Sunday, January 27, 2019

Newton Comics: Considering the post-August 1976 period

Analysing the post-April 1976 period is challenging. There is contradictory information to navigate, gaps in publication to account for, undated and unnumbered comics to deal with, which appear to have been slapped together haphazardly, and little to no information in the books themselves - in stark contrast to the editorial input in the preceding period. I've taken my best shot at reading the entrails and the minutiae of both the March-July and July-August 1976 periods, so now it's time to attend to the post-August 1976 period, which has been the most problematic to date.

Post-August 1976
In his article Harken To Me Faithful Ones!, Robert Thomas says: "October 1976 was the last hurrah for Newton Comics as the last remaining proofs were used up and previously released issues were recycled into giant-sized 100 pages editions." Since the publication of this article in 2003, October 1976 has been accepted and widely quoted as the final month of Newton Comics publications. And with good reason, as the information in the article was implicitly endorsed by Marty Dougherty, the "driving force" behind the comics, who read a draft and voiced his approval. 

However, it has become evident to me that Newton Comics published issues much later than October 1976.

In preparation for his article Thomas corresponded with John Corneille, who worked one day a week as editor of the comics. In a question related to the post-August 1976 period, Corneille replies in part:

It was decided the comics had had their day. Newton tried a Happy Days/Fonzie magazine to cash in on the Fonz craze and it was very successful. This prompted Marty to change tack from comics to teenage magazines.

The following advertisement appeared in the Sunday Observer 18 July 1976:

This edition of Superstar! is likely the magazine Corneille refers to. This advertisement ran at least three times, and the last instance I recorded was in the 1 August 1976 edition of the newspaper. Note the date of its first appearance coincides with the final appearance of the Newton transfers advertisement

It does appear that the teenage magazines were a successful venture for Newton. Newton was in the teenage/pop music magazine game before mid-1976, but it is also clear that the magazines were prioritised over the comics after this Fonzie magazine. The August 1976 issues carried super hero t-shirts ads on the rear cover, but from this point on, the comics only advertised Newton's pop music and tv show magazines on the inner and rear covers. 

It is useful to group the undated and unnumbered issues into batches based on the configurations of the advertisements they contain. Identifying publication dates for the magazines in the advertisements provides a guide regarding the publication dates of the comics.

The Advertisements
Every Newton comic published post-August 1976 carried this Scream! advertisement on the inner rear cover:

For the purposes of grouping issues in batches and differentiating publication dates this advertisement is redundant.

So, putting aside the Mark Holden Scream! ad above, there are four pairs of advertisements in the remaining Newton comics. The following photos are of the advertisements, paired as they appear in the comics on the inner front and rear covers respectively:

Set A

 Set B

Set C

 Set D

Now that we have the comics grouped together in batches based on the paired advertisements they contain, let's see when these magazines were advertised in the Sunday Observer.

Set A:

The following advertisement first appeared in the Sunday Observer 12 December 1976:

It also appeared the following week in the 19 December 1976 edition.

In isolation, it is enough to designate the Set A comics as published in December 1976. However, Set A also includes an ad for the ABBA Collectors Kit.

The following advertisement appeared in the Sunday Observer 24 October 1976:

This ad for the ABBA Collectors Kit is dated almost two months earlier than the Flashez ad. However, variations of this ad - full page, quarter page in colour - appeared in the Sunday Observer every week from 24 October through to 5 December 1976. That is, it ceased momentarily in the Sunday Observer and migrated to the comics to join the Flashez ad effective 12 December 1976.

Set B:

The following advertisement first appeared in the Sunday Observer 2 January 1977:

This ad appeared in the Sunday Observer at least three times. The final one I found was in the 23 January 1977 edition. 

The following advertisement first appeared in the Sunday Observer 23 January 1977:

This ad also appeared the following week in the Sunday Observer.

It appears the Set B comics were published January 1977.

The following advertisement first appeared in the Sunday Observer 6 February 1977:

Amongst the ads for magazines featuring pop musicians and tv personalities is a solitary Newton comic: [Newton Triple Action #2]. This comic is a Set B issue, so it was most likely published January 1977, but it is possible it was published in the first week of February 1977. This ad also appeared in the Sunday Observer 20 February 1977.

Set C:

The following advertisement appeared in the Sunday Observer 27 February 1977:

This ad appeared at least three times in the Sunday Observer. The last one I noted was in the 20 March 1977 edition.

The comics I have designated Set C appear to have been published late February/March 1977.

Set D:

The following advertisement appeared in the Sunday Observer 27 March 1977:

It also appeared the following week in the 3 April 1977 edition.

The following advertisement also appeared in the Sunday Observer 27 March 1977:

This also appeared in the Sunday Observer a week later in the 3 April 1977 edition. 

The comics I have designated Set D appear to have been published late March/April 1977. All the Set D issues appear in the advertisement above except for Sub-Mariner  and Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #NN[3], which suggests they were the last two issues published. The Giant Man Doctor Strange issue in the ad above is a Set C issue, which suggests it was last of the Set C issues to be published - possibly 26 March 1977.

I went looking for one thing and found another. 

In investigating the advertisements in the Sunday Observer I hoped to find some small clue regarding the order of publication of Sets A-D. I also wanted to test a hypothesis - that the final batch of Newton comics, whichever batch it was -  was likely published c.December 1976. This was based on common sense arithmetic - four batches published in the four months after August 1976.

What I found has me reconsidering much of what I thought I knew about Newton Comics. 

For one thing, it appears that there were three, not two periods in which the publication of the comics was suspended: December 1975/January 1976; April-July 1976; and September-November 1976.

For another, it appears that I incorrectly ascribed proxy issue numbers to the last two issues of Planet of the Apes.

It also appears the last Newton Comics issues were published in April 1977.

As counterintuitive as it is, I find the evidence thorough, compelling and convincing.

Which is not to say it cannot be queried.

Querying the information
In the last couple of days I have shared some of my findings with friends interested in Newton Comics. The responses have ranged from exuberant proclamations of Eureka! to mildly cautious scepticism. I understand both reactions. So let me address some of the questions or concerns which have arisen.

Why would Newton have relaunched in late July/August 1976 and suddenly cease?
I do not know for certain but, as per Corneille, it appears that the unexpected success of the Fonzie magazine in July 1976 prompted Dougherty to focus on the pop magazines in lieu of the comics. Considering the Fonzie magazine was published virtually simultaneously with the relaunched comics, it may be that the sales figures outstripped the comics by such a large margin that the decision was a quick and easy one. 

Are the advertisements in the Sunday Observer January-April 1977 as reliable as the dates on the magazines?  
Over a long period of time I have searched for copies of the magazines advertised in these Sets. I have only found samples of US editions of the Fonzie Versus Barbarino and Charlie's Angels magazines. The US editions are dated 1976. This is not reliable data regarding the Australian editions, but it did lead me to believe the Sets concerned were published in 1976. If I find Australian editions with dates I will happily take that information into account.

You have previously argued that the Sunday Observer ran ads that were not current. How do you know the ads above are current?
This is a legitimate question. If I was basing my conclusions on the evidence of  only one ad I would be less confident in drawing broader conclusions. However, given the ads relate to all four Sets, and they are aligned with the pairings, and they appear in quick succession, I am compelled to accept them on face value. I do concede the Mark Holden Scream! ad is anomalous. I did not find any such ads in the newspaper in 1977, only in November and December 1976. I can only assume it was a place holder which became a space filler in the comics.

The Sullivans premiered in November 1976 and was a hit tv show. Is it not possible that Sets B and C were published in late 1976?
Of course it is possible but it is very unlikely. Consider this article:

This was published in the Sunday Observer 24 October 1976. It begins:

Channel 9 has lifted the cloak of secrecy from its new series The Sullivans. Filming of the historical drama began about a month ago. But it was not until this week that photographs have been released from the set, and the full cast named.

The article ends "It is expected to be on air next month."

According to Wikipedia, The Sullivans premiered three weeks later on 15 November 1976. So, it is possible the TV Stars issue was published very late in 1976, but it also appears extremely unlikely.

The Flashez advertisement warrants a further comment. The first instance of it that I found was in the 12 December 1976 issue of the newspaper. It may have also appeared a week earlier in the 5 December issue. I say this because, according to the following article in the Sunday Observer 5 December 1976, the tv show ended a week earlier:

In other words, the Flashez ads and magazine were current as the program itself was defunct.

The ABBA Collectors Kit also continued in the Sunday Observer. After migrating to the comics, it reappeared in the newspaper the following week 19 December 1976 and could be found in March/April 1977 editions.

That's all for now. There is much more I have to say about the comics themselves, and I will shortly turn my attention to the individual issues and the Sets in dedicated posts. Besides, I expect there is plenty for you to digest in this post. I trust you'll excuse the rather dry and repetitive nature of some of the detail in this post, but I wanted to lay out the information as clearly as possible in order for interested parties to interrogate my evidence and then assess my conclusions.

1. In some cases above I have ascribed titles and issue numbers in parentheses. The indicia in the issues in this period in particular is notoriously slapdash, incomplete and subject to crude modifications eg. words erased and others pasted in. For example Captain America The Amazing Spider-Man is titled Newton Triple Action in the indicia - although it does contain a Thor feature, Thor is not mentioned on the cover. In contrast the unwieldy The X-Men Here Comes... Daredevil The Mighty Thor is a Newton Triple Action issue in all but name, but there is no title on the indicia.

2. There were 19 comics published in this period. I have all but one of these issues in my collection. The information contained in the missing issue has been provided to me and I am confident it is accurate. It was tempting to provide scans or Set photos of the batches but in the end I decided it would clutter the post unnecesarily. In due course I will add hyperlinks to the issues concerned as I index and post them on the blog.

3. When I refer to advertisements in the Sunday Observer, I mean this in the generic sense. Most if not all of the ads referred to in this period appeared in Sunday Observer supplements such as TV Observer including Pop. The supplements changed format and titles over the period coinciding with Newton Comics.

4. The Sunday Observer collections I accessed are incomplete. The collection in the State Library of Victoria is complete for 1975 but is missing the 1976 issues. The various supplements are stored separately and are also incomplete. The 1977 issues are also incomplete, contrary to the catalogue listing. The 1976 collection in the National Library is also incomplete however the associated available supplements are at least bound into the volumes with the newspapers. For this reason I often explicitly refer to the first or last instance of an advertisement I have noted. Presumably there are relevant advertisements in the missing supplements or editions.

5. My thanks to Robert Thomas who has provided me with scans of relevant material from his research and collection, including copies of his correspondence with John Corneille, and has enthusiastically supported and embraced my findings. Thanks also to Mark Cannon who accompanied me to the National Library and helped in poring over the newspapers on a 40 degree day, and chuckled intermittently at the ludicrous headlines and advertisements in Newton's tabloid rag.

1 comment:

Robert Thomas said...

What fantastic thorough comic pop-culture scholarship and as a Newtonophile I am totally FOOMED(!) at this glorious finding overturning the pre-conceived notion that not only did Newton Comics NOT end in 1976 but had a newsstand presence WELL into 1977! This really puts those final bumper no-frills issues into a totally pinned down time-line narrative that makes sense. What was previously a vague guess at best now has concrete shoes affixed to its legs! This makes me want to drag out my collection of those final issues and check them out in a new light. Well done!