire his Dominic Fortune at Marvel, and Rich Buckler's Demon Hunter would inspire his Devil-Slayer at Marvel.

Chip Goodman

Some reports at the time suggested Goodman was angered that Cadence, the new Marvel owners, had reneged on a promise to keep his son, Charles "Chip" Goodman, as Marvel's editorial director. Marvel and Atlas writer Gary Friedrich recalled: "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".Gary Friedrich interview, Comic Book Artist #13 (May 2001): "Groovy Gary & the Marvel Years" Marvel art director John Romita, however, believed, "Chip was supposed to take his place. But that part of it must not have been on paper, because as soon as Martin was gone, they got rid of Chip. That's why Martin started Atlas Comics. It was pure revenge".John Romita interview, Alter Ego vol. 3, #9 (July 2001): "Fifty Years on the 'A' List", p. 35

Although Chip Goodman was also in charge of the Seaboard comics, he was a "lightweight" in making decisions about them, according to Rovin.Jeff Rovin interview, Comic Book Artist #16 (Dec. 2001): "The Rise & Fall of Rovin's Empire" Historian and one-time Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas recalled, "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".Comic Book Artist #2 (Summer 1998)

This father-son conflict was fictionalized by a Magazine Management staffer, Ivan Prashker, who wrote a short story with a thinly disguised, unflattering portrait of a character obviously based on Chip Goodman. When this story, "The Boss's Son," was published in Playboy (February, 1970), Prashker expected he might be fired because of the story, but that was not the case, as noted by Jon B. Cooke, "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".Comic Book Artist #16


Quote

Jim Steranko: "Goodman's David and Goliath strategy is insidiously simple and outrageous — possibly even considered dirty tactics by the competition — [and consists of] such [things] as higher page rates, artwork returned to the artist, rights to the creation of an original character, and a certain amount of professional courtesy".Mediascene #11 (Feb. 1975)

Titles

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