With Rob Lamberti
Avon Publications was known for its romance novels and a few sensational novels with salacious cover artwork after it was formed in 1941 by American News Company. It was also a comic book publisher of 101 titles for a few years in the 1940s and ‘50s.
The company, now an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, was created by American News Company to compete against Pocket Books, which specialized in literary titles. Avon focused on general audiences, from sci-fi to fantasy, from teen delinquents to spicy love stories.
Avon also published monthly digests that printed prized authors, including fantasy horror author H. P. Lovecraft, hardboiled crime writer Raymond Chandler and E. Robert Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.
\The company sold more than 20 million books a year and in the 1950s it introduced the T Series of titles that, among its inventory, were those bad teen delinquents of the ‘50s. It also printed film adaptations. Hearst bought the publishing company in 1959.
Avon also published comics, starting in 1945, for about a decade, under the Avon and Realistic imprints, but none that had a long run. But they certainly have an impact on the current collectables market. Most have strong covers, but the quality of interior art and stories varies.
The covers depicted tough military guys, shootin’ cowboys, growling monsters and fearsome ghouls, juvenile delinquents, daring detectives, dangerous gangsters and their gun-toting molls and space-age heroes.
Some of those racier romance covers still merit and quizzical eyebrow á la Mr. Spock. Nevertheless, collectors covet the titles, in any grade. Prices for the higher-grade copies are becoming are in rarified air.
One of the classics of Avon’s line is Attack on Planet Mars from 1951, a single comic which includes artwork by Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert and Wally Wood. It was an adaptation of the 1930 sci-fi novel Tarrano the Conqueror by Ray Cummings. It doesn’t come up for auction that often. Heritage Auction reported selling a very fine/near mint (9.0) in 2002. Lower-grade copies can be found, but it will require some searching among dealers.
Sticking with the sci-fi genre, the 1951 one-shot An Earth Man on Venus is an adaption of the sci-fi novel The Radio Man by Ralph Milne Farley. It was serialized in Argosy Magazine in 1928 and published as a novel in 1948. The art that included giant ants, man-eating plants and oversized spiders was by Wally Wood. A copy graded near mint minus (9.2) sold at auction for US$4,541 in 2018.
Another book difficult to find in a higher grade is the 1951 comic Rocket to the Moon, which was based on the novel Maza of the Moon by Otis Adelbert Kline. It was initially serialized as a four-part story in Argosy in 1929 and was later republished as a book in 1930. The comic script was written by the prolific Walter Gibson, who also wrote stories for the Shadow, printed by publishers Street and Smith. The art was by the excellent Joe Orlando.
The title Strange Worlds — not to be confused with the Atlas Comic series of the same name — hosted several top artists, some of whom would work for EC Comics. One artist worth mentioning is Everett Raymond Kinstler, who would paint the official portraits of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. Avon published 15 issues in the series, the first 10 between 1950 and ’52, and the final five in 1954 and ’55.
Atomic Spy Cases with art by Norman Saunders and Myron Fass is another classic from the Cold War. It’s another one-shot by Avon, printed in 1950. A high-grade, third-party graded edition sold for US$4,800 last year.
A favourite is another single-issue comic, the 1945 issue of detective Molly O’Day. It was a daring proposition for the time, a female homicide cop. The beautiful cover has a crouching O’Day keeping a gun on one criminal while turning around to shoot another bandit sneaking up from behind. It’s rare to see one of these books up for sale in any grade. A third-party graded very fine copy sold for US$1,320 last year.
One of the greatest Avon titles was the adaptation of The Saint, a 12-issue series that ran between 1947 and 1952. One of the longer-running Avon titles was Wild Bill Hickok, which ran for 28 issues between 1949 and ’56. Jesse James had a sporadic 24-issue run between 1950 and ’56.
Along with a slew of romance titles, ranging from the emotional to the racy, Avon printed a bevy of crime comics including Police Line-Up, Prison Break!, Murderous Gangster and a favourite, Famous Gangsters. There are also a good number of titles that would today be considered more than likely, well, not politically correct. But demand for these titles remains hot among collectors of Golden Age comic.