Who in the World Were IW Comics?
Posted by Tony Ingram on Feb 22, 2008
There are names which seem to come up every time the history of comics is discussed. Names of creators, companies, of entrepreneur businessmen. Israel Waldman is not usually one of those mentioned.
In the fifties and sixties, as at every time in comics history, there were a handful of long established companies which accounted for most of the industry’s sales, and then there were a whole host of smaller firms, circling like sharks for the leftovers. Many of these firms have been referred to as ‘fly by nights’. Some, indeed, would be hard pressed to qualify even as that; they didn’t even last until night! IW Comics, however, were rather more successful than most, and they did publish some quite memorable titles.
Israel Waldman started up the not tremendously imaginatively titled IW Comics in 1958, and quickly began to turn a profit by adopting a unique, if not necessarily wholly ethical, policy of only publishing reprints, and more specifically, reprints he didn’t have to pay for! Waldman’s strategy was fairly simple. He would buy up printing plates or original art (possibly directly from Eastern Color, who printed most of America’s comic books at that time) for material, usually previously published by companies which had gone out of business, then repackage the stories under new covers, usually eye-catching and frequently rather better than the material inside, without seeking permission or indeed acknowledging that the material was not original. Copyright was not an issue for Israel. As he once told Joe Simon (recounted in the Captain America creator’s own autobiography) “what do I need with copyrights?”
Over approximately seven years, first under the IW name and later, towards the end, as Super Comics, Waldman republished material originally created for Fox Publications, Fiction House, Quality, EC, Harry A Chesler, Avon, Ace, Star, Red Top, Cambridge House, Timely, Steinway and many more. Some strips were published under their original titles, but others were inexplicably repackaged under new names. The two 1958 published issues of Human Fly, for instance, actually feature reprints of Fox’s Blue Beetle.
Quite why Waldman was so coy about reprinting material like Blue Beetle under its own name is a matter for speculation. The obvious answer is because it was a copyright violation and he was worried about being sued. But then, he later published three issues of Plastic Man (a character formerly owned by the defunct Quality Comics, but by then bought by DC), as well as three issues of Doll Man (likewise) and even two issues of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, so it seems as though he can’t have been that concerned! Of course, it appears that Waldman himself was not overly interested in the actual contents of his comics (when he purchased the rights to Mainline Comics from Joe Simon for $1500, he apparently barely looked at the pages Simon had brought him) so it is quite probable that, in the case of the Quality characters at least, he simply was not aware that DC had bought the rights. More likely, though, he just didn’t care.
For all Waldman’s unorthodox business practices, though, and indeed his bizarre method of numbering his titles, which seems to have no real logic to it (Danger is our Business, for instance, ran to only one issue, but it was issue #9, while Doll Man managed issues #11, #15 and #17) the IW/ Super Comics did do readers the great service of reprinting a lot of material from smaller companies long since departed which would never otherwise have seen the light of day again.
Among the titles IW published over those seven years were Algie, Apache, Black Knight, Danger is our Business, Daring Adventures, Dr Fu Manchu, Eerie (EC material), Famous Funnies, Fighting Daniel Boone, Firehair, Gunfighters, Human Fly, Jungle Comics (starring ‘Wambi’and ‘Kaanga’), Kit Carson, Kat Karson (!), Malu in the Land of Adventure (which has some beautiful art signed ‘Larsen’), Man o’ Mars (reminiscent of Raymond’s Flash Gordon), Planet Comics, Police Trap, Purple Claw, Red Mask, Robin Hood, Sensational Police Cases, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, Space Detective, Space Mysteries, Sunny-America’s Sweetheart, Top Adventure, Top Detective, Top Jungle, Torchy and Ziggy Pig.
For the girls, there were Realistic Romances, Teen Romances, Teen Age Talk and Romantic Love. For Western fans, Western Action, Western Roundup, Whip Wilson and Wild Bill Hickock. If you were into war comics, US Fighting Men, US Tank Commandos, US Paratroops and US Fighting Air Force were all on hand to float…or more likely sink…your boat! Say what you like about IW, but they had something for everyone-even Super Rabbit!
Waldman needed to keep off the radar as far the other comics companies were concerned, as well as the then all powerful Comics Code Authority. To do this, he adopted the unusual practice of packaging his comics in batches of three in sealed bags, which put them into the sales category of novelty items rather than periodicals. Novelty items were exempt from the Comics Code, of course.
He also generally did not credit the artists (including Ross Andru, Sol Brodsky, Mike Esposito, Jack Abel, Vince Colletta, John Severin and Joe Simon) who created the new covers for his reprints, since many of them were under contract to other companies at the time, but the results of their efforts for him were often quite stunning all the same. Perhaps unexpectedly, given his other business practices, Waldman was popular with artists because, unlike many other small operators, he had a reputation for prompt payment. He may not have cared about copyright law, but he knew the value of people, something not all comic book publishers seemed to appreciate at the time.
Super Comics, the former IW Comics, disappeared in 1964, for reasons unknown, but Israel Waldman returned to comics in1970 as one of the founders of Skywald Publications, along with Sol Brodsky-the company name being taken from the last half of ‘Brodsky’ and the first half of ‘Waldman’. That, however, is another story...
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