James Galton, CEO and President og Marvel from 1975-1991 has passed away at age 92. Galton came on at a tumultuous time, as newsstand sales were plummeting (Marvel was particularly impacted because its distributor was owned by its competition), and left after Marvel had been sold twice – once to New World and then to Ronald Perelman. The THR obit credits laton from saving Marvel from a bankruptcy in the 70s and moving into animation and also…accepting the direct sales market.
“My friends told me, ‘The comic industry is dead. Don’t do this,'” he said in a 2010 interview with the Naples Daily News. “But I had four kids — two in private school, two in college — and two mortgages. I had to take the job.”
Galton cleaned up the company’s distribution woes, selling directly to the consumer and comic-book collectors’ shops instead of using the newsstand model, and exposed characters like Spider-Man, Captain America and Iron Man to international audiences.
Galton also picked up the Star Wars license and did other important lasting things. In his ICv2 piece, Milton Griepp credits Galton with moving comics into the modern world:
What happened during Galton’s tenure? It’s an almost unbelievable list of changes that led to the Marvel and the comic business of today.
- The primary distribution system for comics changed from mass market outlets like newsstands and drugstores to comic stores serving collectors and fans.
- The format for comics went from cheap newsprint with hand-separated colors to comics printed on good paper on modern presses with full color separations.
- Marvel hit it big with licensed comics, including ground-breaking deals for G.I. Joe and Star Wars.
- Marvel opened a California animation studio, licensed its characters for a variety of products, and sold overseas rights.
- And perhaps most importantly, as his family put it, “He maintained that comic books were a legitimate form of literary expression that deserved respect and he used the medium to bolster social change like energy conservation, civil and women’s rights, child abuse prevention and universal literacy.”
Not only was Galton navigating a rapidly changing market, he was also working for a succession of owners that began with conglomerate Cadence Industries at the time of his hire, to New World Entertainment in 1986, and to a company controlled by financier Ron Perelman in 1989.
For better or worse, Galton was the man most responsible for moving the comics periodical business from a backroom offshoot of the pulps to a fan-led specialized product.