I.W. Who?

By | Monday, February 17, 2020 4 comments
Britt Reid last week hipped me to the existence of a 1950s publisher by the name of I.W. Publications. I'd never heard of them before, so I did some digging to learn a bit more.

In the aftermath of the infamous United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954, and the general scapegoating of comics more broadly, a lot of publishers went out of business. Some companies, like Charlton, purchased the rights to some of the characters that were owned by the now defunct publishers, as well as any artwork that hadn't yet seen publication. Joe Simon's and Jack Kirby's Mainline Comics happened to be an indirect casualty of all this. When EC Comics had to drop pretty much their entire line, that was felt by their distributor, Leader News Company. With less income from EC's books, Leader News in turn couldn't keep up with their payments to Mainline. Eventually, Leader News folded entirely still owing a good chunk of money to Simon and Kirby. This hurt Mainline enough that Simon and Kirby eventually had to close up shop as well.

However, in 1958, a gent by the name of Israel Waldman saw an opportunity he felt others were "missing." Waldman, a six-foot-plus tall immigrant from Portugal, went around to these companies going out of business and purchased the actual printing plates these companies had used in comics they had already published. That way, he could print the comics again but without even having to re-do the plates. It was about literally the cheapest possible way to make comics. So this is what he began doing under the name I.W. Publications, using the initials of his own name.

What Waldman did NOT do, though, was purchased the rights to publish any of the material. He owned the physical plates, but not the legal authority to use them. Simon recalled the meeting he had with him when selling the plates from Mainline...
"Where can I pick up the mats?" he asked...

I wrote my address on a pad on his desk. He wrote a check. It was for fifteen hundred dollars, as agreed upon by phone prior to our meeting.

"We need to keep the copyrights," I said.

"So keep them." He shrugged. "What do I need with copyrights?"
As Simon would go on to point out, Waldman was buying material from "undercapitalized, undersold, debt-ridden shipwrecks" so it was unlikely any of the rights holders would be able to sue him.

Human Fly #1
So beginning in 1958, Waldman started re-publishing an odd assortment of comics, from jungle action stories to funny animal comics to love stories... whatever he had happened to pick up. He would often commission new covers, and he would he give the stories new titles and issue numbers. He would send off a batch of issues to the printer and they would all be #1s. Then he'd send another batch off to the printer, and those would all be #2s. The next batch would all be #3s. And so on. Consequently, titles often have seemingly bizarre numbering. The Human Fly for example consists of only issues #1 and #10. Waldman's concern for content was equally lackadaisical -- those two issues of Human Fly contain only stories about the Blue Beetle and none about the Human Fly!

Waldman knew his comics weren't going to be in high demand as they were reprints of (mostly) fairly recent issues. So what he did was bypass traditional distribution channels and sold his comics in bagged packs of three to discount stores. He accordingly also didn't treat them as periodicals, and they were sold on a non-returnable basis. This is where things get a bit confusing for historians.

Looking at the comics themselves, all of the initial offerings are dated 1958. But it's possible he simply was saving money by not changing the indicia and kept printing them for several years. Part of the reason some people believe this is because things changed with all the #10 issues. All of the double-digit issues are dated 1963 or 1964, and attributed to "Super Comics" instead of "I.W. Publications." Interestingly, the characters published in the 63/64 timeframe were more frequently pretty obvious in the copyright violations: Doll Man, Plastic Man, The Spirit... But as far as I can tell, no one actually seemed to have sued him. (Although that doesn't preclude threats and/or cease-and-desist orders.)

Super Comics seemed to close up shop in 1964. (Which is why I happen to think the initial 1958 comics were exclusive to that year, and not in continuous publication.) However, Waldman came back to comics in 1970 when he teamed up with Sol Brodsky to form Skywald Comics. They did do some original characters (like Butterfly, which I mentioned last week) but they also did a fair amount of reprint material, likely using some of the same plates Waldman had purchased in the mid-1950s.

I can't seem to find out what happened to Waldman after Skywald folded in 1975. There's still a Waldman Publishing in existence and they indeed still have a line of "Great Classics Illustrated" but these seem to be more of a cross between Big Little Books and Vince Fago's Pendulum Press comics. Not exactly comics, and heavily (heavily) abridged versions of copyright-free books. The company does indeed seem to have been Israel Waldman's originally -- the Better Business Bureau lists it as having started in 1960, despite no real historical information on the company's own website -- and it seems to bear his hallmark of utilizing cheap/free material catering to more of a discount-oriented demographic. But I can't find any information on Waldman himself past the mid-1970s.
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Britt Reid said...

A bit of additional trivia...
The reason Waldman commissioned new covers was that the printing plates he bought were only interiors, which were printed on cheap newsprint!
The covers, printed on heavier, slick stock, were run on different presses, then collated with the interiors.
For whatever reason, Waldman didn't (or couldn't) buy those plates!
You'll note that sometimes the new cover art, done by artists unfamiliar with the older characters, was WILDLY "off-model" from the characters as shown on the interior pages!
That's also why some stories from Fox (like the Phantom Lady reprints) begin on Page 2, since the lead stories' Page 1 was originally on the inside 2-color cover!

D.D.Degg said...

Israel Waldman June 8, 1923 - December 15, 1996
wife: Rachel; son: Herschel; grandsons: Alexander, Joseph, more
Herschel Waldman 1953 - 2001

Cheers! Thanks, guys!

Pj Perez said...

Dang, I love this weird Golden Age / Silver Age comic publishing history.