Friday, December 9, 2011

Best Western

There are many secrets in the history of Marvel Comics. Last post I mentioned an upcoming book by myself and Blake Bell that will show many of the rarely seen hidden Timely gems lost to history and buried in the non-comics publications of Martin Goodman's publishing line.

As a long time collector and researcher of Martin Goodman's pulp and magazine line, I've been accumulating items and data for quite a while. As part of the research involve in such a project, a massive study of Goodman's pulp empire produced some revelations that I've already shown in previous posts. Now an additional item I will share here as it dovetails nicely once again with the comic book line. 1

Back in January I did a post on the cross-format interweaving of publishing histories of Complete Detective (pulp)Complete Detective Cases (magazine) and Amazing Detective Cases (magazine & comic book):

I showed that the pulp Complete Detective ran six issues from Vol 1, #1 (May/38) to Vol 1, #6 (Oct/39) before changing to the true-crime magazine Complete Detective Cases Vol 2, #1 (Dec/39).

Vol 2, #1 (Dec/39)
Vol 1, #1 (May/38) (Norman Saunders art)

I likewise showed that the true crime magazine Amazing Detective Cases suspended publication with Vol 10, #2 (July/50) and continued as a comic book from issues #3 (Nov/50) through #14 (Sept/52), before resuming as a true-crime magazine with Vol 10, #3 (Winter/53).

Vol 10, #2 (July/50)
#3 (Nov/50)

At the end of the blog post, my pal Tom Lammers left a comment speculating about the strange numbering of the Best Western comic book, wondering if the answer had to do with a pulp antecedent. Another reader correctly mentioned that there was also a same named Goodman pulp.

Time-lining the entirety of Martin Goodman's pulp output does in fact shed some light on this question. Final answers are another matter!

So here is the background....

Best Western Magazine was the fifth western pulp title in Goodman's pulp line, debuting with Vol 1, #1 (Sept/35) and published under the Goodman publishing name Western Fiction Publishing Co., Inc. The cover artwork is by the most prolific Goodman cover painter of all, J.W. Scott (John Walter Scott, 1907-1987), and interior illustrations are by the most prolific Goodman "western" pulp interior illustrator, Lorence F. Bjorklund (L.F. Bjorklund, 1913-1978) [One report has his birth year as 1911].

Vol 1, #1 (Sept/35) (J.W. Scott cover)

L.F. Bjorklund BEST WESTERN Vol 1, #1 (Sept35) p.4

The title would progress bi-monthly, then quarterly throughout the 1930's and into the 1940's (sometimes dropping the word "magazine" to only Best Western) until Vol 4, #9 (Feb/42), where the publishing company changed to Interstate Publishing Corp. It would take another 20 months for the next two issues to appear, Vol 4, #10 (Oct/43) and Vol 4, #11 (Jan/44). At this point the title is seemingly cancelled along with 99% of Goodman's pulp line. Only Complete Western Book Magazine, Goodman's earliest and most prolific pulp title line, continued on through this dead pulp period of 1944, 1945 and the nearly dead year of 1946. 

Here are some additional cover scans of issues through this period from my collection:

Vol 2, #4 (Mar/37) (J.W. Scott cover)

Notice above the earliest version of Goodman's "Red Circle" logo in the lower right corner, literally a red "spot".

Vol 3, #6 (Apr/39) (J.W. Scott cover)

Vol 4, #4 (July/40) (J.W. Scott cover)

Vol 4, #9 (Feb/42) (J.W. Scott cover)

After a nearly 4 year hiatus, the title returns as Best Western Novels (along with a newly revived Goodman pulp line) with Vol 5, #1 (Nov/47) and 6 additional issues appear up through Vol 5, #7 (Mar/49). 

Vol 5, #5 (Nov/48) 

The title then appears to die again. Or does it?

In 1949, completely out of the blue, two issues of a Best Western "comic book" appear, Vol 1, #58 (June/49) and Vol 1, #59 (Aug/49), both likewise published by Interstate Publishing Corp. and putting a two-issue comic book coda onto the end of the Timely-era Best Western pulp run. Both issues below sport the circular "Marvel Comic" logo that is nothing more than a reverse version of the classic "Red Circle" pulp colophon.

#58 (June/49) (Syd Shores w/? cover art)

The cover to issue #58 (June/49) looks like a diverse hands job. I see Syd Shores, especially in the face of Two-Gun Kid,  but as Jim Vadeboncoeur notes, the figures are beefier than Shores usually renders. John Buscema could also be here. Inside are 3 stories featuring 3 different western characters, drawn by a who's who royalty of artists. Filtered through the the Timely shop inkers and piecemeal production methods, most of the art is uninspiring and far from the best work of these great artists, although both Severin and Heath are in the infancy of their careers

First is a 12 page Two-Gun Kid story where the kid seems primarily penciled by Shores. I think I see John Severin here also on a few pages as well as other hands like John Buscema and even Gene Colan. A real Timely jam job using a quartet of future Marvel greats! Severin then pencils a 9 page Black Rider story next. This is followed by Russ Heath on Kid Colt Outlaw.

#5106 Shores, Severin, et al  Two-Gun Kid      "The Million Dollar Train Robbery!" 12 pages
#5212 Severin/?                    Black Rider         "Blood on the Range!"                       9 pages
#5282 Heath/Heath               Kid Colt Outlaw  "The Wicked Wedding!"                    4 pages

#5106 BEST WESTERN #58 (June49) p.1 
(Shores, Buscema, Severin, Colan, ?)

#5212 BEST WESTERN #58 (June49) p.1 (Severin)

#5282 BEST WESTERN #58 (June49) p.1 (Heath)

#59 (Aug/49) (John Severin cover - his "first", as per Severin)

Issue #59's cover is by John Severin and Severin identified it as his very first. Russ Heath leads off with a 10 page Kid Colt Outlaw story. The Black Rider artist is Severin with an inker and Shores  and Severin take the Two-Gun Kid story. The one-page filler "Scrap Book of the West", according to Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., could possibly be Mario De Marco, a noted western filler artist who drew westerns for Charlton and fact fillers for Treasure Chest.

#5065 Heath                        Kid Colt Outlaw  "The Mystery of the Mad Monk!" 10p.
#5131 Mario De Marco (?)  Feature: Scrapbook of the West                                  1p.
#5587 Severin/?                   Black Rider         "The Black Rider Strikes!"               5p.
#5372 Shores w/Severin      Two-Gun Kid      "The Secret of the Valley of Fear!"   8p.

#5065 BEST WESTERN #59 (Aug49) p.1 (Heath)

#5131 BEST WESTERN #59 (Aug49) 
Mario De Marco (?)

#5587 BEST WESTERN #59 (Aug49) p.1 
Severin /?

#5587 BEST WESTERN #59 (Aug49) p.1
(Shores w/Severin)

But where did this numbering come from? #58? #59?

The first thought that jumped into my head was that perhaps these were the 58th and 59th issues in the long Best Western publishing run. A quick count of all the pulp issues proves this not so. There had only been 36 previous pulp issues in this title so if anything, these two comic book issues should have been #37 and #38, respectively.

No, there had to be a different explanation, but nothing in the pulps seemed to work out. I next looked back over in the comic book line. Fifteen years ago I time-lined the entirety of Martin Goodman's comic book line from 1939-1969 onto an enormous 10 foot spreadsheet and taped it to a wall. Looking at this huge graph makes it easy to see comic book titles and issues plotted by months and years in an ongoing, mushrooming fashion. Here is a small 5 foot by 5 foot section from an old photo. The yellow line coming down on the right side is the demarcation of the Atlas implosion. The timeline continues for another 5 feet to the right.

Absolutely "nothing" appears to explain Best Western #59. The closest numerical and distance match is the title Terrytoons, which ends its Timely run at #59 (Aug/47) and was published by the sub-company Timely Comics, Inc., nearly two whole years before Best Western #58 appears. It's the closest numerical match, meaning that it's remotely possible Best Western "spun off" the near-last issue of Terrytoons, #57 (June/47). Maybe it was a clerical error not unlike Love Tales #59. Perhaps the Best Western comic book should have been #60 and #61, cleanly following Terrytoons' numbering.

TERRYTOONS #57 (June/47)

So is this cover above the answer to where Best Western #58 derived? I'm extremely doubtful about the whole thing, but it's the only thing I can come up with. I just don't have the answer and perhaps this one will never be solved.


Right after this post was put to bed, my pal Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. made a startling revelation that may have solved this mystery! In fact, it's so obvious I cannot believe I didn't consider this as it was right under my nose all along! Right after the last pulp Best Western issue, Vol 5, #7, the first comic book issue is #58. You see it? There is no Vol 5, #8 but Goodman squeezes it to #58! And then, what would have been Vol 5, #9 becomes #59! Can we know for sure? No, but it is absolutely the best possible answer. Martin Goodman loved to frequently launch new titles with "high" numbers, making them look like newsstand veterans as well as fooling the post office looking to collect on the registration of new titles. Usually the high numbers carried on from earlier cancelled comic titles, but as I've shown, once in a while Goodman used cross-format methods. Thanks, Jim!

With that, Best Western #59 now changes to Western Outlaws and Sheriffs #60 (Dec/49) and will run through #73 (June/52) before cancellation. Issue #60 below is best known for containing the very first all Joe Maneely work for Timely/Atlas. But that's a story for another time, namely my Joe Maneely art biography.

We're still not done yet. Starting in early 1951, Goodman once again revives his Best Western pulp, this time allowing it to pick up the numbering Vol 2, #2 (June/51) from the just cancelled Three Western Novels Vol 2, #1 (Dec/50) and likewise picking up its publishing entity, Stadium Publishing Corp.

This 2nd incarnation of Best Western would last 26 issues until Vol 6, #3 (Mar/57). 15 of these covers will be painted by Norman Saunders. Many issues, beginning in1954, sport reprinted stories from as far back as the 1930's, sometimes to the tune of 3 or 4 reprinted stories an issue.

Vol 3, #2 (Nov/52)  (Norman Saunders cover art)

Vol 3, #6 (Aug/53) (Norman Saunders cover art)

Vol 4, #6 (Dec/54) (Norman Saunders cover art)

Vol 5, #1 (Mar/55)

Vol 5, #3 (Sept/55) (Norman Saunders cover art)

Vol 6, #1 (Sept/56)

And the final (62nd) issue, March, 1957...

Vol 6, #3  (Mar/57)


  1. Vassallo, Michael J., All scans in this blog post sourced from my own private collection.


  1. Fascinating narrative -- thanks for piecing this together.
    Mike Ward

  2. Excellent.

    The first cover scan of the Best Western magazine--was this a reprint mag, or were all the stories new?

  3. I love the fact that there are guys like you willing to devote so much time and effort into tracking down the causes of the weird numbering systems that were seemingly planted on various comic book titles. Making sense of what seems like so much arbitrary numbering.

    I'm also impressed with the difference in quality between the comic book art and the pulp art. Both forms held roughly the same position in the mind of the general public: trash. However, pulp covers and pulp interior art when viewed as a whole is far superior in execution, form, and just general artistic value than that of the same in comics. Is it that pulp artists were paid more for their cover and interior work than comic artists, and just willing to put as much effort into the work?

    It's well known that Bernie Krigstein would not bother to put the effort into work for Goodman that he did for Gaines for the simple reason that Gaines paid so much more. Maybe pulp artists were working on the same bit of reasoning.

  4. It won't come as a surprise that my main question after this magnificent piece conserns Stan Lee. I have long wondered if some of the pseudonyms he mentions using in several interviews would turn up in the pulps. I mean, one of the names he mentions, Neel Nats does turn up on some of his strips. But the others, S. T. Anly and Stan Martin I have never run across. Combined with Mark Fldman's believe that Stan did western stories in the late forties, makes me wonder and hope they ould turn up there. I guess there is no such luck, as you would have mentioned it.

    On a similar track, I was surprised to find in the recent Stan Lee Universe book that he edited someissues of Foucs. Most of them (as far as I can see from the scanned contents pages on some e-bay sellers offerings) were edited by a guy called Hanlo (the guy who 'stole' Hank Chapman's wife Bonnie). But how many of the five year run of that magazine did Stan Lee edit? And what dit that entail? I hope you will reach the later years of Martin Goodsman's publishing empire and cover magazines such as Focus, Brief, TV People and of course the Humorama line. And what was the connection between Joker the magazine and Joker the comic book?

  5. Duane, The first BEST WESTERN pulp issue was all new. I don't think Goodman began to reprint, outside of re-using a tiny handful of covers, until the mid 1950's.

    1. Actually, I'll revise that comment. Goodman did in fact reprint from other sources and got in trouble for it. More details on this to be found in my upcoming book The Secret History of Marvel Comics.

  6. HemlockMan, the Timely era of 1949 is not a good period to judge the quality of the comic artwork. These stories were done in a shop-like setting, frequently as jam jobs among staffers, with a separation between pencil and ink duties among the artists. It's probably the period of the worst Timely comic art of all time, interesting to me solely as a study in unraveling "who" was actually there and doing "what".

    Very shortly after this the staff is fired and all the artwork is done freelance, with the result being the quality greatly increases as artists pencil and ink much of their own work. Look at the difference between Everett's Timely romance work and his pre-code horror and Venus work just a short year or two after.

    Krigstein's work for Atlas suffered from the fact that the stories themselves were absolutely dreadful. The Atlas writers could not get a handle on what to do in the post-code period and the materuial actually got worse as 1955 reached 1957. Krigstein's sole saving grace on these stories was his wonderful experimentation in layouts and panel breakdowns, sometimes taking a drab 4-page story and breaking down a page into slivers of 20 or more panels!

  7. Ger, I've indexed the contents to about 200 Goodman pulps so far and not come across and pseudonyms that struck me as by Stan Lee. I've seen him twice in MALE HOME COMPANION (was there ever a second issue? I've never been able to find one!)and also in READ!, both early 1940's publications, but nowhere else. I've heard the same rumor but he never provided examples or corroboration. Just a proclamation, which is not good enough for me.

    Stan Lee did edit FOCUS MAGAZINE for a time. I know for a certainty he was editor in 1950 but beyond that I don't know any more exact particulars.

    The Goodman men's sweat magazines and the Humorama digests have already been covered in detail in other recent books. We're shying away from them for this reason. I don't want to waste time duplicating the efforts of others. I'd like to cover the TV magazines but space will be the limiting factor. My real passion is the pulp and detective magazines. There are a lot of Timely era artists who moonlighted in them and the goal is to shed light on this!

  8. Ger, I've a bit more information about FOCUS. There seems to have been two different incarnations of the magazine. The first version had Stan Lee as editor. I have Vol 1 #3 (Aug/50) and Vol 1, #4 (Oct/50). These are large bed-sheet sized magazines priced at 25 cents and appears to have been a bi-monthly.

    I don't know how many issues got out but then there was another Vol 1, #1 (Aug/51) that began as a monthly and then by Vol 3, #8 (June 24, 1953) it became a bi-weekly!

    This second version was a tiny pocket-sized publication priced at 10 cents. The first 3 issues had no editor listed but then by Vol 1, #4 (Nov/51) Arnold Hano was the editor. By Vol 3, #6 (June/53), the last monthly issue before the change to bi-weekly, James A. Bryans becomes the editor, down from being "Executive Editor" on the masthead the issue before. Again, I'm not sure how long this version lasted, but the latest issue I have is Vol 4, #4 (Feb 17, 1954).