Thorpe & Porter by James Zee
To paint a broad picture of Australian comics history, AusReprints includes many comics published in the UK for Australians. One company in particular printed some separate editions with Australian pricing and advertising on the covers: the publishers of Classics Illustrated (distributed by Ayers & James) in 1950s and 1960s, and Tarzan and Korak comics in the 1970s.
The company is generally known as Thorpe & Porter or Top Sellers (common names on the comics), but it includes a cluster of publishers that ultimately became part of Time-Warner, the modern owner of DC Comics.
Trade names in this group include Arnold Book Co.; BrownWatson; General Book Distributors; Hermitage Publications; Jenson Book Co.; Portman Distribution; Strato Publications Ltd.; Thorpe & Porter (Sales) Ltd.; Thorpe & Porter, Ltd.; Top Sellers Ltd.; and Williams Publishing and Distributing Co. Ltd.11This list has been created in part from observations of changing publisher names in issues of various series, but also... Some started as separate companies, while others are imprints established to differentiate product lines. Portman Distribution is reported to have been sold to Gold Star.22See britishcomics.wikia.com, accessed 14 May 2016....
Thorpe & Porter and its Strato imprint are the names on Classics Illustrated reprints. From the 1950s, when US comic imports were banned, Thorpe & Porter produced mainly black and white reprints. When imports were permitted around 1960, Thorpe & Porter distributed US comics in the UK, including DC, Charlton, Archie and Marvel.
Thorpe & Porter was the UK distributor of Marvel from 1959, with pence-priced editions printed in the US and Thorpe & Porter listed in the indicia as the sole UK distributor. It's DC comics received a circular UK price stamp after arrival. Unsold DC (and occasionally Marvel) stock was repackaged as Double Double Comics in rebound editions with new covers.
Williams and Top Sellers were the publisher names on Dell and Western (Gold Key) reprints such as the Edgar Rice Burroughs and Hanna-Barbera licenced properties. Later issues of some series, particularly the colour Tarzan and Korak, sourced material from foreign language branches of Williams.
It isn't clear whether all of the listed publishers are part of this group. Hermatige and Jenson appear to be imprints primarily for pulp novels, while the General Book Distributors (GBD) was formed for the company's adult magazines.
The Arnold Book Co., however, was established by Arnold Miller, the "son" in L. Miller & Son (Marvelman). Some of its series, such as reprints of ACG's Adventures into the Unknown, variously list Arnold, Thorpe & Porter or Strato as publisher. Did the comics change publishers? Did the publishers change names? Was Thorpe & Porter just a distributor? Or did the company change hands?
At some time in the mid 1960s (variously reported from 1965 to 1966), DC's distribution arm IND bought Thorpe & Porter33This is reported to be 1964, but might also align with the report that Thorpe & Porter filed for bankruptcy... and the company began publishing UK editions of Superman and Batman. Until that time, K.G. Murray had exclusive rights to Superman and Batman reprints, in association with its UK distributor Atlas Publishing & Distributing Co. Ltd.
In 1967/68, National Periodical Publications (DC) was purchased by Kinney National Company, which merged in 1969 with Warner Bros.-Seven Arts and was renamed Warner Communications, Inc in 1972. Its merger with Time Inc. in 1989 created Time-Warner.
At some point during Warner's consolidation (probably 1971), Thorpe & Porter, Top Sellers and GBD were incorporated into Williams, which became DC’s European publishing division. This was composed of various local companies, previously grouped under the Classics branding, such as Danish Williams Forlag, Germany Williams Verlag GmbH, and Williams Nederland B.V.
The Australian versions of Tarzan and Korak, despite the UK publisher, are linked to the series from Classics Nederland N.V. and subsequently Williams Nederland B.V. The Australian edition starts at #115, matching the Dutch #12115, and its numbering and contents continue to align with the Dutch version, despite similarities with the UK edition and a couple of later issues that have the UK issue numbers on the bottom of the cover. Other Williams editions in Europe are similar, but none so closely match the order, numbering and cover colouring.
During the middle period of the two Edgar Rice Burroughs' series, the comics carried the Warner Communications stylised "W" logo—although it has been interpreted as Williams branding.
Warner's publishing consolidation in Europe appears to have been unsuccessful and it sold the group in 1976, although the Williams name continued on some publications until at least 1978.
- 1This list has been created in part from observations of changing publisher names in issues of various series, but also from internet sources, especially comicbookplus.com (accessed 7 May 2016) and dezskinn.com (accessed 7 May 2016). BrownWatson, seems to be the publisher of the 1974 Tarzan Annual, not the "independent, family run business" at www.brownwatson.co.uk. I've also seen a refernce to World Distributors being part of the group, but haven't found any connection other than some earlier Tarzan reprints. While Byblos Productions later published a number of the same titles as Williams/Top Sellers (Tarzan and Laurel & Hardy), it seems to be a European company with no connections to Thorpe & Porter.
- 2See britishcomics.wikia.com, accessed 14 May 2016.
- 3This is reported to be 1964, but might also align with the report that Thorpe & Porter filed for bankruptcy in 1966. See themagicrobot.wordpress.com (accessed 7 May 2016) and Rob Kirby's article "Transworld - A Short History" on Keven Patrick's comicsdownunder.blogspot.com.au (accessed 7 May 2016).