August 1, 2015
I can’t find all that much about Portman Distribution Ltd even after spending a whole six minutes looking around the Interweb!!. I know they produced a few dozen horror comics/magazines in the UK in the late 1970s as I purchased a handful of them at the time.
They may have been connected with or an offshoot from Thorpe and Porter/Top Sellers judging by the Thurmaston Leicester address. Thorpe and Porter had been responsible for a few horror comics beginning as far back as 1952 with UK editions of Avon’s Eerie. As Top Sellers they issued half a dozen UK versions of Seaboard’s Psycho and Nightmare along with the more successful tongue twister variously known as The House of Hammer or The Hammer House of Horror magazine.
Portman began strongly in 1978 with Tales of Terror, The Castle of Horror, Demon and Journey into Nightmare. These four advert-free UK black and white magazines were crammed full of reprints of Marvel comics monsters as originally seen in the Marvel/Curtis magazine-sized Tales of the Zombie, Monsters Unleashed, Haunt of Horror etc etc from earlier in the 1970s. Distribution of the Marvel magazines had been patchy. The Portman books were no easier to find. Not every corner newsagent wanted to stock “horror” comics even if they were offered them.
In a perfect example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing it appears that Portman Distribution had managed to secure the reprint rights from Marvel in the USA. It didn’t take Marvel UK too long to kick up a fuss and end the deal.
Without access to further Marvel material Portman tried to continue with reprints of early 1950s pre-code horror stuff mostly sourced from Stanley Morse in a fresh batch of magazines using Stanley’s titles from eight years earlier such as Ghoul Tales, Shock, Stark Terror and Chilling Tales Of Horror, but re-arranging the numbering. The classy painted covers were history and now replaced by Stanley Publications’ lurid but amateur efforts from circa 1970 which often appeared to have been drawn by the office cat. By the end of 1979 all the Portman magazines had been cancelled.
August 1, 2015
Whilst flicking through the first issue of Portman’s “Castle of Horror” I noticed that it contained the infamous story The Rats. Written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Ralph Reese, it had originally appeared in Marvel’s “Haunt of Horror” in 1974. When I first read it then as a teenager I found it very scary. Ralph’s art seemed quite different from the Marvel Kirby/Buscema house-style which made it all the more spooky.
Ralph Reese’s artwork was to be found in a great variety of places; Skywald, National Lampoon, books, underground comics and even DCs House of Mystery/Secrets to name a few. The other Ralph Reese story that stuck in my mind through the years was The Roaches. Coincidentally this is in another Portman comic currently in front of me. (“Journey into Nightmare” No 2, in case anyone is interested).
Originally written by Thomas M. Disch and to be found in an issue of the Marvel/Curtis magazine “Monsters Unleashed” from 1973 this was another spooky story by Conway and Reese with a twist in the tale and well worth searching out. Why isn’t any of this well written/well drawn Marvel Horror from the first half of the 1970s being given the Masterwork or Archive book-sized reprints they deserve?
PS: Ralph Reese is one of the select few artists (besides the mega-famous ones) to have comics with his own name in the title.